Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sex workers -- a queer perspective

By Thierry Schaffauser
GMB Sex Work and Entertainment Branch

WHEN THE sex workers’ movement was born in the 1970s it was women only and most of them were identified as straight. It is only in the last few years that more and more trans and male sex workers have been involved in the movement and that activists have brought new ideas influenced by “queer” theories.


Queer workers can very easily compare the similarities between LGBT phobias and the “whore” stigma. In both cases, we have to hide our identity or even to lie sometimes to avoid violence and repression. We are told that we need to be cured or rehabilitated.
The only way to be recognised is to accept the dominants’ rules, and sometimes some of us indeed accept and act as the victim the system expects us to be. The alternative is to take a big risk and claim your pride or at least refuse to accept the imposed shame. But those who refuse to be “rescued” will then expose themselves to repression. Being LGBT could send you to prison. Being a sex worker can also jeopardise your citizen’s rights such as parenthood, housing and protection from the police – and according to the way you work you risk getting jailed.
As homophobia serves as a gender police for men, whorephobia does the same for women. We are what we must not become when we are taught what a man or a woman is. We are those who betray their sex. The insult “queer” is the only limit to men’s sexuality and actions. The insult “whore” is also an instrument to control women’s freedom. Each time a woman transgresses the gender rules, she knows she will face the whore stigma. That’s why so many people will distance themselves from these identities even if it means fighting against us as persons.

Solidarity of minorities

Being a queer sex worker helps you to understand the intersection between different discriminations. We are working class women, queers, drugs users, HIV positives, transgenders and migrants. Our enemies often say that we do sex work because of a lack of choice. And indeed, as minorities we often don’t have the same choices and sex work appears as one of our only options. But when sex work is so repressed and criminalised, what is described as a lack of choice can also been seen as an economic strategy to get the resources we would never have in a system which excludes us.
As a migrant, I know I can work in any country and will always find clients. As a young queer I know I could leave my family and escape from a father’s authority. Without sex work I would never have been able to pay my tuition fees and have the same access to education. So instead of criminalising further the sex industry in thinking it will force us to do something else, why is the problem never looked at from the opposite side?
There are people who indeed have a lack of choices, but rather than taking away the sex work option in criminalising always more our clients or ourselves, we could once think about giving more options and more choices in fighting for minorities’ rights. But it is probably easier for the Government to claim being feminist in targeting prostitution while at the same time cutting single mothers’ benefits, deporting migrant workers and doing nothing against women’s economic apartheid.
Sex workers have a lot to bring to the labour movement. We have to build tools to avoid exploitation. Many of us used to work in hard low-paid jobs before choosing sex work and thus avoid now exploitation from a boss. We can choose when we want to work and not to wake up early in the mornings. We always ask to be paid first and we can have better incomes. But other sex workers work for escort agency managers or brothel keepers and can’t benefit from the same social protection as other workers gained thanks to our ancestors. This is the result of our division. Many workers keep thinking that we are not proper workers. The system divides us between the public and the private sector, the intellectual workers and the manual workers, and those who like sex workers are not even considered as workers. The system pushes you to think that at least you are not selling your body and that you are better than these prostitutes. But what are you selling?
The idea of separating our mind and our body doesn’t come from nowhere but from religion. Women used to be burnt as witches for selling their soul to the devil. Now they say sex workers sell their body. The consequence is always to reduce us to non-political objects who can’t make decisions for ourselves. The abolitionist ideology was born in the 19th century by the meeting of social Christian philanthropists and upper class feminists. Their will to reform us was for our own good for sure, but like when they wanted to educate the working classes or when they thought they brought civilisation to the colonies, they maintain a hierarchy between those who are the helpers and those who need the help.
What sex workers want is that you treat us as equals because we share the same struggle for our liberation, not as an under proletarian class who need to be saved. The emancipation of the workers must be the act of the workers themselves.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Images of the Miners' Struggle

None of us will ever forget the miners’ strike of 1984/85 and snapshots that capture the sacrifice and struggle of the mining communities are now available as greeting cards from Past Pixels, a new venture in publishing images of labour movement history.
The set is a personal selection by the photographer, Martin Shakeshaft, from a collection of sixteen postcards that have already been published. These high quality black and white images remind us of the epic scale of the struggle of the mine workers and their supporters to defend an industry, jobs and communities. The five greeting cards include shots of pickets, marching miners and a cheerful Arthur Scargill cycling down the street in Treorchy in the Rhondda Valley.
Martin Shakeshaft is a well-known photo-journalist and a member of the NUJ and the British Press Photographers’ Association and some of his work is on permanent display in the National Museum of Wales. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the miners’ strike he revisited some of the locations of his original images which were displayed in a touring exhibition entitled “Look Back in Anger”. These images are featured on the reverse of the greeting cards.

The set contains:

1. Alan ‘Massum’ Jones. The march back to work, Maerdy – 5th March 1985
2. Maerdy Women’s Support Group, Ferndale, The Rhondda – 27th August 1984.
3. Orgreave Coking Plant, near Sheffield – 18th June 1984.
4. Arthur Scargill, NUM President, Treorchy, the Rhondda – 16th June 1984.
5. Early morning picket, Celynen South Colliery – 6th November 1984.

The set of five cards costs £4.00 including postage and packing. Make cheques payable to “Past Pixels” and send to Past Pixels, PO Box 798, Worcester, WR4 4BW. Alternatively you can buy them online via their website.
photo. Maerdy Women's Support Group. Martin Shakeshaft

Justice long overdue

THE DECISION of the Scottish Government to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi on compassionate grounds has been denounced by US President Barack Obama and his FBI boss Robert Mueller who called it “a mockery of justice”. Scottish Labour former First Minister Henry McLeish says Mueller’s intervention was “totally out of order” and “none of his business” but Gordon Brown’s silence has fired speculation that the release of the dying Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the Lockerbie bombing was part of a secret deal to secure lucrative new oil deals in Libya.
The Scottish National Party administration has quite rightly said that the release of al Megrahi, who is dying of cancer, was fully justified under Scottish law. Alex Salmond’s government was equally totally justified in pointing out that while Scotland had a strong relationship with the United State it did not always depend on the two countries coming to agreement.
But this was no random act of mercy. Al Megrahi’s decision to drop his appeal was clearly prompted by promises of freedom. His release a week later was clearly timed for the run-up to the 1st September celebrations in his country to mark the 1969 Libyan Revolution. It is inconceivable to believe that the devolved Scottish government, which is ultimately answerable to the Westminster Parliament and the Crown, could have made this decision without prior consultation with the Prime Minister.
The Libyan Arab Airlines manager who sat in the dock with al Megrahi was acquitted by the special Scottish court that sentenced al Megrahi to life imprisonment in 2001. Al Megrahi always denied the charges at the trial and still protests his innocence. He is seen as a martyr in Libya and his incarceration was always seen as a barrier to improving relations with oil-rich Libya.
This was recognised by former premier Tony Blair, who met Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2007 to conclude a $900 million oil and gas deal and sign up to a law, extradition and prisoner transfer agreement that clearly was focused on the only significant Libyan in British custody. British Petroleum and Shell have got their eye on the vast and still untapped oil and gas reserves that lie under the Libyan desert and many other British companies are eager to get a slice of the action in the new multi-million dollar Libyan construction programme that includes new ports, airports, holiday resorts, water nano-filtration plants and 27 new universities.
We may never know if the British Government was behind his release. Only Gordon Brown can say whether it was an act of altruism by the Scottish Government or part of deal to boost Anglo-Libyan trade and the Prime Minister is saying nothing. The New Communist Party has actively backed the campaign for justice for Megrahi and for Libya from the very beginning and we will continue to do so. We will continue to demand that the record be set straight and the machinations of the CIA be fully exposed.
By abandoning his appeal al Megrahi has given up any chance of clearing his name and resolving the mystery of the downing of Pan Am Flight 103. To this day no one has claimed responsibility for the destruction of the plane that cost the lives of 259 passengers and crew along with eleven Scots killed when parts of the aircraft hit the ground.
The trial was seriously flawed and the “evidence” produced by the CIA suspect. Many believed al Megrahi would have been able to clear his name at the appeal. In Libya and throughout the Arab world many believe he was innocent. This view is shared by many campaigners in Britain who had grave doubts about his trial. Clemency or natural justice - whatever the motive the release of the Libyan was right and long overdue.

A long standing Injustice

New Worker editorial 21st August 2009

ABDELBASET Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi last Tuesday abandoned his appeal against conviction for the Lockerbie bombing in order to make it easier for the Scottish law courts to allow him to return to Libya on compassionate grounds before he dies, aged 57, of prostate cancer. It another cruel twist to the mountain of injustices that have been heaped on this innocent man that he must surrender his long battle to clear his name - a legal battle that would take longer than his life expectancy - in order to be allowed to return to his home.

His incorrect conviction has in effect been a death sentence because he is dying from a cancer that is easily treatable and curable if the Scottish prison system had given him basic medical care and caught it in its early stages.

Two-hundred-and-seventy people died when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over the skies of Lockerbie in southern Scotland in December 1988.

At first the British and American security services blamed unspecified Palestinian terrorists. There had been warnings before the Lockerbie bombing of a possible revenge attack after an American warship in the Gulf shot down an Iranian airliner the previous year, killing all the civilians on board. An intelligence report from the US State Department on 2nd December 1988, 19 days before the Lockerbie bombing, warned: “Team of Palestinians not associated with the PLO plans to attack American targets in Europe. Targets specified are Pan Am and US military bases.”

For a while the imperialist leaders used accusations of being involved in the bombing to try to bully several Middle Eastern countries. Eventually they settled on brow-beating Libya by claiming the bombing was the work of two Libyan intelligence agents - Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fimah.

At first the Libyan government refused to hand them over and US imperialism subjected the country to economic and cultural sanctions. Then it bombed the capital, Tripoli, the bombers taking off from Britain. In the bombing raid Colonel Gaddafi’s infant adopted daughter was killed; they had been trying to kill Gaddafi himself.

The Libyan government finally demanded some evidence that the two accused were involved in the bombing. Up until then the US government had never even considered presenting a shred of evidence. Now the CIA went into overdrive to cook up some evidence. They leant heavily on stooges to identify Megrahi and Fimah as people who had bought clothes in Malta that were found in the suitcase that contained the bomb; one vital witness who originally described the purchaser as over six-foot and aged about 50 while Megrahi then was five-foot-eight-inches and 37. The list of dodgy “evidence” is very long.

But the two men were eventually handed over to be tried in 2000 in a special court by a panel of Scottish judges with no jury. The evidence was so bad that they could not bring themselves to convict both of the accused. The CIA had to be content with one sacrificial lamb.

The magazine Private Eye wrote: “The judgement and the verdict against Megrahi were perverse. The judges brought shame and disgrace, it is fair to say, to all those who believed in Scottish justice, and have added to Scottish law an injustice of the type which has often defaced the law in England. Their verdict was a triumph for the CIA but it did nothing at all to satisfy the demands of the families of those who died at Lockerbie - who still want to know how and why their loved ones were murdered.”

Since then Megrahi has been held in prison in Scotland; his wife moved from Libya to Scotland to be able to visit him regularly and they have both been separated from their home and the rest of their family.

The New Communist Party and the New Worker have actively backed the campaign for justice for Megrahi and for Libya from the beginning and we will continue to do so. He may no longer be in a position to fight to clear his name but that does not mean the fight will end. Along with millions of other progressives in Britain and around the world, we will continue to demand that the record be set straight and the machinations of the CIA be fully exposed.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Voices for Scottish Independence


By Robert Laurie

Communist Party of Scotland Independent Scotland – A Left Perspective pp. 38. Available from CPS/Alert Scotland, PO Box 7311, Glasgow G46 9B2. £2.00 plus 50 postage and packing.

On the 9th November last year the Communist Party of Scotland held a conference aimed at “uniting the left in Scotland around a number of shared political positions on Scottish independence”. This pamphlet is the result of that conference. Well produced and reasonably priced it provides an account of the views of various groups, mostly on the left, seeking Scottish independence.
A firmer editorial pen might have cut out the contributions which are clearly not relevant to the subject of the cause of Scottish independence: there is a contribution from a Communist Party of India (Marxist) representative describing the reasons for his party recently leaving India’s governing coalition. Given the conference was about independence the CPIM could have more productively made some observations about India’s complex national questions such as the status of Kashmir. Another irrelevant piece is that from a speaker from Action for Southern Africa, the successor to the Anti-Apartheid.
There is also a brief piece on the short history of the Scottish Workers Republican Party. Presumably the author considers this to be an example to be followed, but his outline merely demonstrates how irrelevant the SWRP was to the Scottish working class. It was founded in 1922 by John MacLean, a popular Marxist speaker and writer who refused to join the recently formed Communist Party of Great Britain which he absurdly saw as the product of a cunning plot by the British Government to create a tame dead end organization to ensnare genuine revolutionaries.
What of the main contributions? A Scottish Green Party representative presents a shopping list of policies on renewable energy, and poverty related issues but fails to make clear why an independent Scottish government would improve things or a British wide government cannot do the same. Mike Danson, a Professor Economics at the University of the West of Scotland sees the example of the capitalist Scandinavian countries as an inspiring model. Another academic, Chris Harvey, who has returned from being Professor of British and Irish Studies at the University of Tübingen to be a Scottish Nationalist list MSP seems to think imagine that the Scottish economy can be rescued by German banks funding huge Scottish tidal energy projects which could power much of Europe. Strangely none of the speakers has anything to say about the European Union. Although all speakers denounce “Thatcherite” neoliberalism they are silence about its Brussels variety.
The main Communist Party of Scotland’s speaker Maggie Chetty attacks the Labour Party for betraying its values but then goes on to praise the good work down by race relations bodies which it established, lamenting only that they are inadequately funded. She praises France and Spain for being “more successful than we have in resisting Coca Cola and Big Mac culture which is a very venal aspect of America’s cultural imperialism”. This is unfair to Scotland. The traditional Scottish diet of Irn Bru and haggis and chips keeps these deplorable American influences at bay.
Was the conference a success? Not entirely. While it briefly brought together speakers from both the rump of the Scottish Socialist Party and its breakaway Solidarity the war between these two tiny sects continues. At the recent Euro-Elections Solidarity joined the Communist Party of Britain in the No2EU alliance. The CPB are roundly denounced earlier in the pamphlet for acting as a “Trojan Horse in the heart of the Labour Movement”.