Watch the good video from the Guardian below about precarious work and the precariat. In my talks about migrants who sell sex I always refer to Manuel Castells’s idea of flexible labour: changes in how business are run that mean bosses move businesses looking for cheaper ways to produce and workers travel to find jobs and switch fields, learning new skills, rather than try to maintain a single career path. Precarious labour refers to a wide gamut of working situations that lack security: freelance workers who live on earnings from more than one job, temporary workers, day labourers, subcontractors and so on. Precarity means you can be let go from your job with no notice, you receive no benefits, employers take no responsibility for keeping you safe or healthy, you move on when a job doesn’t work out. It means you don’t have a union or maybe even the right to organise.
Selling sex is often a variation of this, a way to make money that can be performed just about anywhere if the worker manages to figure out what the local customs are. Selling sex is a form of precarious labour when workers are not doing it legally and possibly not residing legally somewhere. All people who sell sex in unregulated situations, and many who sell in regulated situations, migrants and not, share precarious conditions and belong to what Guy Standing is calling the precariat (a word based on the old idea of the proletariat).
This is the way sex work is like other jobs. Whilst moral entrepreneurs rant and rail about the degradation of selling sex and how it can never be a proper job, the possibility of ever getting a proper job diminishes and recedes for vast numbers of people. In such a context, whether crusaders like it or not, many people are willing to give sex work a try and willing to adapt to its peculiar conditions. That doesn’t mean they all love it or feel like professionals; it doesn’t mean they don’t wish they could find something else to do. But it means their choices, completely logical in today’s labour markets, should be respected.
The following video isn’t about sex work; the workers interviewed are doing low-paying jobs. They might wish they could get better jobs, but they don’t want to lose the ones they have. For those who think people shouldn’t go into sex work, listen up and focus on all the other employment situations that are terrible, that barely allow people to get to the end of the month. If none of them get better, more people will go into sex work, that’s definite.
More on precarity here.
–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist