“NO CONDOM, NO PUSSY”: Housework is Real Work. Sex Work is Real Work. Under Capitalism All Work is Shit.

“We usually add a bit of money to the shitty lives we have now and then ask, so what? on the false premise that we could ever get that money without at the same time revolutionising – in the process of struggling for it – all our family and social relations. But if we take wages for housework as a political perspective, we can see that struggling for it is going to produce a revolution in our lives and in our social power as women. It is also clear that if we think we do not ‘need’ that money, it is because we have accepted the particular forms of prostitution of body and mind by which we get the money to hide that need. As I will try to show, not only is wages for housework a revolutionary perspective, but it is the only revolutionary perspective from a feminist viewpoint and ultimately for the entire working class.” — Silvia Federici in Wages Against Housework (1975)



Women’s struggles are worker’s struggles. As early as 1800s, women and girls have been central to agitating for class emancipation and have been on the frontlines of strikes and walkouts in a rich history of women’s militancy in work-based struggles.

New England in the early 19th century saw waves of all-women strikes: mill workers, mostly women and girls exploited as a source of cheap labour, were central to rebellions against wage cuts. These courageous women pioneered tactics that would be relied upon in labour struggles well into the 1930s, such as “flying squadrons”, while London East End match factory girls of the late 1800s forged the modern trade union movement in Britain. However, irrespective of a rich history of working women’s resolve, trade unions and worker organizations remained dominated by – and often exclusive to – men. Women were therefore fighting for basic labour rights against their bosses, at the same time as fighting for recognition from their male comrades. The Knights of Labor in America (1880), one of the rare unions that included women, welcomed “domestic workers” such as “housewives, servants and housekeepers” acknowledging the important role that domestic work played in the production and continuation of the community.

Women continued to lead international union struggles, highlighting the abysmal working conditions of all wage labourers and also the particularities of gender and race oppression in the workplace. But the 1970s saw the beginnings of a feminist intervention that fought for the recognition of the kinds of work outside of the traditional workplace. Disproportionately performed by women, such work includes invisiblized domestic and care work, sex work, and housework. The campaign demanding Wages for Housework developed a much-needed feminist perspective to Marxist analyses of capital and workers’ exploitation. The demand, ostensibly for a wage for domestic work, opened up fundamental and crucial insights into the material understandings of gender, social reproduction work, and affective labour. For example, framing gendered, affective work as work has influenced the self-organization of sex worker collectives from Brazil, to Paris and from Ecuador to London. Sex workers in particular continue to fight for recognition of trade unions, alongside the battle for the decriminalization of all consensual forms of sex work.

To coincide with the publication of Joshua Clover's Riot.Strike.Riot: The New Era of Uprisings, we are proud to present some trail-blazing acts of rebellion by women and minorities who fought to bring their margins into the centres of both the labour movement and in society. These radical struggles continue to inspire and shape revolutionary perspectives on workers’ social relationship to the means of production.


1. The Crafty Brawd(s) of the 17th Century

Damaris Page gained infamy as a woman born into poverty later to become a sex worker and brothel owner in East London. Her notoriety led her to be named “Crafty Brawd.” While Page’s seemingingly entrepreneurial endeavors may be interpreted as petit-bourgeois today, the fundamental dearth of the rights of women and sex workers in 17th Century London, Page’s refusal to remain impoverished and exploited could be seen as a small act of rebellion.


(A Harlot's Progress Plate I, The Arrival of the Harlot in London, 1732 William Hogarth, London and Plates)


2. East End Match Girls’ Strike of 1888

London East End girls working at the Bryant & May match factory set the modern trade union movement ablaze when they staged a strike for several days following the dismissal of a worker. The dismissal was punitive, after 200 tooled-up factory girls descended on to the offices in Fleet Street to confront factory bosses about their heavy-handed repression of protests over horrendous working conditions. The girls’ unyielding resolve caused the company to raise wages and eliminate white phosphorus from its match production.

(Match Factory Girls of the East End)


3. Sarah Wesker and the Women of The Battle of Cable Street of 1936

Throughout the 1920s, Sarah Wesker was a union organizer, and instrumental to the several strikes at major textile factories. Further to this – fluent in English and Yiddish – Wesker became an influential figure in the struggles against bourgeoning fascism. When the British Union of Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley, attempted to storm a Jewish neighbourhood, a heroic group of anti-fascist protesters confronted them and a ruthless battle ensued. They were made up of socialists, anarchist, communist, and local Jews. Wesker, along with other women workers and housewives, stood alongside male comrades on the frontlines of the battle.

(Housewives throw molotov cocktails at fascists and police in this minature model paying homage to women of The Battle of Cable Street)

4. Wages for Housework – Global social movement, from 1972

The International Wages for Housework Campaign developed out of the International Feminist Collective in Italy, where feminist activists Selma James, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, and Silvia Federici produced pamphlets demanding women’s work in the home be waged. This was the first of many pioneering interventions that revolutionised feminist theory, contesting traditional Marxist analysis of capital, which too-often failed to recognize the necessity of gendered social reproduction to its operation. Wages for Housework was not so much a prescriptive demand, but rather a political call to arms of housewives, sex workers, and labourers globally whose work, feminized and therefore undervalued, often went unpaid or unrecognized by trade unions.

(Women own the streets on International Women's Day)


5. Sex Worker Organizations Lead the Way in 1972

Sex work has been an organizing basis for women, men and minority-genders globally and has roots as early as 1970s, highlighting the inextricable and illuminating links between sex work and other affective forms of labour such as housework. In 1972, the very first WHO (Whores, Housewives and Others) meeting took place, leading to the conception of COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) who were a sex worker collective who organized in San Francisco around labour rights and working conditions.


(International Sex Workers Union banner is proudly held by self-organized sex workers, inspired by the forerunners of the movement of the 70s)


6. French Sex Workers Occupation of 1975

The French Collective of Prostitutes, later to inspire the founding of the English Collective of Prostitutes, mobilized against police brutality and state repression in June 1975. They occupied Saint-Nizier church in Lyon and despite their inexperience in collective action (due in-part to the marginalized nature of sex work within traditional labour unions) they were resolute and gained the support of non sex-worker comrades compelled to act in solidarity when recognizing the alligned interest between wage labourers and sex workers.


(French Collective of Prostitutes occupy and organize)


7. World Whores Congress of 1985

International Committee for Prostitutes Rights (ICPR) was formed, followed by two World Whores Congresses, held in Amsterdam in 1985 and Brussels in 1986. However, despite claiming to be a global network, sex workers of the Third World and developing countries were notably absent and were not invited to participate formally. This notwithstanding, the World Whores Congress was a remarkable triumph in putting sex worker struggles on the map, forcing feminist movements to take seriously the collective experiences of sex workers and their potential in labour organizing. 


(Sex workers have been pivotal to movements which highlight the violence of borders and migrant justice)


8. Ecuadorian Sex Workers Strike of 1988

1988 Ecuadorian Association of Autonomous Women Workers (established in 1982) held a sex workers strike. These pioneering women frequently demonstrated against the living conditions of the majority of the people of El Ora Province in southern Ecuador, where people suffered extreme poverty and malnutrition, while wealth was clenched tight in the hands of the few. Their most notable action — a strike that saw brothels padlocked, telephone lines cut, and holding authorities hostage — was in direct response to police and state violence against sex workers in brothels and street workers. The strike sparked a series of sex worker and women's collectives in local provinces, encouraging building links and solidarity.


(Indigenous women continue to be on the frontlines of Ecuador's agitators)


9. No Condom No Pussy – Sex workers protest of 1994

In 1994, 400 sex workers staged a protest against the closing of a brothel in Lima, Peru with the slogan “We want to work, we want to work”. While in Paramaribo, Suriname, sex workers had made a first mass public appearance on World AIDS day, declaring autonomy throughout the city streets, mobilising with the banner “No Condom, No Pussy”. Sex workers were frustrated with being marginalized when it came to global health initiatives and by trade unions. Sex workers in Paramaribo demanded social justice and for their labour to be recognized in order to bring about safer working conditions. A basic demand, still being fought for, by sex workers internationally today.

(Indian sex workers and social workers, one fancy dressed as AIDS virus, take part in a midnight torchlight march on the eve of world AIDS day, in Kolkata)


10. And the Fight Goes On

In 2002, due to the unrelenting resolve of sex workers collectives, GMB (Britain’s General Union) finally recognized the membership of sex workers, initiating the Adult Entertainment Branch – the first in British trade union history. Despite concerted efforts by radical anti-sex work feminists like Julie Bindel and Jess Edwards, this was a historic win for sex workers and brought about the International Sex Workers Union, and was proactive in linking sex worker struggles to migrant struggles:

I suggest that the union should bring precarious and migrant workers together. Many might work as waitresses, domestic servants AND sex workers. They may not identify as sex workers, but all their work is precarious.

It was argued that sex workers sell their labour power in the same way any other worker sells their labour power in capitalist society, and therefore revolutionary soclialists should support the struggles by sex workers to be unionized. This fight continues, but is slowly progressing.

In 2015, after a long and unyielding campaign led by sex workers, feminist, and women’s organizations; Amnesty International passed policy to support the full decriminalization of all consensual adult sex work: sex worker’s rights are human rights. Various sex worker organizations such as Sex Workers Open University and English Collective of Prostitutes organize in communities affected by austerity and police repression, raising the profile of the life-saving decriminalization campaign. 





To celebrate the publication of Riot.Strike.Riot: The New Era of Uprisings by Joshua Clover and Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter edited by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton, both books are 40% off until Wednesday, June 1.  

Read more:
“We Are Those Lions”: 5 Strikes and Riots that Shook Modern Britain 
Baltimore Riot. Baltimore Commune?
“So many/too few”: Reflections on the 2011 riots by James Butler

More in #Riots #Feminism #policing #SexWork