Rachel Aimee writes:
The last time I danced at a strip club in Manhattan, I paid an $80 “house fee” to work. I was shouted at for slouching in my seat and for eating my lunch at the wrong time, and I went home with $40 less than I’d arrived with. After working in this exploitative industry for many years, I wanted to organize to improve working conditions for strippers. But when I reached out to other activists who had been involved in campaigns to protect dancers’ rights, the overwhelming response I got was: “Don’t do it!”
They had a point.
When dancers at the Lusty Lady, a San Francisco peepshow, successfully unionized in 1997, they put strippers’ labor rights on the map. Third-wave feminists across the world rushed to hold up the Lusty Lady as proof that sex work doesn’t have to be exploitative. The unionization drive and subsequent transition of the club into a worker-owned cooperative was seen by many as the start of a movement in which strippers would put a stop to the discriminatory practices that plague the industry.
Fifteen years later, the Lusty Lady remains the only unionized stripping venue in the country, and working conditions in most clubs have gotten worse, with dancers paying up to $300 a shift to work and often going home in debt to their employers. Meanwhile, dancers at the Lusty Lady have contracts and receive a standard wage instead of having to compete for tips. But rather than looking to the Lusty Lady as a beacon of progress, most strippers balk at the thought of working for an hourly wage instead of hustling for tips.