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Photography by Emma Garland

Why sex workers went on strike this week

‘Your job isn’t empowering either’

Last night, the Women’s Strike took place on the streets of the UK for the first time in two years. Hundreds gathered in London’s Leicester Square – protestors, activists and members of trade unions like United Voices of the World (representing low-paid, migrant and precarious workers) and IWGB (founded by Latin American cleaners, now representing insecure workers from delivery riders to nannies), as well as grassroots organisations like the English Collective of Prostitutes, SWARM, Migrants Organise, Sisters Uncut, the Feminist Assembly of Latin Americans, Kurdistan Solidarity Network and more. While each group has its own demands – the decriminalisation of sex work, a living wage, rights for migrant domestic workers – their fight is the same: to exist.

While fast fashion brands offered customers a chance to win £5k and London dungeon rebranded Jack the Ripper to “Jackie” (quite literally: slay!), speeches were given by striking workers and sex workers, lashing out at poverty wages, lack of sick pay, lack of maternity leave, and laws that enable unsafe working conditions that disproportionately impact migrant workers, sex workers, trans workers and workers of colour. The demand is simple: “We want to live… but we also want more than that.”

A statement was also read out from a women’s rights group in Russia speaking out against the war in Ukraine. “Today, while [state volunteers] were laying flowers, we the women of Russia refuse to celebrate the 8th of March this year. Don’t give us flowers. Better to go out and lay them in memory of the dead civilians of Ukraine.”

From there, the protest weaved through Soho – the site of the first ECP strike on International Women’s Day in 2000, when hundreds of masked sex workers marched through the streets demanding an end to poverty, criminalisation, evictions and gentrification – while a portable PA blasted Cardi B. From there everyone moved on to Charing Cross police station, where members of the ECP and Sisters Uncut gave speeches railing against police raids and police violence. The march ended at Downing Street, where the FALA led a multilingual chant of “if you touch one of us, you touch all of us.”

“For decades sex workers have been a driving force in the grassroots women’s movement. On International Women’s Day, we take action to make the value of women’s work, including sex work, more visible,” the ECP wrote in a statement. “Our movement is inspired and led by hundreds of thousands of sex workers. We are mothers working to feed our children; migrant workers supporting our families back home; refugee women fleeing war and environmental devastation [...] We demand decriminalisation, safety and our rights.”

Mid-way through the evening, Labour MP Nadia Whittome addressed a crowd at Piccadilly Circus, calling for the decriminalisation of sex work and for the spotlight of International Women’s Day to be pulled away from CEO’s, brands and individual success stories and thrown back on the collective labour force. As one member of Sisters Uncut phrased it, hammering home the point from the top of the steps outside Charing Cross police station: “You cannot girlboss your way out of systemic violence.”