The Prostitution Act Reform Bill was passed into law on the 27th June 2003 by the very narrow margin of one vote.Here we put a communist perspective on this issue and explain why we give critical support to this new law.
This much-debated piece of legislation, though long overdue, was only passed because a Muslim MP Ashraf Chaudhary could not in good conscience vote either for or against it and so abstained.
In the patriarchal family the male head of the household was boss and his sons inherited his property.Marital sex was necessary to make sure that his sons were legitimate heirs. Women were paid for their sexual services by their upkeep and were also expected to be the moral champions of monogamy. Prostitution was tolerated because it fulfilled the need for sex outside marriage without threatening to destroy the patriarchal household.
Under capitalism this changed. The working class had no property to pass down to its sons. Instead the working class family became a ‘domestic factory’ for making babies to feed the bosses’ factories. To ensure that dad stayed around to feed the family production line, the ruling class tried to enact legislation to restrict extramarital sex. They also promoted the moralising myths that stigmatised prostitutes as deviants while their mainly male clients usually escaped the law.
Making up Morals
Job satisfaction for profits
The second myth that the moralists like to perpetrate is that no woman would willingly choose to be a prostitute. But nor do other workers choose freely to work for wages. The truth is that no worker is free to choose under capitalism, as the alternative is starvation or living in an oppressive relationship. Some prostitutes claim that they are not exploited or abused, but are professionals. So do many other workers take a pride in their job. Like the prostitute who does not see that extramarital sex props up the bourgeois family, they also fail to see that their labour produces profits for the bosses and props up capitalism.
Pimps stand over tactics
Under the existing legislation parlour owners have more power over their workers than any other group of “bosses”. Though the fiction was maintained that these women were private contractors they were required to work rosters that did not necessarily take into account personal circumstances or commitments.When they refused to do impossible shifts or missed shifts, they were fined (these fines could range from $10 to $50 or more per shift missed). In one case we know of a worker fined (docked) over $500 when she failed to show up for a shift even though she was ill and had rung to inform the “boss” that she would not be in.
Brothels to pay tax, GST and ACC
This bill now brings parlours/brothels under the same legal restraints as other employers/businesses thus offering a modicum of protection to the workers through the need for these “bosses” to comply with the minimum standards set down by ACC and OSH for the workplace to be safe.So while revenue collection may well be one of the objectives of the bill it is not the only objective, as was portrayed by some of those who opposed it.
Radical liberal hypocrisy
So called ‘moral’ grounds were not valid reasons for those on the left to have opposed this bill.It is no good claiming that capitalism must be overthrown to get rid of prostitution, but meanwhile doing nothing to help prostitutes to organise and improve their conditions while we prepare for the revolution. The removal of the blatant oppression of women who work in this profession by the parlour owners, the ”bosses” and those who rent apartments with rent plus ‘extra use’ charges were very valid reasons to critically support the Bill.These are the capitalists that profit from the present situation and they are aided by those who choose to use moral grounds for their objections.
Crime and drugs red herrings
Another myth is that prostitution causes crime. But the problems associated with drug dependency, mental illness, and suicide cannot be laid “at the door” of prostitution as often these problems are pre-existing.These are problems brought about by the capitalist system and are not the product of any one industry.As figures for the number of women working in the industry are only estimates and often only take into account street walkers or at best include parlour workers, it is impossible to state that statistically this is a more dangerous occupation than many others, including nursing, being a doctor or any other high stress employment.
All out for the sexual revolution
As Marxists we recognise that prostitution today is the product of capitalism and patriarchy and will not go away until we abolish both. Meanwhile capitalism requires us to sell our labour to survive, and the selling of sexual services is also necessary for the reproduction of bourgeois families and capitalist society. For some these services are performed inside bourgeois marital-type relationships as partners. For others, these services are performed outside the family as prostitutes.