Lap dancers will seek to unionise, says academic

July 9, 2004

Lap-dancing clubs could start targeting a female audience as a result of moves to unionise erotic dancers in the UK, a Stirling University industrial relations expert predicts.

Gregor Gall told the British Universities' Industrial Relations Association's annual conference at Nottingham University last week that dancers were the most likely sex workers in the UK to unionise. In countries such as Germany, Australia and the Netherlands unionisation focused on prostitutes because of the decriminilisation of their work, he said.

Three UK lap-dancing clubs have union recognition with the GMB. While prostitutes' main concern was access to sexual health facilities and legal representation, lap dancers wanted to gain employed status, Dr Gall said.

Far from being paid by the clubs, most dancers have to pay "stage fees" to perform and hope to recoup this in tips from customers. The more money a customer hands over, the greater level of sexual contact he expects. "But one of the things the dancers have been keen to establish is a no-touching rule," Dr Gall said.

Dancers were usually told what music to dance to and what to wear, but negotiated pay levels and job specifications were likely to give dancers the confidence to do different types of routine, he said. Rather than being aimed at male heterosexuals, these might target women, as was the case with pornography and erotica.

Dr Gall said the dancers described themselves as feminists, and argued that if they could dance in an atmosphere free from harassment, this would promote a better image of women. They claimed that they worked as dancers through choice rather than economic compulsion. And they criticised as "anti-sex" those feminists who saw them as victims of male exploitation.

"There are quite big frictions there but fortunately they don't tend to frequent the same social space," Dr Gall said.

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