Social Democrats USA Endorses Sex Work Decriminalization

Note: At its recent retreat in Monticello, New York, the leadership of Social Democrats USA voted unanimously, with a proper quorum present, to endorse the decriminalization of sex work throughout the United States.

                                                  RESOLUTION

During the past decade and throughout this presidential year, the issue of sex work has emerged, making its mark via unprecedented mainstream media coverage. Nationwide advocacy groups such as the Sex Workers Outreach Project and “DeCrim” activists working in major US cities have also drawn the attention of the Democratic Left in general and progressive elected officials in particular.

In New York State, State Senators Julia Salazar and Jessica Ramos authored and introduced Senate Bill 6419, which calls for the decriminalization of sex work for all consenting adult citizens as well as for adult migrants looking for a path to citizenship. Currently residing in committee, this bill, if passed, would be the first of its kind in a nation where most aspects of sex work are illegal and sex workers are marginalized and oppressed, sometimes brutally. Democratic Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have each lent a sympathetic ear to the concerns of sex workers. Warren stated in 2019 that “I am open to decriminalizing sex work. Sex workers, like all workers, deserve autonomy and are particularly vulnerable to physical and financial abuse.” Sarah Ford, Sanders’ deputy communications director, declared that “Bernie believes that decriminalization is certainly something that should be considered. Other countries have done this and it has shown to make the lives of sex workers safer.” Both Warren and Sanders endorsed democratic socialist candidate Tiffany Caban for district attorney of Queens, NY, who made sex work decriminalization core to her campaign. Their joint endorsement was critical to Caban’s 2019 near-victory over Democratic establishment pick Melinda Katz.

Amnesty International, which called for sex work decriminalization in 2016, defines sex work as “the exchange of sexual services (including sexual acts) between consenting adults for some form of remuneration, with the terms agreed between the seller and the buyer.” The exchange can be direct, as in prostitution, or indirect, as in stripping, pole dancing, phone sex, or adult films. Since the 1970s, sexual activity as the basis for commercial exchanges has caused nasty divisions within the women’s movement. Those who oppose decriminalization want sex work abolished and question the feminist loyalties of those who disagree; supporters of sex work oppose putting sexual activity on a pedestal that elevates it above other human needs that are also subject to commercial exchanges. Sex work supporters argue that this attitude is a relic of the Victorian Era that oppressed women in all aspects of their lives.

Ultimately, it is a matter of choice. For instance, on the issue of abortion, Social Democrats USA is a wide-tent organization that welcomes the participation of democratic socialists who believe that human life begins at conception as well as those who believe it begins at birth, but as a matter of policy, the greater good is served by supporting a woman’s right to choose. Likewise, Social Democrats USA welcomes the participation of democratic socialists who see the very notion of ‘sex work’ as degrading to women as well as of those who support sex work not only as a necessary option for some but as a way to normalize and demystify sexual activity on the spectrum of human needs. As a matter of policy, the greater good is served by both supporting the right of women (as well as men) to choose sex work and bringing not just sex workers but all aspects of sex work out of the underground and into the light of day. This can best be done through decriminalization, since all other options have failed to satisfactorily protect the human rights of sex workers.

Overt criminalization of sex work is the status quo in the United States. Many sex workers – prostitutes – are considered criminals, and therefore require sex managers – pimps – to bail them out of jail whenever they are arrested by the police. This arrangement gives pimps and police the power of life and death over prostitutes, and the stigma derived from this arrangement causes society at large to marginalize these and, by extension, all other sex workers. As a result, serial murderers of sex workers feel they are doing society a favor. Any decent person who feels invested in human rights must oppose this arrangement.

Legalization of sex work – the status quo in several Western European countries as well as a few counties in Nevada – does make sex workers somewhat safer inasmuch as individual pimps and abusive police are no longer a factor. However, legalization restricts their movement and places of living in ways that the average citizen would not tolerate if applied to them. Advocates of legalization do not consult sex workers before imposing this framework. Moreover, as Kate Zen, Executive Director of the New York State Assembly Asian Pacific-American Task Force, stated at the 2019 Left Forum, “Legalization, in the German or Dutch context, is a regulatory framework that continues to put power into the hands of capitalist industries through expensive licenses and public listings, which exclude poor workers and migrant sex workers who cannot gain a license.”

The “Nordic Model” is currently being promoted by feminists who want to abolish sex work and who are indignant that the term ‘sex work’ is even in the political lexicon. On paper, this Model decriminalizes sex workers but not anyone else who is part of sex work. Those who sell sex services don’t get arrested, the theory goes, but those who buy such services are. However, in those countries where this Model is prevalent, customers won’t report any crimes they witness for fear of being arrested simply for being customers. Sex workers are still arrested, but on charges of ‘loitering’. Social service providers in these countries oppose condom distribution on the grounds that this promotes prostitution. This is a dysfunctional Model that lends itself to more abuse against sex workers and greater risk to public health.

This leaves decriminalization of sex work – the removal of all mention of adult sex work from the criminal code and the establishment of industry-specific regulations in consultation with sex worker representatives. This already happened in New Zealand in 2003 with the passage of the Prostitution Reform Act. According to the New Zealand government, there has been not one incident of sex trafficking since then. Sex workers there report their greatest job satisfaction ever. In the United States, the decriminalization movement is led by advocates of sex worker unionization, collectivization and other aspects of democratic socialism.

We resolve that Social Democrats USA will assist in whatever way it can to promote the decriminalization of sex work in a principled manner.

Sara Nelson and AFA shut down the shutdown

In 1986 I was working at Detroit Metro Airport when one of our MD-80s crashed during takeoff. About 150 people were killed instantly, except for one infant (still an unexplainable miracle). The accident investigation revealed that the pilots did not properly set the flaps for take-off. That’s a routine step in their procedure, but they missed it because they were distracted. Our airline was going through a merger at the time and the pilots were all nervous about how they would fare. Our industry is heavily unionized, and seniority will make or break your life. The pilots on this particular flight were discussing the merger in the cockpit while they were awaiting takeoff clearance from ATC. Fifteen minutes later, they would all be dead.

Very professional workers can still make mistakes. In the airline industry we refer to the causes of these errors “human factors”. These factors include poor communication, fatigue, distraction, etc. Human error analysis and correction is a major focus in aviation. We don’t have a choice; mistakes are deadly. We have worked during the past 30 years to imbed safety into every facet of our operations. And it shows. U.S. airlines transport 885 million passengers a year. During the past 10 years only one person has died due to an accident. Compare this to the 250,000 people who die each year in the U.S. due to medical error. No other industry comes even remotely close to our safety record. It’s something we are very proud of.

Union workers have been central to developing this safety culture. They have developed error reporting and analysis programs with management. Workers must be free to say “I made an error” without fear of losing their job. That error has to be analyzed so that it can be prevented from happening again. Other industries could learn much from observing airline processes. And while I would say that all the unions in an airline work together in accomplishing these safety goals, they don’t usually work together on other matters. Airline unions have varying history and missions. Unions that are not grounded in workers rights and socialism view their mission as simply representing their members for their collective benefit, not part of a wider movement. From my personal experience I can say that the IAM has always done a stellar job standing up for all workers, not just their members. I remember union leaders telling members that both the janitor and the mechanic have to pay the same price for bread, even when mechanics wanted to throw the baggage handlers or stock clerks under the bus during contract negotiations. I always gave the IAM leadership credit for teaching the stewards these basic lessons. We don’t historically see this in flight attendants and pilots unions.

That’s why I have been so encouraged by Sara Nelson and the Association of Flight Attendants. When the Federal shutdown idled employees and caused others to work without pay, Sara recognized the threat to the flying public caused by a human factors error. At the same time, President Trump dismissed the impact by saying that these workers would all get their back pay and they should be able to go for a month without a paycheck. But the threat is real. Very professional workers, when distracted from their duties by outside factors, can and will make errors. Sara and her coworkers exhibit a safety consciousness that informs everything they do. Further, a new assertiveness by women has allowed her to take the lead on this matter in an industry still dominated by men. It wasn’t the pilots who publicly alerted the nation to the danger, and it wasn’t the mechanics who ended the shutdown, it was the flight attendants. This is something inconceivable when I hired into the airlines in 1980.

Sara is today calling for a nationwide day of action by all flight attendants if the government is shut down again. You should follow Sara on twitter @flyingwithsara. The AFA-CWA are members of AFL-CIO.

Social Democrats Ask Senate to Reject Anti-Labor Puzder

The National Committee of Social Democrats USA has issued the following statement:

Social Democrats USA joins working people throughout the United States in urging the Senate
to reject the nomination of fast-food executive Andrew Puzder to be Secretary of Labor. We urge members, supporters, and friends to sign the AFL-CIO petition against his confirmation.
The petition can be found at www.aflcionow.org.

The Secretary of Labor is charged with oversight of measures to improve wages and working conditions and with enforcing labor laws, but Puzder is, in the words of AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, “a man whose business record is defined by fighting against working people.” Puzder has been a strong opponent of increasing the Federal minimum wage, now set at a pitiful $7.25 per hour, barely over the Federal poverty standard for a single person. As for the possibility that he would be an effective enforcer of the labor laws, it is worth noting that Puzder’s fast-food chain has a history of cheating workers of their wages.

Toward the end of his term of office, President Obama sought to improve workers’ conditions by issuing Executive Orders. One required Federal contractors to grant up to seven days per year of paid sick leave. This order is not likely to survive under Puzder. Another increased the eligibility to receive overtime pay of workers earning up to $47,476, and this measure is now tied up in the Texas courts. Puzder can kill this order by simply not appealing the lower court decision.

Andrew Puzder as Secretary of Labor would be a disaster for American working families, and we urge the Senate to reject his nomination for that office.

The Class War

For the last several decades neoliberal Democrats and conservative Republicans have greeted proposals to help working families as “class legislation.” Throughout this time a very small part of the population has taken most of the productivity gains, unions have been all but destroyed, and working families have found it increasingly difficult to meet the costs of health care and education. This has been class war- a deliberate war against the working class.

We have come to an acute crisis in this war, when the conservatives have captured the three branches of the Federal government. Conservatives now have the power to destroy or drastically modify many of the social programs that began with the New Deal. We have to fight back, and a major weapon for us is to spread information about the costs to working families of the conservative attacks. In the months ahead Socialist Currents will publish a series of articles
about the right-wing attempts to destroy what is left of the safety net in America under the overall title “The Class War.”

No retreat, no compromise, no surrender!

Herbert Hoover’s Revenge?

Since 1932 there has been a part of the Republican Party that has consistently resisted the New Deal, the Great Society and whatever we have had for the last eight years. As Democratic administrations enacted Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, this faction fought the descent of the country into the pit of “socialism.” Their nadir came when the Eisenhower administration accepted the basics of the New Deal, but they roared back in 1964 with the Goldwater nomination. The Republican right-wing has continued to grow, and the once-plentiful Republican moderate has gone the way of the dodo. Today these reactionaries are on the verge of control of the three branches of the Federal government, and early indications are that they plan significant damage, and even destruction, to the great achievements of Democratic administrations since Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office. The super-wealthy 1% have already gained a share of the national wealth not seen since 1929, and destroying an already frayed safety net will take us closer to that halcyon year for the rich. Maybe Herbert Hoover will at last have his revenge.

The reactionaries have long held control of the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate,
but a new feature is Cabinet secretaries devoted to the destruction of the social programs administered by their departments. We will likely have an Attorney General who was rejected as a Federal judge because of a suspicion of racism, a Treasury Secretary who is a Goldman Sachs alumnus (big surprise!) and whose bank played fast and loose with California’s foreclosure laws, a Health and Human Services Secretary who has been the House Republicans’ expert on gutting the Affordable Care Act, a Labor Secretary who is a fast food executive, who opposes raising the minimum wage and who would prefer employing machines rather than people, an Environmental Protection Administrator who has sued the EPA, an Energy Secretary who, when enumerating agencies he wanted to abolish, forgot the name of the department he will now head, and so it goes. The leader of this assault on the safety web is a real estate billionaire who proposes a massive tax cut to aid the 1%.

While the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party is still stunned and largely silent, there are signs that progressives are girding for battle. Perhaps most important they have developed an attitude expressed by our comrade Don Seastrum: No retreat, no compromise, no
surrender. Had this attitude prevailed throughout President Obama’s administration, perhaps
the Congress would not have been lost in 2010 and the presidential election of 2016 would have had a different outcome. The President would have had to explain the Affordale Care Act on a class basis: millions of poor and middle class people were going to get the health care they deserved. Those who opposed the Act or who sabotaged its implementation, such as
the Republican governors who refused to allow expansion of Medicaid, were sentencing millions of poor people to poor health and even premature death. They should have been eviscerated, not placated. Now, with repeal of the Affordable Care Act as the number one Republican priority, it should be opposed on the same class basis. We may not have the numbers to stop the reactionaries but we should make crystal-clear just what was lost, just who lost it and just who was responsible. This may not be”cool,” but when was class war ever “cool?”

Another early battle will be the confirmations of the Trump cabinet. Progressives must show clearly what each confirmation will cost ordinary people. What do we lose by a Treasury Secretary who has drunk the supply-side kool aid and who will preside over a tax gift to those who already have too much? What does an anti-worker Labor Secretary cost the working people of this country? What is the cost in human lives and health of the plans of the proposed Health and Human Services Secretary? There is no place for politeness in this fight. The rhetoric must be blunt, and progressives must throw bricks, not cream puffs.