George Grosz: artist, satirist and “cultural Bolshevik”

May 22, 2015 at 7:18 pm (anti-fascism, Art and design, capitalist crisis, culture, Germany, history, humanism, Jim D, modernism, satire, sex workers, war)

Between now and June 20th you have the opportunity to see ‘The Big No’, an exhibition of work of one by the greatest left-wing satirical artists of the 20th century: George Grosz. It’s at the London Print Studio (W10) and admission is free of charge.

Grosz was a founder of the Berlin Dadaist movement who created hundreds of drawings that savagely depicted the corruption, injustice and decadence of the Weimar republic. Along with Helmut Herzfeld (who became John Heartfield) he introduced photomontage to the mainstream. Many of his his drawings are composed like photomontages.

The drawings use superb fine-pen draftsmanship while the paintings are composed of bold brush-stokes, to convey shocking images of extremes of wealth and poverty, sexual exploitation and the broken survivors of WWI.

The Big No (named after Grosz’s autobiography A Little Yes and a Big No) features two portfolios of his drawings: Ecce Homo (Behold The Man), published in 1923 and Hintergrund (Background) from 1928. Ecce Homo was the subject of a four year legal case, with  Grosz and his publisher accused of both pornography and bringing the German military into disrepute. They were acquitted, but in 1933 the Nazis had all the plates destroyed and the drawings publicly burned. We are able to see the work now because in 1959, after Grosz’s death, his widow and sons licenced a facsimile edition of the portfolio.

The Nazis denounced Grosz as a “cultural Bolshevik” and his work (together with that of fellow modernists, Jews and leftists like Kandinsky, Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Dix) featured in the notorious 1937 “degenerate art” exhibition organised by the Nazis. By then Grosz had fled with his family to the US, where he remained for the rest of his life and where his son Marty became a well-known jazz guitarist.

Grosz wrote, ‘In 1916 I was discharged from military service. The Berlin to which I returned was a cold and grey city. What I saw made me loathe most of my fellow men; everything I could say has been recorded in my drawings. The busy cafés and wine-cellars merely accentuated the gloom of the dark, unheated residential districts. I drew drunkards; puking men; men with clenched fists cursing at the moon; men playing cards on the coffins of the women they had murdered. I drew a man, face filled with fright, washing blood from his hands… I was each one of the characters I drew, the champagne-swilling glutton favoured by fate no less than the poor beggar standing with outstretched hands in the rain. I was split in two, just like society at large…’

This exhibition is simply unmissable. I don’t know whether or not it’s going to appear anywhere outside London, so even if you don’t live in capital, I’d recommend a special visit. And how appropriate that it’s appearing in one of the less affluent parts of London, at studio whose stated mission is to “empower people and communities through practical engagement with the visual and graphic arts.”

GROSZ - On the threshold 

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Sex worker union organising: an important new book

August 8, 2012 at 2:47 am (Jackie Mcdonough, sex workers, unions, women, workers)

An Agency of their Own: sex worker union organising by Professor Gregor Gall of the University of Hartfordshire.

The term ‘sex workers’ is a generic one covering all those who sell sexual services, comprising prostitutes, exotic dancers, porn actors and sex chat line workers.

This book provides the first global survey and analysis of the various attempts to unionise sex workers. As the back cover [slightly adapted by JM] states:

“Sex workers joining unions? You’re kidding, right?”

But, as the book shows, there have been a surprising number of attempts to do just that in many countries, whether that be sex workers creating their own unions or joining existing ones.

That sex workers have established various forms of union representation has been no mean feat. Generating effective collective representation has been even more difficult.

The response from sex industry owners and operators has varied from murder to intimidation to dismissal to paternalism. As well as this, hostility from sections of the left and the established union movement have had to be faced as well.

An Agency of their Own pulls no punches in assessing the successes and failures of sex worker organising. But it does show that where there’s a will, a way can often be found too. And this points to the most appropriate form of unionisation – occupational labour unions – for sex workers in their quest for control over their working lives.

H-t: Bruce

A previous Shiraz piece on the same topic, here.

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Derek Simpson and Playskool

April 20, 2010 at 11:39 pm (Champagne Charlie, sex workers, twat, unions)


Derek doesn’t only support (entirely legal) British birds…he’s an internationalist!

Shiraz Socialist is considering starting a review section, evaluating bars all over the world. We would welcome guest reviewers.

We’re particularly interested in a Bangkok bar called “Playskool” and wonder if a prominent British trade union leader – say, I dunno,  Derek Simpson – would like to write a review of that particular establishment for us?


A former Shell tanker driver and member of the Transport & General Workers’ Union,  now part of Unite, said: ‘I could not believe my eyes. There, right in front of me, was Derek Simpson. 

‘Unfortunately, I could not keep my mouth shut and shouted to my wife, “There’s Derek Simpson!” Simpson looked me straight in the eye and turned and went purposefully into a bar called Playskool.’ 

Mr Simons added: ‘I would never mistake Derek Simpson. My wife and I have only recently watched him being interviewed on BBC Question Time with David Dimbleby.’ 

Lee Simons, who followed Mr Simpson into the bar, said: ‘When I went in, Derek was sitting there. He stared at me straight away. I ordered a drink, looked up at the dancers in bikinis, and then looked around, and Derek was gone.’ 

(NB:  The above is adapted from an article in the Tory Mail on Sunday on 28 March: Simpson has not sued or responded in any way).


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Link to a guest post by Douglas Fox from the IUSW

May 18, 2009 at 11:09 am (Caroline S, sex workers)

From sex worker and human rights activist Douglas Fox of the International Union of Sex Workers:Why Sex Workers Need the IUSW.

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Action alert received from the English Collective of Prostitutes

May 3, 2009 at 12:26 pm (Human rights, sex workers, voltairespriest)

This was sent to the blog email address the day before yesterday, and I thought it would be of interest to our readers. H/T – Cari Mitchell of the ECP.

Dear Friends,

We enclose below a letter from Legal Action for Women (LAW) asking for the prosecution against Ms W to be dropped. She is facing charges of assisting in the management of a brothel yet she was only an occasional visitor at the premises and her primary role was to ensure the safety of other women working there. She is due to appear at Highbury Magistrates Court on 6 May.

Despite Legal Action for Women’s efforts to get the prosecution dropped, the Reviewing Officer for the CPS based at Holborn Police Station has replied saying that the case has been reviewed and that “there is sufficient evidence to proceed” and that it is “in the public interest to do so”.

We urge you to write immediately to Kier Starmer the DPP expressing your concerns, copying the letter to Nazir Afzal Chief Prosecutor for London and to the Reviewing Officer (addresses below).

We enclose below a model letter and a list of points that you may want to raise in addition to whatever other concerns you may have.

Please copy any letter you send to us at

Many thanks,

Cari Mitchell

Kier Starmer
Nazir Afzal;
The Reviewing Officer, 9th floor, Holborn Police Station, DX475 London Chancery Lane, 10 Lambs Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NR

Legal Action for Women
Crossroads Women’s Centre PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU
Tel: 020 7482 2496 minicom/voice Fax: 020 7209 4761
Keir Starmer QC
Director of Public Prosecutions
50 Ludgate Hill
London, EC4M 7EX 28 April 2009

RE: Ms W

Dear Keir Starmer QC.

We are writing on behalf of Ms W who has been charged under section 33 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 with the offence “to assist in the management of a brothel” at two premises, one in Kingsway and one in Gray’s Inn Road.

Ms W had no responsibility for either flat. She is not a tenant, did not hold keys, and does not pay any of the bills. She was an occasional visitor and her role was to ensure the safety of other women. Two years ago, she bravely escaped from a violent partner after 28 years of abuse. She is presently struggling to support herself, her disabled daughter and elderly mother who is housebound having suffered a stroke. Any prosecution would have a severe detrimental effect on her mental and physical wellbeing and on the welfare of her daughter and mother.

In addition, this prosecution is not in the public interest.

1. Alleged complaints against the flats were found by police to be unfounded. The justification for this prosecution is that these flats were “nuisance brothels”. The police made four visits in one month to the Kingsway flat claiming that they had received complaints that a woman was heard calling for help and that there had been a serious assault in the flat. Officers visited and investigated and found no evidence of this or of any nuisance. PC Barrington, the local officer also visited the address at least three times during this period and found nothing to report.

In addition to these police visits there have been two raids on the Kingsway flat and one raid on the Gray’s Inn flat. The only charges to arise from these raids are for brothel-keeping offences.

2. There is widespread opposition, including among members of parliament and peers, to women being criminalised for working collectively and consensually.

There is no evidence of force, coercion, violence, abuse or trafficking at these flats. Why are charges being brought?

We call your attention to statements from ministers and other parliamentarians that women working together in premises should not constitute a crime. In 2006, Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart proposed changes to the prostitution laws:

“Where women are working for themselves and are not being managed or pimped on a large scale, in the interim it is probably more sensible not to use the very serious penalties we have against people who run brothels. Very small scale operations can operate in a way that is not disruptive to neighbours.” (Daily Telegraph 18 January 2006).

The Home Office has acknowledged:
“ . . .the present definition of brothel ran counter to advice that, in the interests of safety, women should not sell sex alone.” (The Times 18 January 2006).

During the Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill (19 January 2009) Minister of State, Alan Campbell spoke against the criminalisation of women who “were simply making cups of tea, keeping the diary and helping to keep the women safe”.

3. Public opposition to the arrest and prosecution of sex workers is centred on concern for safety and an acknowledgment, particularly since the Ipswich murders, that criminalisation deters women from reporting violence and makes them more vulnerable to attack.

Ms W, like other friends and colleagues of women working in the sex industry, was the first line of defence against violent attacks. Charges of brothel-keeping being brought against women in this situation will force women to work alone.

4. The public is also increasingly concerned at police priorities which result in 15 officers raiding premises where women are working consensually while the investigation of rape and other violence continues to be downgraded and dismissed. Following the revelations of police incompetence over the trials of John Worboys and Kirk Reid and the publication of the damning IPCC report on police rape investigation, Women Against Rape, whom we work with closely, said

“. . . while the public make protection from violent crime their top priority for what the police should be doing, the Met and the Home Office have other priorities. . . . every day rape survivors comment on how terrorism, surveillance of protests, property crime and arresting sex workers take precedence over the safety of women and girls.”

5. Criminalisation institutionalises women in prostitution. Ms W has no convictions for prostitution offences. If she is convicted it will ruin her chances of finding other employment.

How can a prosecution be justified when there is no evidence of harm or nuisance being caused and where the prosecution would have a severe detrimental affect on a woman who is struggling to manage and has other vulnerable family members dependent on her? If this prosecution were to go ahead, many would view it as vindictive and persecutory. We therefore respectfully ask that you exercise your discretion and drop this prosecution.

We are available to answer any questions or provide any further information you may require. We would also welcome a meeting to discuss the issues concerning prostitute women’s safety raised in this letter.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Niki Adams

Cc Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor London
Dru Sharpling, Chief Crown Prosecutor
OBM Reviewing Lawyer, Holborn Police Station
Women Against Rape
Andrew Pelling MP

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March 29, 2009 at 4:36 pm (Caroline S, labour party, sex workers)

Well here’s an interesting development:As you all know, Jacqui Smith is very dedicated to ridding the community of the blight of the poor unfortunate ladies of the night, so blinded by patriarchy, they think it’s fair crack to sell their souls to the incubi kerb crawlers.

Meanwhile, her own husband is actively thwarting her plans to bring emancipation to these bad lasses by exploiting them even further. Yes – Mr. Jacqui Smith has downloaded prostitutes and charged the taxpayer for the pleasure of doing so!

I for one am sickened by the hypocrisy. If you can’t trust Jacqui’s husband, who can you fucking trust, eh? And that is £67 the taxpayer will not be seeing again.

Shall we see what the Sundays have to say?

The Sunday Times
goes with Jacqui Smith ‘mortified’ as adult movies put on expenses:

Jacqui Smith revealed she is “mortified and furious” after the cost of two adult films watched by her husband were paid for out of the Parliamentary expenses budget.

Yes, I bet she is.

The Sunday Telegraph, Jacqui Smith ‘claimed for husband’s adult movies on expenses’

The revelation is an embarrassment to Ms Smith, who last month faced criticism for claiming taxpayer-funded allowances for a second home while living with her sister.

Really not going well for Jacqui anyway, is it? This could [crosses fingers] finish her.

Next, the little buggers who broke the story – The Sunday Express with JACQUI SMITH PUT ADULT FILMS ON EXPENSES

As she fought for her political life last night, Ms Smith apologised after being confronted by the Sunday Express.

“fought for her political life…” [sparks up cigarette]

The MirrorHome Secretary Jacqui Smith submitted expenses claim for adult films watched by husband

A friend said the Home Secretary knew there was “no excuse” for the error but added: “To say she’s angry with her husband is an understatement.

“Jacqui was not there when these films were watched…”

I don’t want any shit head comments casting aspirtions on Jacqui’s integrity. If she said she didn’t watch them, she didn’t watch them. Mm’kay?

One more? Ok, The Sunday Mail with the very saucy headline – Blue movies on expenses: Jacqui Smith’s husband apologises for watching porn… paid for by the taxpayer. “Blue Movie”, bloody hell guys, bit much for a Sunday morning, that.

So, this is glorious. But let me tell you why it is glorious –

  1. She’s in trouble again.
  2. She’s saving the whores while her husband creates a demand for them – it has irony, hypocrisy and, just, y’know, beaucoup de lolz.

Now, let me explain why people should be pissed off –

  1. It was charged to her expenses.
  2. Which means she’s either really fucking careless or really fucking cheeky.

Problems? The porn bit. There’s the tempation there to chastise the dude for watching filthy dirty smut. The media have gloated over his humiliation at having to apologise, and to be fair I bet he was fucking mortified. But the actual watching of porn isn’t shameful nor is it a reason to apologise.

I think this is one to keep an eye on, not to laugh at Jacqui, cos we’ve done that, but to see how the media handles this. Fair enough to get on your high horse about the films being charged to her expenses, but simply moralising on the watching of pornography – FAIL.

(cross-posted at Uncooler Than Thou)

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Lap dancing clubs in “crap workplaces” shocker

March 8, 2009 at 6:47 pm (lap dancing, rights, sex workers, unions, voltairespriest)

There’s an article in today’s Observer, by the extravagantly named Nadine Stavonina De Montagnac, which tells the tale of her previous life as a lap dancer. The upshot of it is that lap dancing clubs are thoroughly unpleasant places to work and she’s glad she doesn’t do so any more. It does sound nasty at points:

In order to make money, I acted dim-witted. I had to dodge the gropes, pinching and slaps even though, officially, there was no touching allowed. I felt the stress. I constantly had to say “no” to propositions of sex. Once, as a “joke”, a customer pinched my nipple and twisted so hard I nearly passed out. It bled, but the management’s reaction was: “Well, stay out of his way then.” I realised that if I wanted any money that night to pay the club rent, I had to just get on with it, so I took a large swig of vodka and went back to work.

If nothing else, this certainly reinforces my own pre-conception about the sweaty, furtive (or drunk and boorish) types whom one sees heading into lap dancing clubs across the country. They’re certainly not my kind of places, and their customers are not, by and large, my kind of people. Furthermore, the people who ran the particular club that Stavonina De Montagnac is talking about sound utterly callous and unconcerned for the welfare of their staff, and in need of a good keelhauling from the unions. What’s more, the description she gives of her colleagues paints a pretty desperate picture:

Some dancers pushed the boundaries, prostituting themselves, and the club turned a blind eye. Many of the women were young, shy and still finding their feet in life. Then there were those in their 30s, some with university degrees, who came in because they said that was the only way they could pay the mortgage.

Some of my colleagues had drug problems, many suffered from mental health issues such as depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem or disorders associated with past abuse. These were vulnerable people who stripped to survive. We clung to the idea that women have been making sacrifices for the greater good of their families for centuries, to keep everything together. But really, how many women would even contemplate going into lap dancing if there was a real choice of other well-paid jobs available to them, with flexible working hours?

Again, my first thoughts were that such workplace exploitation is quite appalling, and that people in such situations need assistance. That’s self-evidently true, however a number of caveats also strike me.

Firstly, it simply is not the case that there aren’t people who freely choose to work as lap dancers. It isn’t most people’s first choice of career, and indeed most of the people I know of who did, or do, it, did so in order to earn money to supplement something else – in several cases to get extra money whilst studying for a degree. Now, virtually nobody does any job through entirely free choice (I certainly don’t):  we work for money to buy food, pay the rent/mortgage, educate the kids, save for a holiday or whatever else. People “with drug problems or mental health issues” are no exception to that rule, having also obviously to buy things in order to get through the year. Also, lap dancing is, for obvious reasons, not the last-ditch desperation method of earning money that, say, street prostitution is. There is then a question over choice here – and also indeed over how uniquely desperate are the situations suffered by people who become lap dancers – and also whether all of them went into the trade of a desperation any greater than that felt by people going into any other crap job.

It’s obviously the case that the UK is full of workplaces which exploit low-paid workers, and female ones in particular. Tube cleaners don’t exactly do a job which is secure and fulfilling, neither do supermarket shelf-stackers, call centre operatives, meat packers or countless thousands of others. These all have issues of bullying, workplace stress, low pay, boredom, and many other things which many of us see every day on the downside of employment relations. In that sense, lap dancing clubs really aren’t so galactically far removed from many other workplaces in the UK.

I think actually that Stavonina de Montagnac is relying to some extent on the “yuck factor” which afflicts many people when discussing the sex industry. People instinctively recoil at the sight of lap dancing clubs because they sell sex, which is somehow seen as a much more taboo commodity than cars, beer, or lawn mowers. There is no reason for this to be the case in law, and I fail to see how it would really help the more vulnerable people working in that field for the provisions contained in Jacqui Smith’s policing and crime bill (which would re-classify the clubs as “sex encounter establishments” and give councils the power to close them if they are near schools etc) to come into force. People who have serious issues will have them whether they continue to be employed as lap dancers or not – the only difference is that they will now be an unemployed person with issues. Stavonina de Montgnac was evidently fortunate enough to be able to fall back on (err) being a professional writer, however most people do not have a graduate education an alternative career option available. They need rights as work where they are. That requires lap dancing clubs to be seen in an economic rather than a moralistic context, and to be the focus of unionising drives, just like those cleaners I mentioned earlier.

Ms Stavonina de Montagnac certainly hasn’t convinced me. I for one won’t be supporting a bill meant to appease the Daily Mail reading nimbies whom New Labour thinks so crucial to its empty electoral success, and I certainly won’t be doing so under the misapprehension that it protects the vulnerable. Only rights will end the wrongs.

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Sex Traffic at Institute of Contemporary Arts in London

March 2, 2009 at 10:50 pm (Caroline S, sex workers)

via Laura Agustín.

SEX TRAFFIC at London’s ICA – Institute of Contemporary Arts

11 March 2009 – 1900 / 7pm

The media and NGOs have raised awareness of sex trafficking in recent years, but does it serve the interests of migrant sex workers to suggest they have been trafficked, or does it collude in their criminalisation and deportation? Should our priority be to give migrant women in the sex industry more control over their own lives, or to stop the traffic?

Speakers: Laura María Agustín, author of Sex at the Margins and a former educator working with expatriate sex workers; Georgina Perry, service manager for Open Doors, an NHS initiative which deliver outreach and clinical support to sex workers in east London; Catherine Stephens, sex worker; Jon Birch, inspector, Metropolitan Police Clubs and Vice Unit. Chair: Libby Brooks, deputy Comment editor, The Guardian.

Nash Room.  Book here  £10 / £9 Concessions / £8 ICA Members

The ICA is located on The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH. How to get there.

Box Office: 020 7930 3647 Switchboard: 020 7930 0493

The Institute of Contemporary Arts is a registered charity in England No 236848 and a Limited Company registered in England No 444351. Registered offices as above. VAT No 853 7217 17

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Link to a guest post by Douglas Fox (IUSW)

January 28, 2009 at 3:07 pm (Caroline S, sex workers)

Those who have been following the blog posts about Jacqui Smith’s plans to change the prostitution laws in the UK will surely know the name Douglas Fox, spokesperson for the IUSW. He, as well as the IUSW in general, has faced a great deal of criticism this month from the UK radical feminist bloggers who have been largely inclined not so much to show their support for Jacqui Smith but more to discredit sex worker’s unions.

Douglas has written a post at my blog about the proposals, as well as the misunderstandings, prejudices and preconceptions held by those who no doubt would see themselves as allies – government ministers and feminists. I’m hoping he’ll contribute regularly to my blog.

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SCOT-PEP’s funding withdrawn

January 20, 2009 at 10:12 pm (Caroline S, sex workers)

SCOT-PEP, or the Scottish Prostitutes Education Project, describes itself as “promoting health and dignity in prostitution”. Want their creds? Sure you do –

Between 1 April 2006 and 31 March 2007 SCOT-PEP worked with 557 individuals – recording 3,977 contacts. Services and support were provided to an average of 122 sex workers each month. 367 of our service users were indoor-based sex workers and 89 were street-based sex workers. During the year contact was maintained with sex workers in 37 establishments.

The average number of individuals accessing sessions were:

daytime service
establishment outreach
night-time services
10.43 (189 sessions)
6.41 (86 sessions)
10.94 (97 sessions)

We provided
info and advice to 404 individuals on 2,627 occasions;
a listening ear to 318 individuals on 1,669 occasions;
referrals for 192 individuals on 1,152 occasions;
high level support to 8 individuals on 12 occasions;
and our website received 5,729 hits.

Safe Sex Supplies – SCOT-PEP distributed 91,063 condoms.

Ugly Mug Scheme – SCOT-PEP received 81 Ugly Mug reports in 2006/7 with information being shared amongst sex workers to alert them to potentially dangerous clients – related to:

Attempted murder
Sexual Assault
27 (including verbal abuse, harassment and intimidation)

Moving On – 29 (33%) of street-based and 142 (47%) of indoor-based sex workers have moved on from the Edinburgh sex industry since 2005/6.

So, their funding’s been withdrawn by NHS Lothian (see SCOT-PEP’s front page for details); SCOT-PEP will lose £150 000 per year and six jobs will be lost, which means from the 31st March, the group will be unable to provide outreach and support services to sex workers in Edinburgh.

Now, this is crap in itself, but don’t forget Scotish laws have recently changed, which has led to an increase in violence against sex workers.

The group plan to restructure as a voluntary campaigning group,

bringing together sex workers and allies to argue for better legislation and services and ensure the voices of sex workers are not lost.

They’re gonna need support.

Here’s their fundraising page with the details, which include options of a one-off donation or regular donations. Do check out these pages for more information, or ring the Project Manager, Ruth Morgan Thomas, on 0131 622 7550.

Also, if you wish to voice your concerns at the withdrawl of funding, you can email Jim Sherval, Public Health Specialist at NHS Lothian –

(corss-posted at Sex In The Public Square)

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