Syndicalist Prostitution

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Steven T. Byington

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There is certainly no objection to the formation of a trade-union of "sex-working women." It is understood that the majority of them are a frightfully under-paid lot; and if their union should reduce their employers' profits, it is understood that the present largeness of these profits is the cause of great and uncompensated evil If they should form a union and go into the usual routine of striking for higher wages and shorter hours, doing everything they could think of to block their employers' business utterly while the strike was on, and all the time taking great pains to keep down the number of apprentices entering their trade, they could count on the approval of a great many persons for whose sympathy the other trade-unions sigh in vain. But I doubt if they have the stuff in them to do it.

One good result of the present fashion for discussing the prostitution question is that it makes known to the public some of the facts that specialist students have been gathering. And one of the things that we appear to have learned is that prostitution (taking the word in its generally accepted sense) is, in a society of the Europeo-American sort and in many others, the natural ultimate resource of the woman who is too feebleminded to hold any other job, without being quite feebleminded enough to be put in an asylum: that if we ever succeed in abolishing or greatly decreasing prostitution we shall find a notable addition to the Problem of the Unemployable. It is not denied that there are a good many prostitutes who are not of this type, but it would seem that these others are the round pegs that have unfortunately got into square holes, and that the really typical prostitute is the woman who never had stamina enough to take care of herself in any other way. If this is so, if most of the profession are such weaklings to begin with, and if to this we super-add the enervating influence of the life itself, I think that their trade-union would easily fall a prey to its enemies in every conflict. To make an efficient trade-unionist it takes the ability to keep up a long, hard fight; and a trade cannot be unionized if too many of those who work at it lack this quality.

I am very sorry, for there are few conceivable things that would please a larger part of the community than to have the prostitutes form a union and better themselves by regular union methods; but I think Mr. Swartz's plan will not be found workable. The alternative will still be—either something is done for them by others, or nothing is done for them. Most regrettable.

Steven T. Byington.

  • Steven T. Byington, “Syndicalist Prostitution,” The New Freewoman 1, no. 9 (October 15, 1913): 176.