Vice Squad
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Communism and Stripping

Not quite sure this is a winning combination, but the gals at the Lusty Lady peep show in San Francisco are giving it a shot. In 1997, Lusty became the only one of the country's 2500 strip clubs to unionize, according to a recent article in the New Yorker by Tad Friend, entitled, "Naked Profits". In 2003, the strippers negotiated a three dollar an hour raise, but a month later the owner wanted to shut the club down.

The strippers responded by buying the club for $400,000 (borrowed from the old owners), and reorganizing it as a cooperative. Dancers, janitors, and cashiers all pay a $300 membership fee to share in the club's profits. The goal of the cooperative is to turn the capitalistic world of stripping on its head. Instead of capital renting labor, labor rents capital and is free to re-invent the traditional male-female dynamic present in sex work.

However, the dancers are learning that owning the club is harder than they thought it was going to be. Recently, the owners had to vote on a pay decrease, and elimination of health care benefits. A recent advertising campaign was scrapped because the coop didn't have enough money to pull it off.

Many of the dancer/owners feel that the club has a progressive attitude towards the female image. One dancer with a mohawk is no longer required to wear a wig when she works. Worker morale has improved and there is less turnover. However, one of the male owners remarked that "We need to look at this more as a business and less as a sociology experiment. I mean, I know it's controversial, but I do think the women should be attractive and the place should be kept somewhat clean."

Members of the group are experimenting with different types of incentives to increase business and customer satisfaction. One of the dancers has been reading a book about creative organizational management, and came up with an idea for having an employee of the week. They are learning that even though they originally agreed that all owners would take turns doing all different kinds of tasks, some are just better at accounting than others. One of the owners acknowledges that "it's hard to have a humanitarian cooperative in an environment where you need to make money." She also noted that, "even working with other women, it's hard to ameliorate the nature of the business we're in, which is the commodificaiton of an image produced by a white, supremacist, capitalist patriarchy." Strippers of the world unite!

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