On Friday, 17 June 2022, Unison voted at its National Delegate Conference (NDC) in Brighton to drop the support for the Nordic Model that had been the union’s official policy for 12 years.
We went through the motion line by line in an earlier post, showing that it was misleading and relied on poor-quality research. Unsurprisingly, many of the same misleading statements were repeated in the debate – particularly that the Nordic Model makes “sex work” more dangerous, that all “sex worker” organisations oppose it and want full decriminalisation (full decrim), and that the best protection is for “sex work” to come under standard labour law so that the “workers” can unionise. We dispute all of these claims.
We were at the conference all week, running a stall, talking to delegates and handing out flyers and our booklet that compares full decrim with the Nordic Model and that very clearly debunks many of the claims made in both the motion and the debate.
We talked to hundreds of people. Many already agreed with us and were in despair at the prospect of the motion passing. Many more were unsure where they stood but quickly became convinced by our arguments and said they would be voting against the motion.
Unison is a huge union – the largest in the UK – and there are thousands of delegates and the impact we made was not enough to change the final outcome. However, it was pleasing to know that there were quite a few strong speeches made against the motion. We certainly encouraged people to speak up against it.
The debate, which lasted for about 25 minutes, followed immediately on from a number of motions and debates on issues affecting women – including calling for CEDAW to be fully implemented in UK law, challenging sexism and misogyny within the workplace and the union, supporting low paid women to be active in the union, and seeking White Ribbon accreditation.
It seems that most of the delegates were unable to join the dots between women’s enduring (and in many ways increasing) inequality and the expansion of the sex industry over the last couple of decades, along with the rise of the “sex work is real work” propaganda.
Now is the time to work to change the discourse
The battle is not over. The motion called only for the end of support for the Nordic Model and for “the National Executive Council to begin a dialogue with the National LGBT+ Committee, National Women’s Committee and other appropriate bodies within the union with a view to reviewing and advancing UNISON policy in this area.”
This means that now is the time for Unison members to work within their branches, regions and self-organised groups to raise awareness of the harms of prostitution and how full decrim is a catastrophe for women and anathema to everything the trade union movement stands for. Otherwise, we are likely to see next year’s conference sleep walk into formal support for full decrim.
Please bring your colleagues to our events, particularly our October conference, where a survivor of full decrim in New Zealand will be speaking about how that system is not the panacea that some would have us believe. Invite sex trade survivors to speak to your branches and events. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need help with materials and speakers.
We also recommend our YouTube channel and the resources on our website.