Freelancers deserve to choose their terms in the marketplace

I am told Libertarian Home spends too much time on economics and – guilty as charged – have blundered around on Twitter and Reddit for relevant material, as a service to you, dear reader. At the intersection of economics and social freedom I recently came across this story of a corporate fightback against social justice warriors and so was very interested in this similar fightback by backpage.com on behalf of its customers from the sex industry. I vaguely recalled Laura Lee, a sex worker I follow on twitter whom I interviewed here some time ago, had tweeted about backpage and went looking for those tweets – in order to agree with them and RT them you understand. Then I came across this from Dr Brooke Magnanti

https://twitter.com/belledejour_uk/status/618371927044976640

That sentence “Freelancers – whether sex or writing – deserve rights in the workplace” should perhaps have carried a trigger warning. As a freelance IT contractor I can think of nothing worse than being burdened by so called “rights” that are in fact obligations on my client. Things like holiday pay, redundancy and paternity pay would add to their costs and reduce my billable rate. If my billable rate is pushed down I go out of business, or rather I “go permie” and live a lifestyle very different from the one I chose. For me, not having “rights” is a question of essential liberty.

I wanted to point that out to Dr Magnanti and it did not go well.

https://twitter.com/belledejour_uk/status/618725142643011584

See that dot at the beginning of the tweet? That means 36,000 of Dr Magnanti’s followers will see her angry remarks at me. Ouch! That hurts – not least because basic decency requires I should not go around upsetting anyone, deliberately or accidentally. Yes it also hurts because I worry what her followers might think, it is only natural, but also because I respect Dr Magnanti and naturally wish to not to upset her in particular.

Searching out tweets to argue with? No, I was searching out tweets to agree with. Tweets by sex workers about an issue that affects sex workers, for an audience I know includes people who are, or have been, just one accident away from – quote – “whoring for survival”. A fate which – thanks to the economic problems that concern me – too many are too close to.

But at the end of the day, I too am who I am, and if I am guilty of being overly concerned about economic issues well then hang me. I am sorry I upset her, but it is important that popular well respected people like Dr Magnanti do not go around, uncorrected, arguing that “freelancers” need “rights” – enforced by law –  just as others should not go around saying that sex workers need to be rescued or protected – by the law – when they do not, and when that is in fact a very difficult issue for them. Neither is helpful for either case and helpful is what we should be for one another.

For the record, I do agree with Dr Magnanti that freedom from harassment by the police, clients and moralising dicks is important and something we all deserve.

7 Comments

  1. This is just the oft-occurring failure to distinguish between rights and entitlements.
    Example: everyone has the right to work, i.e. not be prevented from working, but nobody is entitled to demand to be employed.

    I don’t know who this woman is but you shouldn’t be worried about offending her, or anyone else.
    The cry ‘that’s offensive’, whenever it comes should be ignored.

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  2. What I find disappointing in the exchange is the lack of critical reasoning by the Dr., and a presumptive leap, extrapolation and labelling, which one might be forgiven to think of as being an attempt to silence and discredit.

    The final dismissive, rather supercilious tone is all to commonly found, and does no credit.

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  3. My initial reaction just from the title of your piece, Simon, was a slightly wary curiosity, the wariness triggered by the word “deserve.” “Trigger warning,” indeed!

    I was therefore especially pleased to see what you had to say about it.

    You are spang-on right. And Mr. Strong is spang-on right.

    You’re doing fine with the attention to economics, as well as the discussions surrounding various current events and issues.

    Tim’s right about the “presumptive leap and extrapolation,” also. The lady has a chip on her shoulder that landed on you, whether she purposely threw it or it simply fell off due to body tremor on reading your “tweet.” Either way, speaking of “deserving,” you didn’t deserve it.

    Anyway, everybody who works does so on the basis that he and the customer or client or employer are agreed that he will be paid $ X for his services and that he will provide the hired service to the best of his ability. Or, he works on spec–he invests his time and effort into doing whatever, and then markets the results. In the first case, justice demands that he be paid per the contract written or implied. In the second, justice doesn’t enter into it.

    Either way, if he feels himself treated shabbily by the customer or client or employer, he can either try talking it over with the other guy or he can simply refuse to work for him thereafter.

    As far as “demanding the respect we deserve,” this is only the case where people, or some people, look down on the person for the service he provides. Sometimes that’s correct: Imagine NOT looking down on people who push drugs to school-children. Sometimes it’s not, and to change “society’s” take on your human worth as based on your profession, can be a long hard slog; but being snotty about it (like Dr M. above) isn’t going to help your cause any in the long run, except insofar as you can use snottiness and insult to manipulate people into pretending to accept what they disapprove of.

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    1. Julie

      Did you intend to compare sex work to selling drugs to minors? Because they are a bit different.

      That aside, thanks for your support.

      Chips on shoulders? I know only a little of Dr Magnanti’s experience of sex work. Less, for example, than anyone who watched the TV show with Billy Piper. Perhaps she earned the right to be a bit grouchy? However, it is quite clear that she took my tweet entirely backwards and ought to have accepted the apology by now and to have apologised herself.

      (As to her associates blocking me on Twitter… their loss.)

      Simon

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  4. Sex-workers get touch on the subject of rights, especially in terms of employment ones, because they are, at present in the UK, US and other places, denied the opportunity to have them due to the laws of those counties. (In the UK things are slightly better than in the US simply because here sex-work is not in and of itself a criminal offence.)

    The result of those laws is that they all have to be freelancers because they can never be employees. It may be that if they had the choice they would choose to be freelancers but at present that decision is made for them. Their fight for rights is a fight to have sex work treated simply as work – one consequence of which will be allowing them the freedom to choose whether or not they wish to be employees (in say a brothel) or freelancers.

    Whilst Simon was perfectly correct in his reply to Brooke, she was not going to argue semantics with an account she has probably never interacted with before on a medium which can make have a reasoned discussion difficult. Hindsight being 20/20 vision and all that but this was one of those times when he would have been better advised to keep his counsel rather than rushing in where angels fear to tread. 🙂

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  5. “…it also hurts because I worry what her followers might think,…”

    Well if they are daft enough to follow someone like that, and cannot reason from that exchange that what you were saying was perfectly reasonable, and the response was that of a typical touchy Lefty, then I wouldn’t worry about it. You made a perfectly good point, but it is probably wasted on 99.9% of the Twitterati.

    ‘Twitter, the Stasi for the Angry Birds generation’ said someone.

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