'As Human Beings and As Workers': Sex Worker Unionization in Karnataka, India

  • Gowri Vijayakumar University of California - Berkeley
  • Shubha Chacko Director, Aneka (NGO)
  • Subadra Panchanadeswaran Adelphi University


'Sex work is work' has been a central claim in sex workers' activism since at least the 1970s. But what are the implications for such a claim in the context of labor organizing? What promise does the labor movement hold for sex workers facing state violence; oppression on the basis of class, gender, sexuality, and caste; and criminalization? How can sex workers' assertions of 'worker' identity invigorate the labor movement? As a key site of sex worker activism in the Global South, India offers a unique opportunity for an examination of sex workers' collective struggles. This article uses the experience of the Karnataka Sex Workers Union (KSWU) to reflect on the promise and limits of labor perspectives for sex workers.