1849 – San Francisco heaved with gold-seeking miners and the sailors that had transported them into the Bay from as far away as Australia. The Barbary Coast, the town’s red light district with its pimps, petty thieves and dance halls, drew these travellers in.
1997 – the historic Barbary Coast still plays home to the exploited and the exploiters. This was the year that the dancers at the Lusty Lady peepshow in the heart of the old Barbary Coast staked out their futures with a decision to unionise. The workers banded together to resist exploitation. Picket lines, lockouts and propaganda campaigns were negotiated, and the Exotic Dancers Union was formed.
Their next challenge arose six years later when worsening business conditions forced the Lusty Lady’s owners to announce that it was closing its doors after 27 years.
So the dancers, technicians, janitors and cashiers joined together to form a workers co-operative and buy the business. They soon discovered that raising capital in their trade was well nigh impossible for them. Luckily, the owners stepped in and an arrangement was made for the new co-op to pay for the business in instalments.
The co-operative model has since proved to be an ideal working structure for the members of the Lusty Lady peepshow. They now have the freedom to muse, and make decisions, about the nature and future of their work.