The right-wing internet has been embroiled in so-called “porn wars,” with populists and social conservatives denouncing classical liberals for insufficient zeal in opposing pornography and demanding the feds ban smut. Classical liberals, for their part, have warned there is no political will to enact such a ban and the Supreme Court’s expansive reading of free speech rights complicates direct action against the tawdry trade.
But what if there were another way to injure the porn industry, one that had progressives’ support and forced the left to choose between admitting that its economic policies hurt employment and the economy or watching Big Smut get taken down a peg? Well, there is one worthwhile Californian initiative backed by a labor union and Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), best known as the lead legislator on the union-backed “AB 5” bill that virtually banned freelancing and independent contracting in the state.
The most wonderful thing about making the left’s favorite for-profit industry suffer under the rules Big Labor would apply to all employers is that progressives, not conservatives, would face Hobson’s Choice and be divided against themselves. Obviously, Big Labor’s work model would reduce employment in adult entertainment, reduce consumption of smut and cut into the profits of pornographers. But if the pro-Big Porn side were to object, saying their industry was targeted for injury because of its controversial product, that would require the progressives to admit that unions’ labor model does in fact injure the economy and cost jobs.
Gonzalez’s bill, introduced at the direction of the International Entertainment Adult Union, an unaffiliated labor union for strippers, pornographic performers and the like, requires California’s “adult” entertainers to obtain occupational licenses. Research shows occupational licensing leads to barriers to entry into a profession and higher prices for consumers: Seeing these effects in the “oldest profession” would be marginal gains for the anti-porn social conservatives.
But I fear Gonzalez’s legislation does not go quite far enough to apply the “benefits” of labor union-backed progressive labor relations to one of the Left’s favorite industries. American history is littered with once-mighty companies and industries — including Pan American World Airways, Eastern Airlines, the old Hostess Brands, the Detroit Big Three automakers — sent into bankruptcy or liquidation by sclerotic work rules and above-market wages demanded by Big Labor.
Big Porn deserves to suffer the same fate. Conservatives should insist adult entertainment be as easy to unionize as Big Labor demands the rest of the economy be. Adult performers should be required to hand over their personal contact information to union organizers, as all private-sector employees would be under Big Labor’s PRO Act. Likewise, the restrictions on independent work created by AB 5 and replicated in the PRO Act must apply equally to strip clubs, which typically hire dancers as independent contractors. And if, after having signed union cards, some adult performers decided to vote privately against uniting, the government should be able to deem them unionized anyway, as Big Labor’s PRO Act would establish nationwide.
The path for conservatives is clear. Let the adult entertainers of the world unite: They have nothing to lose but their jobs, and they can prove the right’s economic points.
Michael Watson is research director at the Capital Research Center.