Photo: Liberation News.

Photo: Liberation News.

This year’s Pride Parade in New York City was the site of class struggle. Retail workers at the Pleasure Chest, an adult toy store, went on a one-day strike along the parade route for higher wages and for the implementation of safety protocols to protect them from on-the-job harassment.

The predominantly LGBTQ workforce at the Pleasure Chest voted last year to be represented by the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, and have since been in contract negotiations with the company. They were the second adult sex toy store to vote to form a union after Babeland workers secured a union contract.

Instead of coming to an agreement with the workers, the Pleasure Chest hired a prominent, expensive anti-union law firm to stall negotiations and avoid getting an agreement that would ensure better working conditions. The owner, Brian Robinson, would rather fill the pockets of a law firm that spends its time combating workers than just come to an agreement about decent wages and working conditions with the workers at his own store.

Strike is in the spirit of Stonewall

The giant Pride march that takes place in Manhattan every year often includes corporate floats that feature companies trying to co-opt the movement for LGBTQ liberation. But the event marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, where the community rose up against police brutality and fought back. This strike represented the spirit of the Rebellion by highlighting the class contradictions within the broader movement.

LGBTQ workers often face unique challenges at the workplace. They have less legal protections against discrimination in many states. Harassment at work, and a hostile anti-worker political establishment, are common. It is vital to organize against this discrimination in the workplace as well as in the streets.

A fair contract and queer rights

The workers at Pleasure Chest decided that they were going to be heard and organized a strategic strike against management on June 24, the same day as the Pride March. Workers from both New York City store locations set up base in front of the Greenwich Village store. They had bright and colorful signs that read, “On Strike for Queer Rights.” A “Pleasure Chest Workers on Strike for a Fair Contract” banner was hung from the barricades in front of the store to inform and engage folks who were participating in the march about the stance that they took on such a significant day.

Workers and organizers stood by the store’s entrance, passed out fliers and turned away potential customers by asking them not to shop while they were on strike. As an alternative, workers suggested heading to Babeland instead, where the workers had a union contract.

Community responds with solidarity

The spirit and struggles of the workers was definitely felt and received positively by those who were celebrating pride in the surrounding area, and by those just walking by. Union floats within the parade shouted out to the workers and led chants to send encouragement and solidarity. The workers maintained their strike the time the store opened until it closed.The only staff within the shop was management. The workers of Pleasure Chest are going to continue the fight and understand that when they come together to organize and demand justice they will be heard.