Labor strikes last year marked a record for the 21st century. Thanks to this strike wave, workers in industries from auto manufacturing to transportation to film and television won better contracts. We also witnessed organizing among workers whom few in decades past would have considered candidates for unionization, such as college athletes, congressional aids, and presidential-campaign staffers. This is for the good, and it could portend a renewal of the shared prosperity that was lost to the neoliberal revolution starting in the 1970s.

“The problems with porn work are inherent in the nature of the industry.”

But one category of fresh organizing that shouldn’t rally the labor movement at large is obvious: namely, the pornography industry. Unionization is not the answer to what ails porn stars, because the problems with porn work are inherent in the nature of the industry.

Founded in 2021, the Adult Performance Artists Guild calls itself the first “federally recognized” adult-performers’ union in the United States. Federal recognition is a bit of a red herring, referring to the group’s registration with the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards. Registration with the federal government, in this sense, doesn’t mean recognition by porn companies as an exclusive bargaining representative for performers. APAG is an advocacy organization, a union operating outside of any collective-bargaining relationship. While such unions are indeed capable of achieving substantial goals, they lack a critical piece that gives organized labor teeth: legal recognition to act for a defined group of employees.