Informal Workers Organizing and Negotiating: Lessons from Nine Case Studies Around the World

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Adrienne EATON, Rutgers University, USA
Susan SCHURMAN, Rutgers University, USA
Martha CHEN, WIEGO) Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing, USA, Harvard University, USA
This paper summarizes commonalities observed in a five year study of successful organizing and negotiating campaigns to improve the conditions of informal workers in nine different occupations and countries. The cases include the two major types of informal workers – those who have been “distanced” from the primary employer though the various mechanisms of dismantling formal employment and those involved in traditional self-employed/own account work.   In addition to the variation in type of work and national context, the campaigns also vary in terms of whether they were initiated by traditional trade unions or by workers’ self-organization either into unions or alternative  types of organizations. Several cases included some combination of the two.  The cases were conducted by various scholars and activists under a grant from the Solidarity Center and in collaboration with the Solidarity Center, Rutgers University and the WIEGO network.

Findings include the following common characteristics:  Successful campaigns are based on the power of moral claims that resonate with international norms of justice; they require a lengthy time period to position themselves to take advantage of changes in the political opportunity structure;[1]  they include forms of direct action; they exploit sources of leverage from workers’ structural power in the labor process; they build solidarity between formal and informal workers through education.  In addition, solidarity support from global labor organizations was important in most of these campaigns. In sum, these campaigns suggest a need to broaden the definition of collective bargaining as the principal “method of trade unionism”[2] to include new forms of workers’ organizations and new forms of “collective negotiations.”

[1] Sidney Tarrow. 1998.  Power in Movement.  New York: Cambridge Univ. Press. 2nd ed.

[2] Sidney and Beatrice Webb.  1902.  Industrial Democracy.  London:  Longmans, Green and Co., 1902.