Using Global Comparisons to Understand 21st Century Labor Movements Among Informal Workers.
In the 20th century, massive labor movements transformed work to regulate and protect it. But in the century’s closing decades, firm subcontracting, government deregulation, and large-scale migration flows contributed to a shift of large areas of work outside labor laws. Traditional labor unions have had difficulty organizing such workers, and have lost density and power. Now new labor movements of informal workers have increasingly taken up the slack, building associational and symbolic power.
Cross-national comparisons have greatly advanced our understanding of formally protected workers’ labor movements. Recent research on informal worker organizing, however, has largely been limited to country-level case studies.
This session aims to push research on contemporary informal workers’ movements forward by inviting papers that highlight cross-cutting themes across multiple countries and sectors. The session seeks to address the following questions:
- What are commonalities and differences in how informal workers’ movements (across countries and sectors) organize, win, and fail?
- What are commonalities and differences in who is joining and leading these movements in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, migration status?
- What are the limits and potential of these new forms of organizing at the national and transnational levels?
The session would build in part on an existing comparative research network spanning Brazil, Canada, Central America, China, India, Korea, Mexico, South Africa, and the United States. Sectors under consideration include textiles, construction, street vending, domestic work, and waste picking. We also seek to include practitioners.