Organizing Female Workers In The Informal Sector: A Case Study Of Learn-Dharavi

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 4:45 PM
Room: Booth 41
Oral Presentation
Yanick NOISEUX , Sociology, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Canada
Labour flexibility is a hallmark of a new economic model marked by the rise of informal and precarious work. Given this structural transformation, many scholars have invited unions to organize the unorganized “at the rough ends of the labour markets” (Heery and Adler, 2004) because it is from this engagement that new forms of unionism will emerge (Murray, 2004). India is no exception. The NCEUS have shown that the economic liberalization process of the 1990s have trigger a “jobs’ centrifugation dynamic” that pushed employment towards peripheral labour markets. Since then, Indian scholars have also stressed the importance for unions to refocus on the “organizing model” and invest these segments (Bhowmik, 2005; Agarwala, 2008).

It is in this spirit that LEARN-Dharavi, an NGO, has successfully launched organizing drives aiming to stir collective action involving women working in the slums of Mumbai. Building on our previous research in the shipbreaking industry (Noiseux, 2013) and empirical data collected through interviews with representatives of LEARN-Dharavi (local leaders and female workers/members involved in different « industries » i.e. domestic services, canteen workers, embroidery, garment industry, street vending), the paper will present the result of a case study conducted in 2011-13 using the analytical framework developed by Comeau (2005). It will first examine elements of contextualization regarding the State’s role in the development and "regulation" of the informal economic activities, then present the struggle’s chronology and discuss practices, strategies and demands put forwards by the different grassroots unions that emerged from LEARN’s action. Finally, it will take a look at the “raising issues” in order to highlight the gap between discourses and practices and identify the difficulties facing traditionally organized labour when seeking to transform itself in order to meet the needs of the so-called “informal workers”.