Weaving Solidarity, Stitching Power: Factors Facilitating Informal Textile and Apparel Worker Mobilization in Brazil, China, India, and South Africa

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Chris TILLY, University of California Los Angeles, USA
As informal work—outside the reach of labor laws and standards—has grown in most of the world, scholars and advocates have debated how to shore up labor standards for this workforce, and the potential role of organizations of informal workers. In this paper, we take a macro look at the factors facilitating mobilization of informal textile and apparel workers by comparison across four countries: Brazil, China, India, and South Africa—all of which have experienced neoliberalization in recent decades. Our methodology is conducting country-sector case studies, with particular attention to selected sub-regions within each country. We examine economic, political, and ideological factors, with special attention to the state and traditional trade unions as actors. Brazil and India are the two success stories, whereas in China and South Africa informal worker organizations in this sector have accomplished much less. Though all four countries differ markedly in many ways, we find some important commonalities that distinguish the two successful countries from the other two, notably more responsive democracy (robust federalism, competitive elections) and innovative unions committed to reaching out to informal workers. We trace the like causal mechanisms at work and discuss the generalizability of these facilitating factors