Informal Workers and E-commerce in India

ACORN International India Organizing

Paris      Given visa problems back and forth to India, it was a rare treat to be able to meet with at least two of our India directors, Vinod Shetty from Mumbai, and Dharmendra Kumar from Delhi.  We have made great progress in moving our organizing forward among informal workers and their communities during this year, but the opportunities, as well as the challenges, are immense.

Although meagre by Western standards, the pandemic has finally forced the Modi-BJP government to make an array of benefits available to informal workers.  The India Supreme Court has forced a long-delayed speedup to registration and the government has announced ambitious, if unrealistic goals, for millions of enrollments this year to finally fix a number to these previously uncounted workers. Registration is the gateway to benefits, but even then, obstacles remain.  Besides registration to access each worker will need electronic access to an official bank account to receive the monies, requiring additional assistance and navigation, most of which is unsupported and nonexistent.  ACORN has stepped into the gap enrolling thousands, but the task is monumental.  Add to this the fact that Indians can also now get a health card, making their records easily accessible electronically, which could be huge for many and make the difference between life and death.  This is not a mandatory, but voluntary program, requiring yet more efforts for enrollment.  We tried to strategize about whether we could launch mass efforts during elections in the spring of 2022 that would allow us to capture huge numbers of people at one time in our cities.

We also ended up spending considerable time talking about the impact of Amazon on various sectors in India.  The company has grown quickly and is the leading e-commerce site.  We have been part of a Joint Action Committee Against Foreign Retail in E-Commerce, drawing on our long work in organizing and managing the India FDI Watch effort.  Dharmendra is serving as the co-convenor of the committee.  UNI-Global has been in touch, but we are unsure of the nature of their campaign or their interest.  Amazon has built warehouses, but not sortation centers on the US-model, but moves directly to delivery.  Indians are amazed at being able to get goods so quickly, so this is has already become the key advantage and chokepoint of the system.

In planning for the coming years, all of these initiatives were exciting to talk about as we met after the international meeting at a café along a well-traveled boulevard in Paris.  The numbers approach millions, so we need to get our arms around all of this to build the organization.