Progress in Organizing Hawkers and Street Vendors

ACORN International India Labor

Delhi      In the Hawkers Joint Action Committee, we have several thousand members in Delhi that have joined in the last two years.  Several of the longtime organizers, one with seven years and another with ten years working with us, shared the details of the struggles and successes during that period with me in the Janaphal offices.  We now have organized members and committees in fifty markets with recognized, trained, and established leaders in each of these markets.  This structure is vital in making the hard won legislation concerning the livelihoods of street vendors and hawkers actually work.

Central to an effective operation at the local level is an active and responsive “town committee,” required by the Act in every sizeable city and community in the country.  These committees include direct representation of hawkers, who are elected, as well as other representatives appointed by the city and markets.  In some Indian cities full implementation has been slow and the committees deliberately made ineffective, but in Delhi constant action and vigilance, as well as a working relationship with the municipal government, has made them effective.  One of our successful campaigns was actually winning an agreement to give the town committee and its members actual office space in the municipal building, as a recognized body.  Furthermore, the names of our certified and licensed vendors are duly posted on the walls, all of which is very formal and very important for workers seen as informal and often harassed.

Much of the progress is behind the scenes and wouldn’t be easily recognized by residents or by visitors.  The other night on my way back we had passed India Gate.  Even though it was after 10 pm, the place was bumping with traffic and people everywhere walking, talking, and, of course, buying snacks and ice cream from vendors.  Logically, this could be chaos and once was, but we have successfully campaigned to win vending “zones”, allowing everyone to be successful and reducing conflict.  In Noida, in addition to the 74 vending zones, where both men and women work, we also won 12 so-called “pink zones”, where all the vendors are women, giving them free rein in those areas to succeed.

The vendor registration process is complicated and much of it is also online, so our leaders and organizers have been intimately involved in helping our members get certified, as well as enrolling for other programs.  Many have now paid back the 10,000 rupee “pandemic” loans, which have now allowed them to access additional loans at twice the level with better terms.  Our food safety certification program has also upgraded a number of our food vendors and won support for customers in what was once potentially a dodgy affair.

None of this has been easy and the pictures of rallies, town halls, demonstrations and more were evident everywhere.  I loved seeing the actual membership forms and some of the member identifications.  Dharmendra Kumar made sure that I noticed that each card included the fact that these members were also affiliated with our International Informal Workers and Unions Federation (IIWUF).  A lot of work needs to be done in this sector, so the progress so far is exciting.