Informal Workers Are Organizing in South Asia

ACORN International India Unions Workers

Katmandu       Our team ran three workshops, two of which involved workers, either platform or gig workers or informal workers.  We learned a lot about what was happening in Nepal and Bangladesh in these sectors, and we were able to share what we were learning from our own work in India and elsewhere.

            Hawker associations and unions were well represented.  Organizations in these neighboring countries were envious of our 2014 passage of the Right to Livelihood bill which gave protections to street vendors and hawkers for the first time in India.  ACORN India and our affiliates have had our own struggles over the last decade winning full and correct enforcement of the Act with some cities dragging their feet or resisting cooperation, but unquestionably, it was a breakthrough and has made a difference.

            In a flashback for me of our 1978-1980 initial organization of household workers in New Orleans which paved the way for our work with home health care and home daycare workers, there were several fledgling organizations of domestic workers.  One claimed 50,000 members in Bangladesh.  Obviously, these are women’s organizations, and most of the leaders in our workshops were also women.  They were angry and articulate.  It was exciting to hear them speak of their work and campaigns.

            The big issue for many of these organizations was winning some form of social security for informal workers, regardless of occupation.  There was a lot of discussion, but few breakthroughs to date.  The strategic dilemma was between winning fights for all workers, which would obviously include wage floors and some benefit structure, and specific rights, benefits, and wages for workers as employees, which the real beneficiary would participate in providing, not just the city or states.  We introduced the problem and some of the success in “creating an employer” for home care and home daycare workers on the path to unionization as part of the strategy that would complement public action on general or domestic workers’ rights.  Many of these issues obviously affect platform workers, and our efforts in Delhi to create the Gig Workers Association may chart the direction there.

            The highlight of our trip was the after-session meeting in one of the tents with a dozen representatives and leaders of these organizations from Nepal and Bangladesh.  After a roundtable of comments about the need for solidarity and future cooperation between ACORN International and all of these worker formations, we concluded with commitments to follow-up.  We offered to support on campaigns, training, and mutual interests.  Pictures were taken.  Campaign shirts were shared with us by the garment workers union.  Voices were raised in chants.

            We left thinking that just maybe a better world was possible, if we could make something happen of our last experience at the 2024 World Social Forum.