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The Hawkers Dilemma in India

New Orleans     India has now edged up to 2nd or 3rd behind the United States in the number of coronavirus cases.  With over a billion population, teeming cities with overcrowded slums, and tens of millions without access to sanitation facilities, a cough can be a healthcare crisis. Talking to ACORN India’s organizing team on WhatsApp was not reassuring.

A curfew continues in Bengaluru.  There is no public transportation in Mumbai.  The government in Delhi is still giving us dry rations to distribute at our migrant centers in the city. Informal workers who depend on a daily wage to eat and survive have retreated to rural, family homes, but find no work there.  Domestic workers are not allowed to enter the housing estates where many of them both lived and worked, leaving some middle-class families having to fend with cooking and cleaning themselves for the first time.

ACORN has tens of thousands of members who are hawkers, especially in Bengaluru, Chennai, and Delhi.  Markets are closed where they plied their trade providing fruit and vegetables to daily shoppers.  The organizers report that hawkers able to be mobile on the street are able to make it, but only if they have a cart and can keep moving.  They depend on their work for food, and others depend on the food they provide to survive as well.

The government has announced a program to help hawkers get back on their feet as the pandemic subsides.  Applicants are eligible until 2022, if it takes that long.  Essentially 10,000 rupees would be provided for them to reestablish, so that they can make the purchases for resell.  10,000 rupees is the equivalent of $133 USD.

Importantly, the government, recognizing the reality of informal work, allowed hawkers to be eligible, even if not licensed by their local municipalities.  Instead, in a nod to hawkers’ unions, the government’s first proposal asked them to mark one of three national hawkers’ unions where they might be a member in order to vouch for their status as hawkers.  This would have been devastating to our ACORN union membership, because it would in effect be forcing hawkers to join one of the three named unions on the original proposal in order to access the funds.  We mobilized quickly, as we heard about the application process, and in a significant win, convinced the government instead to simply allow hawkers to list their union affiliation in a blank spot on the form.

Good for the hawkers and good for our union.  Unfortunately, as our call ended, that small victory was about the only good news coming out of India in these desperate times.

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Serving Meals in Delhi

From Street Demos to Solidarity Work

Pearl River     What do mass-based organizations and social movements do when their tactics of mass action, disruption, and street protests are impossible due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing?  Do collective actions simply devolve into solitary moans on social media?  No, never!  Mass-based organizations assemble the base into action in another way to serve their members.  Let’s call it solidary or support work, and for all of the companies and governments who think that the dissipation of direct action is a silver lining in the cloud of the coronavirus, here’s bad news for you:  It’s making us stronger!

In the United Kingdom in recent weeks, ACORN mobilized 3500 volunteers to support individuals stuck at home and without services, to support food banks, to pick up groceries and drug prescriptions, and you name it.  Add to that circulating a petition that gained thousands of signatures to stop evictions and demand rent relief for its members.  Throw in this special distribution which is getting props from media throughout the country:

Coronavirus: Latest Information for Renters by ACORN. For those concerned about their housing during the ongoing pandemic, ACORN has a section providing information.

Membership is soaring!

The work gets really direct for ACORN Delhi, where we and one of our affiliates, Janaphal, administer more than a dozen night shelters for migrant workers who were caught by the government shutdown order and police action without work, and therefore income, and of course food as well.  Suddenly, we are running seven kitchens in the centers and during the week went from serving 3000 meals a day to 7000 and still rising.  The government is supposed to reimburse us, but the government was supposed to provide food to these workers during the shutdown.  People come first, as long as we can get the food to cook.

The stories abound throughout the ACORN federation of organizations, but it’s solidarity work with a bite, as collective actions continue where essential workers continue to labor.  In France, our affiliate in Lyon, Uniti, coordinated a strike of security workers being forced to work without personal protection equipment (PPE), and won. In Louisiana, workers in MH/MR community homes run by the giant national service company, ResCare, were left without adequate protection or quarantine procedures once a resident contracted the virus.  Workers passed petitions and joined Local 100 United Labor Unions to demand more from ResCare, despite threats of retaliation. Membership is soaring!

This is happening everywhere.

In Hong Kong, as reported by the Washington Post, “Rather than continuing to plug mass demonstrations, anti-government activists have used the networks they built during months of organizing to import more than 100,000 medical masks and distribute them to people in need.”  In Chile, “they’re also moving to adapt. They’ve been callingcacerolazos — balcony-bound pot-and-pan-banging protests traditional in Latin America — loud enough to drown out music and conversation inside homes. An artist’s collective, Intermediate Depression, published an illustrated “manual for protesting from home” on Instagram, encouraging Chileans to deck their balconies with protest signs, “share [their] favorite songs with [their] neighborhood” and engage in cyberactivism.”

Trust me on this.  In crisis we double down.  People learn what the slogan, “The People United Shall Never Be Defeated,” means in daily life, not just on the streets.

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