Tag Archives: hawkers

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.


The Challenge of Building Capacity to Get to Scale in India

Doha      All Saturday and Sunday, the ACORN India team and I kept the conversations going as we continued to make progress.   We debated adding a website.  We dug deep on accessing our community radio access through AM/FM and acornradio.org with commitments made to produce weekly shows on a fixed time, as well as exploring the issuing of noncommercial licenses in India now and where we might find partners.  We scheduled a regular team call-in the first Wednesday of every month.  We updated our WhatsApp group.  We planned our next meeting in Sri Lanka with the 2020 Organizers’ Forum, as we ticked off one box after box.

As we plumbed the depths of one campaign after another, the victory on electricity rates in Delhi, the expansion of our hawkers union in south Asia, our path-breaking on the intersection of climate and housing issues in Dharavi, we couldn’t help circling back again to our huge potential and confronting our capacity issues that were preventing us getting to scale, especially given the size and importance of India.  There was no question that we were doing a lot, but it was with a little, keeping us from converting more of our successes to their full potential.

one of the old pools for bathing, water, and rest

The Hawkers Livelihood Act is one good example.  There are more than 300 cities where the Act has not been fully implemented.  We did some mental white-boarding on just the number of food vendors that were a small subset of this informal vending workforce.  Quickly we had a national number of 2.5 million food vendors.  There was a requirement that each of them be certified in food safety, which we were qualified to provide.  We started fleshing out a pilot program where we could certify and train 10,000, with 1000 vendors each in 10 cities, allowing us to expand through both a servicing and organizing model.  We planned to mobilize the research and see if we could perfect a proposal.  It was exciting and doable, but a cloud hung over the discussion when it came to where we might shop such a proposal to win support to build the capacity.

Organizing vendors on the ground to take advantage of our growing numbers in Delhi, Chennai, Mysore, Bengaluru and elsewhere while we are inundated with organizing invitations was another conundrum.  We sketched out the details on registering the union in other locations and doing so as a national union of informal workers.  Thinking about the local in the United States, the growing effort in France, even our tenants’ unions, we concluded that we would also form and flesh out the structure and governance for a global federation.  Heady stuff.  Realistic plans.  Could we convert the plans to scale?  Once again, we were stumbling around the question of capacity.

It’s the old story of organizing — it was a great meeting, but the real test would be how much of the talk we could convert into action.

kite flying is common…2 eagle kites in the air

Please enjoy The Day Tom Petty Died by Brent James & the Vintage Youth.

Thanks to KABF.