Informal Economy Workers & the International Trade Union Movement: an Overview (Dan Gallin, 2012)

What are workers in the informal economy?
What are informal workers? To put it simply, they are workers whose rights are not recognized and who are therefore unable to exercise those rights. What is an informal economy? Again, to put it simply, it is an economy where few social rules apply, where the strong prevail by the sole virtue of their strength because they have not met with organized opposition. .

At their origin, all trade unions were formed by informal workers, since the entire economy was informal at the time trade unions were first organized. Trade unions were, and still are, self-help organizations of workers who, through collective action, seek to regulate their wages and working conditions so as to eliminate the worst forms of exploitation, i.e. to formalize an informal situation. A “formal” economy is an economy in which the labour movement has negotiated regulated wages and conditions through a combination of Industrial and political action (by collective agreements and by law).

In an economy which is not formally organized, the social organization which is dominant comes to prevail by default. In patriarchal societies, this translates into a patriarchal organization of work relationships. It is therefore unsurprising that we find women workers numerically dominant in the informal economy, occupying the low-income, low-skill occupations.

However, historically trade unions were in most cases first organized by men and avoided tackling the causes of patriarchal exploitation of women workers, often confining their struggles to only those shop floor issues common to male and female workers. This resulted in more male workers enjoying regulated wages and working conditions while more women workers remained in the unregulated informal economy.

The effort to formalize the informal economy, which has been going on all over the world for the last 150 years or so, has been only partially successful. In terms of social relations, the economy has been “formalized” to a significant extent only in the industrialized world (mostly Western Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand).

Elsewhere, the informal economy remained proportionally dominant and, through deregulation and privatization policies imposed by the International Financial Institutions, has actually grown at the expense of the “formal” economy (Latin America, most of sub-Saharan Africa, but also India). In some countries, where advanced mechanisms of social protection and workers’ rights had been introduced in the early and middle 20th century, the economy was “de-formalized” by State violence during its last three decades (most of Latin America). In the former centrally planned economies, authoritarian formal structures have largely been replaced by an informalized economy (the successor States of the USSR and Eastern Europe) and in the remaining countries with a centrally planned economy, the informal economy is fostered by State policies behind a formal façade (China, Vietnam, Cuba). In summary, most of the world’s population lives in an informal economy and even in the countries where formal arrangements have prevailed since the end of World War II, they are currently under challenge.

In most of the world, conditions for trade union activity are therefore quite comparable to those prevailing when trade unionism first started in Europe and North America in the middle 19th century, and the conditions under which trade unionism originally developed are therefore of more than historical interest.

The International Trade Union Movement
The international trade union movement originated with the First International (1864 – 1876), which included various forms of workers’ organizations: political parties and propaganda groups, unions, co-operatives, mutual aid societies, etc. The Second International, which followed in 1889, like the First, also included political parties and trade unions, as well as other workers’ organizations. Soon, however, the need for a clearer division of labour made itself felt. After 1900, the Second International became an organization of socialist parties and its other components gradually established their separate international organizations.

Some of the unions attending the founding congress of the International decided to establish international organizations of workers in the same trade or industry. These became known as the International Trade Secretariats (ITS), the first permanently organized form of international trade union solidarity.

The national trade union centers in different countries, some of which were not involved in the Second International (in particular the syndicalist CGT in France and the British trade unions), also felt the need for an independent international organization. As a result, a formal secretariat was set up in 1903, which became the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) in 1913.

International trade unionism as such exists in a recognizable form since the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th

In those two decades, unions in most of Europe and in North America had become mass organizations, well on the way to formalizing an informal labour force. The contrast between the formal and informal economy was not perceived in these terms but simply as an organizing issue, between organized and unorganized workers, at national and international level. However, the gender issue, which is today the crucial issue when it comes to organizing in the informal economy, was present from the beginning.

The gender issue
The labour movement, from its earliest days, had charismatic women leaders, such as Flora Tristan Moscoso (1803-1844), a social activist in France and in Peru, who wrote “L’Union Ouvrière” (“The Workers’ Union”), where she anticipated the “Communist Manifesto” by calling for an international general workers’ union and by stressing that the workers had to emancipate themselves by their own action, that no one else was going to do it for them, and that they had to unite internationally because society itself had become international.

Louise Michel, an anarchist leader of the Paris Commune, later deported to New Caledonia, was a beacon of revolutionary integrity. Later Rosa Luxemburg became a leader of revolutionary social-democracy and Clara Zetkin, with much the same politics, became a leader of the textile workers’ international.

Unfortunately, the prominence of these outstanding leaders, among some others, did not reflect the reality on the ground.

When women workers first started to join unions they frequently had to face not only opposition from the employers and from the State (in the form of anti-labour legislation), but also opposition from their male colleagues. The early labour movement, initiated and led by men, had internalized the prevailing patriarchal values of society, regardless how radical its opposition to other aspects of the social order might have been.

With few exceptions, male workers initially viewed women as competitors in the labour market, rejected female participation in the labour force and supported the confinement of women to the home and rearing of children. The Swiss anarchist James Guillaume, reporting on the inaugural congress of the First International, approvingly quoted a memorandum by a Paris delegate on the role of women in society, which stated: “The family is the foundation of society; the woman’s place is at the domestic home; not only do we not want her to abandon it to be a delegate in a political assembly or make speeches in a club, but we would even prefer, if that were possible, that she should not leave it to take up industrial employment”. This early phase has been described by Werner Thönnessen as a phase of “proletarian anti-feminism” [1].

At a later stage, when it was realized that female labour would inevitably increase, the (male) workers conceded that women had a right to work, and sought to eliminate the detrimental effect of female competition in the labour market by incorporating women in the labour movement and adopting the principle of equal pay for equal work (later: for work of equal value).

Although by that time men and women in the movement had forcefully argued for equality at all levels, and some trade union organizations had acted on such principles, discrimination against women did not disappear with these new insights. “Proletarian anti-feminism” came up in new and different forms, for example by trying to channel women’s activities in the movement into social work so that other spheres of activity, where executive power was exercised, could more easily remain reserved for men.

In the 19th and early 20th century many independent women’s unions were organized In North-Western Europe and North America because in many instances women workers were unable to find adequate representation in existing unions. The reasons were several: in Britain and Ireland, women were excluded from most craft unions and, as overwhelmingly unskilled workers, there was nowhere else for them to go but to create their own organizations. In other cases, as in Denmark, they were denied access even to general workers’ unions and had to create their own.

Organizing informal workers was rarely an issue: the main issue was organizing women wage-workers in formal employment, although there were exceptions. One of these was the short-lived Women Workers’ Federation in Switzerland. A Congress for the Protection of Home Workers met in August 1909. At that time, about half of the industrial labour force in Switzerland were home-based workers, three quarters of these women and children, in certain occupations only women. The Women Workers’ Federation had made the organization of home-based workers a priority.

Verena Conzett, president of the Women Workers’ Federation said that women’s home work, far from being a mere supplement to the family income, was in fact in many cases the main income. Because the men were unwilling to admit that they depended on the incomes of the women, they played down the importance of home work and therefore made the organization of women home workers much more difficult.

Since men were the main reason why women were so hard to organize, Conzett concluded: “When we seek to organize these women, let us therefore begin in the first place with the men. Let us teach them, in all associations and unions, to regard homework on its own merits. Let them lose the false shame of accepting that women must contribute to the family livelihood; instead, they should enlighten the women and bring them into the organization.”

Fast Forward
The political upheavals of the 20th century affected as a matter of course the international trade union movement. The Soviet Union in its early days created the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) as a competitor to the IFTU. The RILU. was dissolved in 1937 when its existence became an obstacle to the foreign policy of the Soviet Union requiring the inclusion of Social-Democracy and, in trade union terms, of the IFTU, in “Popular Fronts”.

In 1945, the IFTU was dissolved and the WWII alliance of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union was reflected in the creation of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) uniting social-democratic and communist unions, including those of the Soviet bloc.

The WFTU was a problematic construction from the beginning, because of unresolved and irreconcilable issues between the social-democratic and socialist currents and the communist current and because of the refusal of the ITSs to accept a centralized structure where they would have lost their autonomy. The onset of the Cold War collapsed this fragile edifice leading to the formation of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), by the social-democratic and North American unions, in 1949, picking up where the IFTU had left off, and leaving the WFTU as the international organization of the Soviet-dominated communist unions.

Meanwhile the Christian, mainly Catholic, unions, which had formed the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions (IFCTU) in 1920, reorganized independently after the war. After opening up to other religions (f.ex. Buddhists in South –Vietnam), the IFCTU renamed itself World Confederation of Labour (WCL) in 1968.

The post-war international trade union movement was different from the pre-war movement in one significant respect: it was for the first time truly world-wide, no longer essentially European. The former British and French colonies, and others, covering most of Africa and Asia, were now independent States with their own trade union movements, and new transport and communication technologies made it possible to maintain constant contact across regions and continents.
This also meant that international trade union organizations were for the first time in close and sustained contact with economies where workers with permanent, full-time and regular employment were a small minority, and where the majority of the working class found itself in an informal economy where women were over represented.

The implication of this new situation did not register with any of the existing international trade union federations, irrespective of ideology or political affiliation. Neither the ICFTU, nor the WFTU, nor the WCL, nor the ITSs, perceived the many millions of home-based workers, street and market vendors, rag pickers, domestic workers, among others, as workers, much less as potential trade union members.
The reason, of course, is that none of their national affiliates had this perception. Even in a country like India, several trade union federations with different political allegiances fought over wage workers representing less than ten percent of the real working class, dismissing the over 90 percent of labour as being outside their scope.

The very concept of the “informal sector” or ” informal economy” did not exist until it first appeared in the early 1970s in ILO documents and it did not have a significant impact on trade union policies until more than a decade later. Where the existence of an “informal sector” was acknowledged, it was assumed to be an archaic survival of earlier economic structures that would disappear as a result of economic growth in a capitalist economy.

Nor had much progress been made on the gender issue. Most of the women workers’ unions which had appeared at the end of the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th had disappeared through integration into mixed unions, and the “women’s committees” that replaced them in some unions and national federations were marginalized and had neither the financial autonomy nor the political means to seriously affect union policy. The same applied at international level. Very few women occupied leading positions anywhere in the world at any but local levels.

SEWA and the First Breakthrough
What I have described here applies more or less to the three decades following WWII, which, in the industrialized world, were a period of economic growth supporting a social welfare State with few challenges, if any, to the position of trade unions in society.

This context started changing with the “second-wave feminism” of the 1960s and 1970s, in the US and Europe, also eventually in Latin America and world-wide, together with the youth revolt of the late 1960s. At the same time, the first “oil shock” of 1974 ushered in a period of permanent, structural mass unemployment in the industrialized countries, which undermined the post-war social compromise where the trade union movement had enjoyed an influential position in social policy.

The trade union movement was suddenly on the defensive on several fronts: its conservatism was challenged by labour feminists and new radical movements, at the same time as its power in society was being challenged by more aggressive business. interests backed by conservative political parties.

This was the global context at the time when the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) appeared in India. SEWA, based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, grew out of the Women’s Wing of the Textile Labour Association (TLA), India’s oldest and largest union of textile workers founded by a woman, Anasuya Sarabhai, in 1920. The inspiration for the union came from Mahatma Ghandi, who had led a successful strike of textile workers in 1917.

The Women’s Wing was established in 1954, initially to assist women belonging to the households of textile workers and its work was focused largely on vocational training and welfare activities. The scope of its activities expanded in the early 1970s when groups of informal women workers (women tailors, cart-pullers at the cloth market, head-loaders carrying loads of clothes between the wholesale and retail markets, used garment dealers) approached the union for protection.

In December 1971, to meet the demand by these women workers for an independent structure, the TLA and its Women’s Wing decided to establish the Self Employed Women’s Association. The head of the Women’s Wing, Ela Bhatt, became its first general secretary.

SEWA grew continuously, from an initial membership of 320 in 1972 to over 6,000 in 1981. By then, however, relations between SEWA and TLA had deteriorated. The TLA (male) leadership had become increasingly uncomfortable with an assertive women’s group in its midst with its own agenda and its own views on union priorities.

In 1981, the SEWA members were expelled from the TLA over a policy conflict and SEWA became an independent union.

In 1983, SEWA was looking for support from the international trade union movement, and first approached the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF), the ITS to which the TLA was affiliated. The ITGLWF referred SEWA to the International Union of Food and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF).

The IUF accepted SEWA into affiliation immediately. It rejected the objections from the Indian national trade union federations which claimed that SEWA was not a real union but a “women’s NGO”, that its members were not real workers because they did not have employers and that it discriminated against men because it was a women workers’ organization.

This was the first time that an international trade union organization had deliberately and in full knowledge of the issues, recognized an organization of informal women workers as a union of workers and welcomed it into affiliation. Eventually SEWA also affiliated to the ITGLWF and to ICEM, with its membership in paper recycling.

The IUF at that time was itself a dissident in the international trade union movement. Many of its affiliates were small and struggling, their survival depended on the militancy and the dedication of their members and of their leadership. Its membership had a high proportion of women, particularly in the hotel and restaurant sector, but also in certain industries (fish and vegetable canning, tobacco processing). Its leadership had scant regard for the bureaucratic culture of the ICFTU and of some of the other ITSs and, although anti-communist, had no fear of socialist or other radical politics.
In the following years, the IUF supported SEWA in different ways, among others by ensuring its presence at ICFTU congresses and at the annual International Labour Conference, as part of the IUF delegation.
In 1995 and 1996 SEWA and the IUF formed the core of a broader coalition fighting for the adoption of an ILO convention for home-based workers. The Dutch national center FNV, and the secretariat of the ILO Workers’ Group, then led by Guy Ryder, were supportive and the Home Work Convention (C. 177) was adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1996, by a small majority and against strong opposition from the employers.

HomeNet International, a network of home-based workers’ unions and NGOs, which had been set up in 1994, also with the participation of SEWA, was part of this coalition. However, it collapsed as an international organization in 2002 over internal democracy issues. Its Asian regional affiliates survived the collapse and a new regional network in South Eastern Europe is currently under construction.
In 1997 SEWA, which by then had grown to several hundred thousand members, was instrumental in setting up WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing), an international network of unions and associations, academic researchers and professionals from development agencies, dedicated to advance the interests of informal workers, particularly women workers, principally through their organization into unions. This was the task of its Organization and Representation Program (ORP), which started its activities in 2000. The former IUF general secretary, who had retired from the IUF in 1997, became the first ORP director in 2000 and served in that capacity until 2002.

WIEGO, through its ORP, approached the ICFTU beginning in 2000 to explore possibilities of co-operation, but relations turned out to be difficult. The ICFTU secretariat viewed WIEGO with suspicion and hostility. This was due in part because WIEGO had stated as one of its objectives the creation of an international organization of informal workers, later amended to “international platform”, but nevertheless perceived by the ICFTU as an intent to create a rival organization. In an effort to remove such fears, WIEGO then declared that it was not going to do any organizing itself, but would support organizing in the informal economy by unions, either established or new unions.

However, the problem went deeper. The ICFTU secretariat was actually in denial that workers in the informal economy had specific issues in common. Its position was that informal workers should be organized by the ITSs according to their “trade”, ignoring the fact that some occupations (as in the case of home workers) cut across many “trades”, and that many informal workers were moving across different occupations in their working lives.

Underlying this were of course solidly conservative and bureaucratic attitudes. It has been said that the definition of a conservative is a person who believes that nothing must ever happen for the first time. The ICFTU secretariat was not prepared to support any initiative it had not thought of itself first. The fact that new ideas and approaches were being proposed by women’s organizations, represented in addition by the former IUF general secretary who was not universally popular in ICFTU circles, did not help.

At the 17th ICFTU congress held in Durban in May 2000, a group of progressive unions had come together to submit a resolution demanding that the ICFTU should make organizing in the informal economy one of its priorities. They were the FNV (Netherlands), COSATU (South Africa), KCTU (Korea) and CUT (Brazil). The congress adopted the resolution and the ICFTU secretariat had to take some action.

The action consisted in creating a “Task Force on the Informal Economy” which met twice, once in September 2001 and another time in March 2002. WIEGO (together with SEWA as IUF delegates and, in the second meeting, StreetNet) managed to get itself invited, but the participants had been selected to make sure that the position of the ICFTU secretariat was endorsed. The WIEGO position found no support except from the FNV participant, and the Task Force was never heard from again.

Meanwhile, organizations of street and market vendors, SEWA among them, were coming together and had started to build an international network. A StreetNet office was set up in Durban, South Africa, early in 2000, work-shops were held in Africa, Asia and Latin America in 2001 and 2002 and the international co-ordinator made field trips to several countries, some of which resulted in the establishment of new organizations.

StreetNet International was formally launched in November 2002 and soon established productive working relations with Union Network International (UNI), the ITS of commercial workers (among others). StreetNet is of course also an affiliate of WIEGO. No one in the official trade union movement seemed to take notice of this development and there was no sign of opposition. After an initial set-back, the collapse of the South African Self Employed Women’s Union (SEWU), one of its founders, StreetNet grew rapidly and now has forty-four affiliates in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

The ILO Recognizes that “Workers are Workers”
Also in 2002, the International Labour Conference had informal employment on its agenda. The discussion was based on an extensive report entitled: “Decent Work in the Informal Economy.” A Coalition of workers’ representatives, some of who were also delegates in the Workers’ Group, as well as labour NGOs, coordinated by WIEGO and the Global Labour Institute (2), succeeded in significantly framing the debate in the Workers’ Group and in the Tripartite Committee. The attempt of the ICFTU advisor to the Workers’ Group to challenge the concept of the “informal economy” and to engage a discussion on terminology was deflected early on. The most important outcome of the discussion was the recognition of own-account workers as workers. Leah Vosko, a Canadian researcher who reported on the conference for the Coalition, wrote:

“The Conclusions concerning decent work in the informal economy note that these workers are part of the informal economy “because they lack protection, rights and representation and are trapped in poverty.” This characterization is a historic move for several reasons:

(1) it effectively extends the application of a range of ILO standards (certainly the core labour standards) to a new group of workers;

(2) it weakens the position of employers’ organizations in making claims that the own account self-employed are not workers; (3) and, it places more weight on the presence of ‘dependent work’ than an employment relationship per se as a threshold for providing social protection.”

Vosko made another important point regarding the role of trade unions of formal workers and their international organizations as well as the role of trade unions of informal workers and, in particular, the appropriate relationship between these groups:

“Prior to the ILC, some trade unionists expressed unease, suggesting that the growing presence of democratic membership-based organizations of informal economy workers and trade unions of informal economy workers at ILO forums signalled the growth of quadripartism. In other words, many of these groups were viewed, by some, as NGOs. With the clear alliance between the Coalition and the Workers’ Group at the ILC and the assertion by the ILO that ‘own account workers are workers’, such concerns may dissipate. Regardless, the question of the nature of the alliance between democratic membership-based organizations of informal economy workers and the international trade union movement – or the bridge between these groupings – remains. While democratic membership-based organizations of informal economy workers and trade unions of informal workers distanced themselves from the NGO movement in this discussion, thereby reinforcing tripartism in the ILO and bolstering the power of the Workers’ Group, the debate over horizontal vs. vertical organizing is ongoing as is the debate about how to define representative, democratic, membership-based organizations, when it comes to informal economy workers.”

Crashing the Party
The next step for SEWA and its supporters was to seek SEWA’s affiliation to the ICFTU and, parallel, to constitute a group of ICFTU-affiliated national centers organizing workers in the informal economy, which had co-operated with SEWA and WIEGO previously, to advance the agenda of informal workers within the ICFTU.

This group, which was called the International Co-ordinating Committee (ICC) of unions organizing workers in the informal economy, was constituted in 2004. It held two conferences, the first in Ahmedabad, India, in December 2003 and the second in Accra, Ghana, in September 2006. The ICC core group, apart from SEWA, included the Ghana TUC, the Nigerian Labour Congress, CROC (Mexico), StreetNet International and HomeNet South East Asia.

Both conferences analyzed the situation of informal workers in the world, developed organizing strategies and raised a series of demands, addressed to public authorities and to the trade union movement. One of the demands was the establishment of a Department for the informal economy in the new international trade union confederation to be created through the merger of the ICFTU and the WCL in November 2006, and that informal economy workers’ issues be included as a priority in all plans and programs of the new confederation, such as Specific Action Plans and research programs.
The ICC also regularly held side meetings at the International Labour Conference, which were well attended and raised substantial interest. .

However, the ICC only functioned as long as Pat Horn, international co-ordinator of StreetNet, also acted as ICC co-ordinator. When she withdrew from this responsibility in order to commit herself entirely to StreetNet, the ICC drastically reduced its activities. A third conference, to be held in Mexico in 2009, did not meet. The side meetings held by the ICC at the International Labour Conference continued to attract attention and were well attended but, for lack of organization, the ICC had ceased to be an effective pressure group within the international trade union movement.

On the issue of affiliation, SEWA was more successful. SEWA applied for affiliation to the ICFTU in May 2005 and its application was first examined by the ICFTU Executive Board in December 2005. In the meantime, SEWA had picked up significant additional support among ICFTU affiliates, among others the DGB, the AFL-CIO, the TUC (UK). At the EB meeting, many unions from all regions spoke up supporting SEWA’s affiliation. There was just one opposition, from the INTUC general secretary, who complimented SEWA on its work but said it should join the INTUC. Sharan Burrow, then ICFTU president and presiding the meeting, supported the application. Despite this overwhelming support, the ICFTU secretariat succeeded in getting the decision postponed until the following EB meeting, pending a “fact-finding mission” to SEWA. The mission came and went, and the subsequent EB meeting, in June 2006, accepted SEWA into affiliation without opposition.

SEWA and its supporters were much less successful in translating this affiliation into policy. When the ICFTU and the WCL merged in November 2006, SEWA became automatically a member of the new International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). and at the founding congress, Jyoti Macwan, SEWA general secretary, was elected one of the twenty-two Vice Presidents of the ITUC. That, however, was largely a symbolic achievement. The new International had neither a “department” nor a “desk” for informal workers, nor was the informal workers’ agenda any part of the priorities of the new organization.

Even though the ITUC secretariat was largely identical to what it had been in the ICFTU, and such new WCL element as had been introduced in it was in no way more progressive or less bureaucratic, the continuing marginalization of informal workers could no longer be blamed just on the obstruction of the secretariat, which, after all, was now led by Sharan Burrow, who had been a SEWA ally and certainly understood the problems of informal workers and their organizations.

The problem now lies with SEWA itself, which has become a sprawling organization of 1.3 million members without adequate management structures to translate this mass into power, at least not at international level. SEWA has been a hybrid movement, a union, a women’s movement and a co-operative movement, not unlike some unions of the late 19th and early 20th century. That has been a source of its strength, but if not framed in adequate structures, it can also become a source of weakness Unless and until SEWA resolves its problem of leadership (which is now dispersed internally among several power centers), of identity (will the union identity remain dominant?) and of its priorities (reorganize in a way it can exercise power at every level of its activity) it will not be able to provide leadership in an international context. And unless SEWA can lead, the informal workers’ agenda in the ITUC remains stalled.

The Next Breakthrough
The next story, which changed entirely the discussion about organizing informal workers, is that of the domestic workers. The international domestic workers’ movement originated quite recently. A number of domestic workers’ unions already existed, they first came together in a meeting called by IRENE (International Restructuring Network Europe), a Dutch NGO, the International Seminar on Domestic Workers (Amsterdam, November 8-10, 2006), with the support of FNV and the ICFTU and with the participation of the Asian Domestic Workers’ Network and WIEGO.

This initiative eventually resulted In the creation in 2009 of the International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN), supported by the IUF and WIEGO, which was instrumental in securing the Domestic Workers’ Convention (C. 189) at the International Labour Conference of 2010. The IDWN is as much a women’s movement as it is a union movement, and it derives its energy largely through the confluence of these two factors.

Thank you for your attention.

(1) Werner Thönnessen, “The Emancipation of Women (The Rise and Decline of the Women’s Movement in German Social Democracy 1863-1933)”, Pluto Press, London, 1973.
(2) The Global Labour Institute, based in Geneva, is a labour service organization founded in 1997 ( It prepared a background document for the 2002 ILC called “Workers in the Informal Economy: Platform of Issues” which can be downloaded from the GLI website. The GLI is in partnership with the Global Labour Institute UK based in Manchester ( and with the Global Labor Institute at Cornell University ( in New York.

Postscript (December 2013)
A three-day workshop was conducted by the ITUC and SEWA in Ahmedabad from September 25 to 27, 2013. Participants were staff responsible for the informal economy at the Brussels head office and in the Latin American and African regional offices. On the first day, they visited several of SEWA’s operations: organizing, the bank, the academy and the social protection division. During the conference, participants examined the ITUC policy position on the informal economy as reflected in the resolutions of its international and regional governing bodies. This was followed by presentations and discussions on the following themes:

• Overcoming obstacles to organizing workers in the informal economy
• Social protection as an organizing drive for workers in the informal economy: What
have we learned from successful experiences?
• Gaining rights and protection for workers in the informal economy – what works?
• How can the ITUC and its regional organizations promote organizing campaigns
targeting workers in the informal economy?

In conclusion, it was agreed that the informal economy agenda of the ITUC should be
focused on the following three key themes, which emerged from the discussions and will be put forward to the ITUC World Congress in May 2014:

1. Union growth based on organizing workers in the informal economy
2. Sustainable work, income security and social protection
3. Realizing rights of workers in the informal economy

From the reports of the workshop, it appears that the “marginalization of informal workers” in the ITUC has now come to an end and that SEWA is now in a position to lead the informal workers’ agenda in the ITUC.

Critical Labour Studies 8th Symposium
February 18 –19, 2012, University of Salford, Manchester