Political Organization in the Informal Economy: Organizing Street Vendors in Bogotá, Colombia
Abstract: Half of the workers in the world do not have access to social and legal security. As workers of a growing informal economy, they lack the protection that formal workers usually have, such as pension and sick pay and their income is varying and insecure. In the past, it was workers organizing in labor unions who achieved improved working conditions. But when the share of formal workers diminishes, so does the foundation for traditional worker struggles. While seldom researched, there are examples of worker organizations in the informal economy. This study explores how street vendors in Colombia organize collectively and the challenges and prospects that can be outlined in their struggle. The study is based on a qualitative field research conducted in the locality of Suba in Bogotá and data are analyzed in the light of how successful worker organizations have overcome the many challenges in other parts of the world. Findings show a well-developed organizational infrastructure but it is hampered by conflicts stemming from the conditions of the political economy of the street and a lacking collective responsibility. There is also a noticeable involvement of external actors, raising questions of whose priorities are to guide the struggle. Structural obstacles are significant but there are positive experiences and a strong will to take a step from the reactive struggle of defending the workplace to claiming rights. In this, women may have a central role to play for the vendor organizations in Suba.
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