Formal Organising in the Informal Sector: The Hawker Sangram Committee and the Politics of Hawking in Kolkata, India
Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork, this article offers a close reading of the Hawker Sangram Committee (HSC), an independent street vendors’ union in the city of Kolkata in the state of West Bengal in eastern India; I explore the manner in which the politics of the HSC expand or complicate our understanding of street vendor politics and informal worker organising in the Global South. I argue that the HSC’s ability to implement its politics and successfully organise rests heavily on its dual strategy of organising (simultaneously building the struggle at the macro and micro level), which widened from space-bound little struggles to larger collective action (while still holding on to the former). I contend that the execution of this dual strategy is possible because of its structure, in which its member unions function autonomously, with member union organisers/leaders connecting the local hawkers to the central HSC leadership. Thus member unions comfortably negotiate a relationship where they participate as the HSC, with no political party banners, on work and livelihood issues related to hawking, while retaining their autonomy and various political identities at all other times. This parallel relationship has arguably built a stable base from which the HSC movement was able to scale city-wide, nationally and internationally, without disintegrating at the local level.
KEYWORDS: informal workers; street vendors; hawkers; Hawker Sangram Committee; Global South
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