What is a Worker? Framing People in the Informal Economy as Part of the Trade Union Constituency in Kenya and Tanzania


  • Lone Riisgaard Roskilde University




This article investigates the ongoing efforts of trade unions in Kenya and Tanzania to enlarge their constituency by reconceptualising the notion of workers to include people in the informal economy. How this process plays out is of immense importance as it challenges established understandings of who a worker is; this in turn poses very difficult questions about rights, representation and the distribution of power both internally in the union movements and in society at large. Based on original interview data, the article unpacks this highly contested and politicised process. The article shows how union efforts reflect different ways of tackling the need to constitute people working informally as workers and union members in order to increase the social base, and thereby increase political clout. However, these processes are juxtaposed with the urge to maintain traditional boundaries and protect established privileges and power structures, both internally in the unions and externally in the fragile compromise inscribed in the existing tripartite structures.

KEYWORDS: informal workers; informal economy; trade unions; Kenya; Tanzania

Author Biography

Lone Riisgaard, Roskilde University

Institut for Samfund og Globalisering International Development Research Group