Labour institutions and the dynamic production of informality: collective organisation of hard-to-reach workers in Tanzania


  • Ilona Steiler Tampere University



This paper discusses the role of labour regulation and trade unions in collective organisation of workers in non-standard, diffuse and informal labour relations in the Global South. The central argument is that labour institutions interlink with and co-create different configurations of informality and hence possibilities for collective organisation. This argument responds to calls in global labour studies for new conceptions of labour struggles that go beyond Eurocentrism and a narrow focus on traditional tools and institutions of workers’ power in the global context. Challenging the formal-informal dualism, the empirical material presented in this paper suggests a more nuanced understanding of the role of labour regulation and trade unions as sites for both the production and the contestation of the category of informal work. This is illustrated by efforts for collective organisation of hard-to-reach workers in the two dissimilar sectors of street vending and domestic work in Tanzania. Using the power resources approach as a conceptual framework for structuring the analysis, the paper examines how collective organisation interlinks dynamically with specific configurations of labour informality which derive from the labour and employment relations, labour legislation, trade union strategies, and public discourses in each sector.