Re: [OPE-L] the working class and the informal sector

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Mon Dec 13 2004 - 21:05:06 EST

         I'm having a hard time grasping your argument. Maybe it's me---
because it seems so obvious to me that the mass of the people in the
informal sector (certainly here) are in the working class. You seem
prepared to accept someone who is unemployed as part of the working class.
So, does that person leave the working class when she gets some money (eg.,
from a family member) or some credit (high interest rate) to purchase some
shirts from a capitalist firm that she can sell on the street? Recognising
that this person would much prefer to be getting a regular wage (even a
piece-wage) for selling the shirts, to be covered by the law, be eligible
for pensions, medical care, etc rather than bear the risk.
At 05:13 13/12/2004, you wrote:
>Michael L,
>You wrote previously:
> > How
> > about people working in the sphere of circulation within the circuit of
> > capital who would choose to be wage-labourers if that option were present
> > but who are compelled to function as retail workers who must bear a risk
> > because they have no alternative?
>and now added:
> > I don't think you responded to the case I gave you. We can explore
> > exploiters within the informal sector subsequently.
>One of the examples I cited -- that of pedicab operators in the informal
>sector --  is that of people laboring in the sphere of circulation who would
>choose jobs as wage-workers if they could.   It was selected precisely
>because of the (very vague) case you asked about.
>The issue is not whether someone labors in the sphere of circulation or
>In any event, you haven't said  *why* these people in the informal
>sector are part of the working class.  In my view, the compulsion to
>labor and lack of alternatives are not by themselves sufficient criteria.
>In solidarity, Jerry
>PS: do these people in Venezuela consider themselves to be workers?
>A lot of friends of mine have been peddlers in NYC because of
>the lack of other alternatives.  I can tell you that none of them that I
>know consider themselves to be workers.  Poor, yes; workers, no.
>btw, I was very involved in support of these peddlers (who were
>also often homeless or squatters) in the early 1990's when there was
>a crackdown on them by former mayors (Dinkins and Giuliani) and
>they were pushed off of the streets by the police and had their
>property taken away from them (and given away or stolen by the cops)
>and were often brutalized because they were engaging in "illegal"
>activities.  The complaints that  led to these sweeps came mostly from
>small-business owners (who considered the street peddlers to be
>competition) and gentrifying landlords (who thought that the presence
>of peddlers might make the LES area undesirable to yuppies).  Indeed, I
>fought street battles side-to-side with many of these people and even
>got arrested a number of times as a consequence.  While the
>"underground economy" is not the same thing as the "informal sector"
>it is a myth to think that all people employed within the informal sector
>are in the "periphery".  I should note, also, in passing that some of the
>peddlers _were_ wage-workers, i.e. the wage was not sufficient to
>meet their needs (especially rent) so they 'moonlighted' as street
>peddlers to earn extra cash for family needs.  For the rest, it was their
>only source of income.
> > >What people are we talking about?  For example, consider some informal
> > >sector cases  mentioned by Drakakis-Smith  (_The Third World City_) in
> > >which there are owners of pedicabs which are rented out daily to others
> > >who then operate the pedicabs to earn money or there is the case in which
> > >money is regularly advanced for itinerant food hawkers to make purchases
> > >wholesale markets so that these peddlers can purchase the food that they
> > >will then cook and sell.  Drakakis-Smith thinks that these constitute
> > >exploitive relationships even though the exploiter is not a capitalist in
> > >the  traditional sense and indeed is poor and needs to do this this or
> > >otherwise  take on a different role within the informal sector in order
> > >survive.  But,  the point I am making is that there is frequently
> > >exploitation  _within_ the sector by the poor  'entrepreneurs' and the
> > >laborers.  Are they _all_ part  of the working class? I don't think so.
> > >Are they _all_ part of the petty-bourgeoisie?  I don't think so --
> > >the 'entrepreneurs'  in the above cases who rent out means of production
> > >or advance money in exchange for more money are (very) petty-bourgeois,
> > >imo.

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at
Residencias Anauco Suites
Departamento 601
Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
Caracas, Venezuela
(58-212) 573-4111
fax: (58-212) 573-7724

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