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

From: Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM
Date: Tue Dec 14 2004 - 08:03:09 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?
> Recognizing  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.

Michael L,

Here are some reasons why I don't think it is at all "obvious" that the mass
of people in the informal sector are part of the working class:

*   A large percentage of people in this sector have never been
wage-workers, have no realistic prospects of becoming wage-workers
any time soon and -- given the low demand for labour-power by
capital and the state in the urban areas and regions where they live --
have no illusions about theirs prospects for becoming wage-workers.

* We're not talking here about a short-term presence in the reserve army
(as was the case when I mentioned "frictional unemployment"  previously).
Rather,  a large percentage of people in this sector have been members
of this sector for their entire lives -- indeed, there are many millions of
families that for several successive generations have labored in the
informal sector.  This can not be taken to be a transient or temporary

* Most of the members of this sector didn't come from the working-class
but rather the peasantry.  I.e. mass poverty in the countryside fueled
a movement of people to urban areas in search of jobs.  They thus often
have no historical memory of  being part of the working class. This leads
them to develop, not just alternative ways of surviving, but also
alternative  customs, norms, and lifestyles.  If they identify with another
class, it is often a nostalgic identification with the peasantry from which
they (mostly) came rather than the working-class.  Many of these
same people yearn not for jobs for a wage but for land.

*  They are self-employed.  Indeed,  they are not infrequently proud of
that fact.  I.e. they may be poor, but at least they do not "work for
someone else."

* Being self-employed -- rather than being employed by capital and
the state -- they have a lot of similarities to the poor peasantry and
petty-bourgeoisie.   Indeed, many of these people may come to think
of themselves as "small businessmen/women".

* They, for the most part,  are not dependent on capital -- except in a
_very_ indirect way.  I.e. they often sell goods and services to the
working class (or other members of the informal sector) and consequently
their money exchanges against wages.  This, of course, can benefit
capital.  Yet, it also means that they frequently relate to workers as
consumers rather than members of the same class.  This is a different
social relationship.

I realize that for many we're in the holiday season and the end-of-term
work intensification period (and hence the recent sharp decline in list
volume), but what do others think about this issue?

In solidarity, Jerry

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