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

From: Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM
Date: Wed Dec 15 2004 - 19:47:14 EST

OPE-L review of Breman's The Labouring Poor in IndiaA couple of brief points connecting the current discussion in this
thread to the review by Karin Kapadia resent by Rakesh:

Kapadia wrote:
Chapter 5 reviews the World Bank's "World Development Report" (WDR) of 1995. This WDR was entitled "Workers in an Integrating World". Breman's review is a hard-hitting polemic against the World Bank's labour policies, highlighting the neo-liberal ideology that underpins the report. He has written for several years about the ways in which jobbers and middle-men ruthlessly exploit migrant labour in the informal sector. He is therefore able to highlight the absurdity of the World Bank's characterisation of these, in his terms, "ruthless operators" as, instead, admirable agents who "contract with farmers, act as employment agencies, and contribute to the flow of information across labour markets" (WDR 1995:26, quoted in Breman, page 174).

Migrant workers who are paid a wage -- whether a conventional 
wage or a piece-wage -- are clearly, from my perspective, part 
of the working-class.  They constitute a segment of the agricultural 
proletariat. That would be the case regardless of their class origins.

Kapadia continued:
WITH Chapter 7 - perhaps the best essay in the book - we return to analysis based on first-hand fieldwork, focussed on Ahmedabad's ex-mill workers. This interesting essay has valuable insights to offer on what happens when 85,000 mill workers lose their secure formal sector jobs and are thrown into an insecure existence where they and their families have to work in exploitative, poorly paid informal sector jobs. Breman argues that the great hardships of this new poverty result in some of them being tempted into high-paying illegal activities, as well as into becoming mercenaries who persecute minorities - for example, Muslims - on orders from above. This is hardly surprising "in an economy where more than half of the total money circulation takes place outside the legal-administrative purview" (page 239, emphasis added throughout2). More specifically, in Ahmedabad, "Working on one's own account and at one's own risk may be combined with membership of gangs hired on a regular or incidental basis by landlords and slum bosses to drive out squatters, by politicians to intimidate opponents or to persecute minorities... " (page 239). Breman quotes other research on Ahmedabad as follows "... crime, particularly economic crime, had become a way of life in Ahmedabad" (Spodek 2001: 1632, quoted in Breman: 240). In short, the growing criminalisation of politics emerges as a powerful factor behind the targeting of Gujarat's Muslims in the pogroms of 2002.

It would be interesting to have an *international* statistical comparison 
of  the informal sector which identified the percentage of people in 
the sector who were formerly wage-workers (as in the mill workers
described above) in relation to the percentage of people who were 
formerly part of the peasantry and petty-bourgeoisie.  This might be
important in determining the relative importance of the differing underlying 
structural causes for joining the informal sector.

It would also be useful to identify the average number of years that 
a person has been in the sector and what percentage of people in the 
sector are first-generation members, second-generation members, etc.  
This could give us some (non-anecdotal or country-specific) indication of 
the stability of the sector and the  extent to which there is or is not 
movement out of the sector. 

These statistics probably exist but, of necessity,  can be expected
to be incomplete.

In solidarity, Jerry

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