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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Broken barrier : mobility, political unionism and economic informality in India Park, Thea Alexander


Economic informality is often treated as defining a segregated, leeching, anti-systemic and apolitical sphere of an economic system. While an estimate 2.8 times the combined total populations of Canada and the United States comprise the informal labour population of India, the visibility of the workers involved is largely obstructed by a combination of natural and forced anonymity. Political unionism is shown as an imperfect instrument to respond to the varied interests of union members in addition to falling under criticism as a privileged process for an elitist, minority section of the working class in India. One of two labour unions recognized as clearly outside political associations is the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), through which the voice, struggle and intense productivity of workers dubbed part of the informal economic sphere has been brought to the attention of domestic and international policy initiatives. In an analysis of studies engaging with the organized bidi workers of Gujarat and the history of political unionism in India, we see that the barrier between formal and informal is quite firmly an inaccurate product of our analysis. While individual agency in India should be supported and targeted for improvement by international labour laws, conventions and organizations, there needs to be a realization that protection from exploitation is necessary yet blind incorporation of the informal into the formal is not the logical conclusion for sustainable development practices.

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