Severyns Ravenholt Talk: Why Do Informal Workers Organize? Street Vendors, Contentious Politics, and the State

Calla Hummel, University of Miami
Friday, November 22, 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Gowen Hall 1A, The Olson Room

Abstract: Why do informal workers organize in some places more than others? Most of the world's two billion informal workers lack the material resources and social capital associated with joining unions and professional associations, yet informal workers in Bolivia, India, Nigeria, and many other places organize more than existing theory expects. I find that some local officials encourage informal workers to organize while other officials discourage organization. I argue that officials are more likely to encourage informal sector organizations where their administrative resources are low and where informal workers' compliance helps their projects and careers. Where officials do not face these constraints, they turn to police and inspectors to manage informal markets, which discourages informal workers from organizing. I develop the theory with ethnographic and interview data from two municipalities in the La Paz department of Bolivia and two districts in the São Paulo state in of Brazil to illustrate these divergent approaches to managing informal sectors. I create a machine-generated dataset of informal workers from the Latin American Public Opinion Project survey data and compare it to a dataset of likely informal workers from 44 countries in the Comparative Survey of Electoral Systems dataset to demonstrate that informal workers organize across the world and organize at higher rates in places with fewer resources.