January 15, 2018

January 2018 Issue!

The Urban Informal Economy Revisited

Issue Editors : Ray Bromley and Tamar Diana Wilson

The distinction between “formal” and “informal” jobs and enterprises was first introduced in the 1970s and has been very widely used ever since.  The underlying assumption was that the formal economy would gradually expand and dominate, and the informal economy would gradually disappear.  The reality, however, associated with neoliberal economic development and growing socio-economic inequality, is that the informal economy has persisted and sometimes grown, and that job security and benefits in the formal economy have often diminished.  This theme issue focuses on the informal economy under neoliberalism, with case studies of some of the most significant and persistent occupations. Several of the articles focus on the process of the “formalization” of informal workers, a goal expressed by the International Labour Organization, but often fraught with difficulties.

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January 12, 2018

Introduction, The Urban Informal Economy Revisited

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The Urban Informal Economy Revisited
by Ray Bromley and Tamar Diana Wilson                                     

One of the most cited definitions of the informal economy is “a process of income generation characterized by one central feature: it is unregulated by the institutions of society, in a legal and social environment in which similar activities are regulated” (Castells and Portes, 1989: 12). Among those the International Labour Organization (ILO) (2013: 3) identifies as being part of the informal economy are those who work in the informal sector as employers and employees in informal enterprises and as self-employed workers. Also included are those who labor outside the informal sector and are informally employed in formal firms or as domestic workers, not covered by labor law protections. The employees in the informal economy also include unpaid family workers, whether employed in informal enterprises or in formal firms or in domestic service.

For decades there have been debates over whether the informal economy is procyclical, expanding as the capitalist economy expands, or countercyclical, contracting as that economy expands. Both things may be happening, depending on which part of the informal economy is under scrutiny: the informally self-employed or informalized wage workers in either informal or formal enterprises (FORLAC, 2015: 2). For example, informal microenterprises that market their products directly to customers or retail outlets may show countercyclical tendencies, whereas informal microenterprises that are subcontracted by large businesses, whether national or multinational, may show procyclical tendencies. More domestic workers may be employed when the economy expands, whereas self-employment in artisanal work and vending may expand when waged employment dries up.

Book Review: Day Labor in Two U.S. Cities

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Book Review: Day Labor in Two U.S. Cities
by David Stoll

Jornalero: Being a Day Laborer in the USA
Ordoñez Juan Thomas Jornalero: Being a Day Laborer in the USA. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2015.

Against the Tide: Immigrants, Day Laborers, and Community in Jupiter, Florida
de la Vega Sandra Lazo & Steigenga Timothy Against the Tide: Immigrants, Day Laborers, and Community in Jupiter, Florida. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.

Day laborers and open-air labor markets are not new in American history, but in the twentieth century, thanks to high employment and increasing job security, they almost disappeared. Now they’re back, fed by heavy migration from Mexico and Central America, and a bone of contention in the U.S. immigration debate. For immigrant-rights activists, the increasing visibility of day laborers is irrefutable evidence of the demand for immigrant labor. Since most day laborers lack legal status, their advocates continue, they also illustrate the need for a comprehensive legalization program. For critics who wish to reduce immigration, in contrast, the resurgence of day labor is a sign that job markets are being flooded and labor laws are being ignored.

January 10, 2018

Book Review, Historical Contexts of Street Vendor Politics in the Mexican State

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Book Review: Historical Contexts of Street Vendor Politics in the Mexican State
by Walter E. Little

Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late-Twentieth-Century Mexico
García Sandra Mendiola Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late-Twentieth-Century Mexico. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017.

Street vendors constitute one of the largest sectors of the global economy. Their presence is ubiquitous in the Global North and South, where they may be incorporated into the formal economy as taxpaying and permit-holding business owners or vilified by elites, fixed business owners, and government officials as a blight on urban aesthetics, unfair competitors, and health and zoning hazards. Latin American street vendors’ economic practices, lifestyles, and struggles have been well documented by anthropologists, geographers, historians, political scientists, and sociologists, but in Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late-Twentieth-Century Mexico the historian Sandra Mendiola García makes significant contributions to our understandings of how street vendors organize and survive in a politically hostile environment and how grassroots democracy functions. Despite her claim to bring together their economic and political histories (2), little of her book relates to economics. Rather, it is a well-researched description of how street vendors organize politically and re-envision their social and political relations with each other and with social and political actors such as students and neighborhood associations. Drawing on a wide range of archival sources and on oral history and interviews, she reconstructs the struggles of street vendors in Puebla, Mexico, from roughly 1970 to 1990 to form the Unión Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes (Popular Union of Street Vendors—UPVA) and resist the efforts of the local government and its elite allies to squash their sales and remove them from the historic center of the city.

January 8, 2018

Political Report # 1306 The State of the Brazilian Left: Analysis from an American in Brazil

By Brian Mier

During the lead-up and in the aftermath of last year’s overthrow of democratically elected Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, several writings appeared in progressive English language publications analyzing the state of the Brazilian left. Most of them were written by members of the white middle class, based on little or no contact with the Brazilian organized left which, as a recent article in NACLA mentioned, is a long-standing problem with Northern American analysis on Latin America.[i] In an attempt to go beyond more of the same, my next four contributions to COHA’s Brazil Unit were interviews with key figures of the Brazilian organized left: a national urban social movement leader, a union federation leader, a renowned radical-left intellectual and a national leader of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement, MST). [ii] [iii] [iv] [v] This article represents a systematization of the interviews and original analysis from the standpoint of an American who has lived in Brazil for 22 years and who has worked with the MST and the four largest Brazilian social movements. For clarity’s sake I will add that the I am not affiliated with any political party and that I supported Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party, PT) candidate Lula in 2002, Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (Socialist Liberty Party, PSOL) candidate Heloisa Helena in 2006, PSOL candidate Plinio Arruda in 2010, and PT candidate Dilma Rousseff in 2014. The interviews were based on questions about changes in the political economy, last year’s soft coup, and what the left is doing to alter the current state of affairs.

Book Review, Unemployment and the Popular Sectors’ Pursuit of Inclusion

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Book Review: Unemployment and the Popular Sectors’ Pursuit of Inclusion
by Ray Bromley

The Poor’s Struggle for Political Incorporation: The Piquetero Movement in Argentina
Rossi Federico M. The Poor’s Struggle for Political Incorporation: The Piquetero Movement in Argentina. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Writing as a political scientist with a wide-ranging and comprehensive knowledge of social movements, popular organizations, and politics in Argentina, Federico Rossi provides an insightful review of “the second incorporation,” the period from 2001 till 2008 in which the piqueteros had a major impact on Argentine politics and public policy. Argentina’s piquetero (picketer) movement consists of dozens of different organizations, some emerging from union federations, some from political parties, some from radical Catholic (liberation theology) movements, and many representing provincial, municipal, and local interests. They continue as significant participants in Argentine politics, and Rossi provides some information on post-2008 changes, but his main focus is on events and transformations leading up to 2008.

January 5, 2018

Political Report # 1305 Whether or Not the Presidents Change, the Generals Remain Connected

By Janine Jackson, FAIR

Janine Jackson interviewed Suyapa Portillo about the Honduras electoral chaos for the December 8, 2017 episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: What just happened and what will happen in Honduras are painfully unclear right now. There's still no resolution to the November 26 presidential election, in which opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla was leading when the electoral commission -- controlled by allies of incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez -- suspended the count for a day and a half, citing technical problems, only to resume it and declare that Hernandez had, in the meanwhile, overtaken his opponent and won. Hardly surprisingly, this was met with public protest, in turn met by a state crackdown. We hear at least 11 people have been killed by security forces, and there's a public curfew, which at least some police are reportedly refusing to enforce.
What should we know about how things have got to where they are right now in Honduras, and what can we hope for going forward? We're joined now by Suyapa Portillo, assistant professor of Chicano/a-Latino/a transnational studies at Pitzer College. She joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Suyapa Portillo.
Suyapa Portillo: Thanks for having me.
You were in Honduras, I understand, during the election as an observer. Despite the grip that Juan Orlando Hernandez was seen to have on the country, and the degree of militarization, public participation and even excitement about this election were quite high; is that right?
Correct. People were participating; everybody was excited. I've never seen so many people at the polls before. I've been an observer before, and have participated in elections before, and I was just really shocked to see not only people, but to see young people, you know, between 15 and 25. Mothers bringing their children, grandmothers bringing their children, to vote and to participate in the civic process, was really exciting to see.
And I traveled with three of my students from my "Central Americans in the US" class, and they were so excited to see that, because they haven't seen this in the United States, right? Just the excitement over your vote and what it means and why it was so important. They got to talk to voters from multiple parties. There were about ten parties running for the presidency, and for different mayoral candidates as well, and so they got to talk to everybody, and were just really amazed at how much Hondurans cared for this election.

Abstract, Pensions, Peasants, and the Informal Economy: Family and Livelihood in Contemporary Peru

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Pensions, Peasants, and the Informal Economy: Family and Livelihood in Contemporary Peru
by Susan Vincent

A Peruvian case study explores how urban informal workers negotiate their livelihoods as they age, highlighting reciprocity among urban informal workers, retired formal sector workers, and peasants in a pattern of rural-urban circular migration. Labor-intensive mining in the twentieth century created a proletarian workforce that included men from the peasant community of Allpachico. Their wages became an anchor for kin-linked clusters of households. Now, despite an economic boom, the lack of formal jobs forces younger Allpachiqueños to undertake precarious and informal work. Resource-sector-funded state social spending, such as through state-administered pensions for retired workers and the elderly poor, has replaced wages as a stable source of cash. This state mediation between the technology-intensive resource sector and citizens elicits suspicion and uncertainty. Dispossessed of the right to work and subjected to conditions of eligibility for social programs, urban informal workers continue to rely on kin and community.

January 3, 2018

Political Report # 1304 DEA Operation Played Hidden Role in the Disappearance of Five Innocent Mexicans

By Ginger Thompson, ProPublica

At about 2 a.m. on April 21, 2010, a convoy of gunmen working for the Zetas drug cartel, one of the most violent drug trafficking organizations in the world, rolled into Monterrey, Mexico, a wealthy, bustling city considered that country's commercial capital. With brazen efficiency, they set up roadblocks at all major thoroughfares, then sent a convoy of sport utility vehicles downtown, encircling a Holiday Inn.
The heavily armed men, some wearing ski masks, swarmed into the hotel's lobby and rushed directly to the fifth floor, bursting into every room and rousting the guests from their beds. The gunmen questioned the guests, then separated four of them from the rest: a marketing executive at an eyewear company, a chemical engineer for a cosmetics manufacturer, a shoe salesman expecting his first child, and a college professor who was the mother of two.
Then the four were loaded, along with the hotel's receptionist, into the gunmen's vehicles and driven away. None of the hostages has been seen since. All are presumed dead.
For years, their relatives and friends begged for answers. Why were their loved ones -- ordinary middle-class Mexicans with no known criminal ties -- targeted in this spasm of drug violence? The marketing executive's family futilely negotiated and paid a ransom before the Zetas cut off contact.
"We could never figure out why they were taken. What made them so important?" said David Anabitarte, the marketing executive's supervisor and one of his best friends. "It was hard to accept what had happened because it never made any sense."
Mexican authorities initially insinuated that the victims had brought on their own demise, adding insult to grief. The college professor, they alleged, may have been involved in a romantic relationship with one of the Zetas' rivals. And they speculated that the marketing executive, who had managed to lift his family into the upper middle class, might have had some connection to the drug trade. Without any credible explanations for why the Zetas would move military-style through a major metropolitan city to kidnap random guests at a budget hotel, some of the people close to the victims began to believe that too.

Abstract, Women’s Small-Scale, Home-Based Informal Employment during Cuba’s Special Period

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Women’s Small-Scale, Home-Based Informal Employment during Cuba’s Special Period
by Daliany Jerónimo Kersh

There is consensus in the literature that adherence to the traditional division of labor in Cuban society caused women to be disproportionately affected by the cutbacks to state services and shortages during the post-Soviet economic crisis known as the Special Period. After the devaluation of the state wage, many Cubans had to look for alternative forms of employment. Highly skilled professional Cuban women turned to feminized informal activities that made them similar to women in capitalist countries in the region and amounted to a partial reversal of the revolution’s substantial progress on gender equality. In contrast to the regulated self-employment on which existing studies focus, women’s informal labor up until 2010 was often small-scale, home-based, and unregulated. An analysis of oral histories and press archives identifies changes and continuities in women’s informal work during the crisis and shows where the interviewees locate themselves within this watershed in the Cuban Revolution.