After a long campaign to win formal certification by under the labor laws of Karnataka, ACORN’s street vendors union was finally registered under the new law of 2014 this February as Vijaya Nagar Street Vendors Union in Bengaluru thanks to the hard work of longtime ACORN International organizer, Suresh Kadashan, over the last six-and-a-half years. Now in March we already have local branches in 25 markets and 6000 members, largely in the North and South areas of Bengaluru, and the organizing committee of the key ten leaders working with Suresh have targeted Eastern Bengaluru as the next objective.
With 150000 street vendors in this city of almost 5 million in southern India, we have only just begun to grow, but members are celebrating our newfound strength already. New markets are seeking to join (see pictures of the organizing meetings of the 26th market with 150 more members having its organizing committee meeting!). Another union is also in the process of being chartered under both the Food Safety Department and the Street Vendors area which will be a local of food vendors, who serve at the markets during the three main mealtimes. We have already filed here and registered for another more than 1000 members.
Not surprisingly as a union of informal workers whose only employers are our customers and whose work spaces are the streets of the city, the issues and campaigns are the kinds of grassroots efforts that are ACORN’s hallmark. The new market is organizing in order to move from where a flyover (highway interchange) is being built to space under the Metro (subway) elevated tracks, and that means actions on the city. The main City Market where there are 5000 vendors working had the union with them past midnight on Sunday to make sure that demolition of buildings around another Metro stop didn’t destroy a shed used by the vendors. An early Sunday meeting at another market pressured the police to end the goondas (goons) shakedown of 100 rupees or more every week from every vendor on the street. Recently the union filed Bengaluru’s first lawsuit in courts against the police for not guaranteeing vending space as required by the national constitution and harassing the vendors. It’s never a dull minute with the vendors, but their organizing is paying off!
ACORN International has made a priority of organizing informal workers many places around the world and the Bengaluru breakthroughs open the door for unions of wastepickers, domestic workers, and many others.
Stay tuned for more progress from India!