Day Laborers and the Struggle for Bread:India and the US.

by Roger Sikes


Shelter built by organized daily wagers

The United Workers Congress (UWC) met with members of  the independent construction workers union called Nirman Mazdoor Sanghatana (NMS) in Mumbai, India this past week.  This union organizes in the informal sector, largely among workers that we would call “day laborers” in the United States, while in India they are referred to as “daily wagers.”

 Day laborers gather in small to medium sized groups in informal yet visible sites in a city or town (for example in front of a gas station, a public street corner, in-front of a shopping center) in search of work ranging from roofing, small construction projects, painting, loading and unloading goods and any tasks that the homeowner, business owner or small contractor may need.

In Atlanta, GA one might find day laborers on Ponce de Leon standing in-front of the shopping center that includes Home Depot and Verizon Wireless stores….

Impromptu political consciousness raising in Mumbai.

We had the opportunity to visit a daily wager site in Mumbai that is organized with NMS.  This location was on a street corner on a busy road in Mumbai.  The organized daily wagers had built a shelter at this location to protect themselves from the weather while waiting for work.  As we stood hearing about the organization and the struggles and experiences of day laborers at this street corner, a group of workers quickly secured cold sodas from the store front just adjacent to the shelter and gave them to our delegation.

Daily wagers and members of the community quickly gathered at the site to understand what was going on and a leader of NMS took the opportunity to build political consciousness among the crowd around the need for worker organization in India.

Roses given to each member of our delegation

Day laborers in both India and the United States face similar issues in their quest for work.  The strong connection between the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) – a key part of the United Workers Congress – and the daily wagers in India was obvious.  Harassment from police officers for occupying public space, wage theft from employers, unstable employment and pressure from the surrounding community that may be wary of the day laborers presence to name a few.  NMS uses a community/labor organizing model and ensures that there is community representation on the elected leadership body of each daily wager site.  This promotes communication and understanding between the local community and the daily wagers.

Before we left, the daily wagers again brought us gifts, this time roses (note that these gifts appeared spontaneously, the daily wagers were working their magic – or community connections – as we stood learning). The roses were presented to each member of our delegation.

As we were leaving the site a small, tight knit group of women approached us.  They were construction workers (day laborers).  When asked about their experiences working as construction workers as women, their response was simple, “if we don’t do this work we cannot eat.”

I was struck by the tight unity of the women as they rolled up to the crowd, here you can see their hands touching each other’s shoulders as they addressed our delegation.

Indian day laborers engaging with the National Day Laborers Network (NDLON) from the US
In-front of the daily wager shelter, speaking with the construction workers

Roger Sikes is an organizer with Atlanta Jobs with Justice. This report first appeared on the Atl JwJ website.

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