The informal economy village

Hann Montagne, a small district on the outskirts of Dakar

One plus one makes three

Ten years ago, there was no economic activity of any kind. The only work available was a few informal, little odd jobs. It was, above all, about “being resourceful” and getting by. The arrival of our partner the CNTS (Confédération National des Travailleurs du Sénégal) completely changed the equation. Targeted awareness raising actions helped the informal economy workers to understand that they could benefit from organising and working as a network, that they had rights as workers, and the union could help them to assert those rights.

The inhabitants gradually started to organise themselves, to set up trade associations, through which artisans could meet to share information and experiences, to discuss the obstacles they face and find solutions to their problems, and negotiate with the local authorities.

Thanks to targeted training, they were able to improve their negotiating skills, learn about their rights as workers and build their knowledge on specific aspects of the informal economy. Central sales points were set up, enabling them to buy their merchandise in bulk and thus get a better price. In addition, cooperation between the different groups led to the creation of synergies.

An essential social network

An example of the solutions found to cover their needs are the small urban gardens that can be seen on roofs or wasteland, using peanut shells or fruit scraps. Herbs of all kinds are grown, dried, packaged and sold in specific places. Most of the profits from the sales are shared between the workers themselves, but a part is also paid into a solidarity fund, to help people confronted with illness or other unforeseen circumstances. It has led to a chain of economic activity whereby when one person leaves another is able to take their place.

This strategy has given informal economy workers a better grasp of the advantages of unionising. It is a way of helping people who are living in extremely precarious conditions to finally find the path towards the trade union, which can defend them at local, regional and national level, even though they remain autonomous. In the long run, it should lead to the recognition of these people as “fully-fledged workers”, with all the rights and duties that accompany this status.

By Beweging voor Internationale Solidariteit / Mouvement pour la Solidarité Internationale