Organizing in the Informal Economy: A Case Study of the Clothing Industry in South Africa

Mark Bennett
  • Place of Publication: Geneva
  • Publisher: International Labour Office

In Focus Programme, SEED Working Paper, No. 37

This ILO study on the informal clothing industry in South Africa compares the experiences of two organisations, SACTWU and SEWU. SACTWU is a registered union and the largest organiser within clothing industry. Since 1999 it has also been organising informal workers, and its constitutions does not differentiate between the informal and formal, or the employed and self-employed members. SEWU is registered as a non-governmental organisation, meaning that it does not possess some of the rights limited to trade unions. Its membership consists mainly of self-employed women who are engaged in informal survivalist activities. As a registered union, SACTWU has access to some influential negotiation on central government level, whereas SEWU has had local government as its main negotiating counterpart, especially in issues relating to access to markets; facilities; and tenders for the supply of clothing products. SACTWU has organized informal members by offering them services such as access to healthcare, education programs, and retirement funding. The longer term strategy includes attempts to establish bargaining relationships, as well as formalization of informal work. It is argued that for SEWU one of the difficulties has been to identify specific issues around which to organize. SEWU has been educating its members in organizing and bargaining, so that they can build organizing from below and identify and tackle the problems they are facing.

Informal Economy Theme
Occupational group
Publication Type