Dignity and Daily Bread: New Forms of Economic Organising among Poor Women in the Third World and the First

By Sheila Rowbotham; Swasti Mitter | Go to book overview

Introduction

Sheila Rowbotham and Swasti Mitter

The title of this book is drawn from a demonstration of poor women which occurred in Gujarat, India, in the summer of 1987. Women marched through the streets of Ahmedabad demanding 'Dignity and Daily Bread'. They were small vendors who wanted the right to sell their wares in the city without having to face police harassment. Mobilised by the Self-Employed Women's Association, their demonstration was not a conventional trade union protest against an employer. Nor could it be defined in terms of the community-based 'social movements' which have attracted the attention of many political theorists in the last decade. It was rather a protest of workers against deep-rooted political, social and economic forces. The women's action raised the question of the interests which determine laws and the design of cities, the allocation of space to gain a livelihood, the distribution of public resources in favour of one group or another. To women vendors of Ahmedabad, the question of access to resources appeared linked with the issue of unequal distribution of economic power; the protest, in many ways, reflected a demand for entitlement and participatory democracy on behalf of the city 's poorest workers.

The vendors' strike of Ahmedabad was not an isolated event. A growing body of literature in the last decade, in the Third World as well as in the First, has brought to light a range of such mobilising experiences that contest narrowly defined concepts of class consciousness and resistance. 1

The aim of our anthology is to consider the insights and understandings that are emerging among women workers who are unable to use traditional methods of labour organisations.

Dignity and Daily Bread documents women workers' efforts to create more democratic processes in the most varied contexts: among women in Free Trade Zones, among clothing workers in the sweatshops of Mexico City, the small entrepreneurs of Tanzania, the homeworkers of Gujarat, India, and of West Yorkshire, Britain. The accounts extend the meaning of organisation around production by revealing the interconnections of gender, race and class, and by situating work within social existence as a whole.

The main focus of the contributions is contemporary. The book nonetheless incorporates studies of earlier forms of mobilisation around women's casualised

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