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A New Paradigm of Organizing Working Class

About CLRA

Centre for Labour Research and Action

Centre for Labour Research and Action (CLRA) promotes the rights and entitlements of the migrant workers in the vast informal sector economy of India. It (i) generates data and information by documenting the working and living conditions of seasonal migrant workers (ii) nurtures and engenders leadership through enhancing capacities of the workers to articulate their demands for decent wages, improved and safe conditions of working and living (iii) undertakes policy advocacy with the state to ensure the workers receive their due entitlements. With informal workers constituting up to 92 percent of the workforce in India (NCEUS report 2004), seasonal migration has emerged as a dominant mode of labour employment in the informal sector in the nation. Workers migrate, at times with their entire families, from the relatively underdeveloped pockets to the developed areas for short term deployment, constituting what has been termed by a noted researcher as ‘footloose labor’ (Bremen 1996). CLRA has been working with the migrant workers who form majority of the workforce in sectors such as construction and building industry, brick kilns, agriculture, and cotton ginning.  workers, short term agricultural workers, and sugarcane harvesters. The work places in these sectors are often dispersed with precarious conditions of work, the deployment of workers is on a seasonal basis and the migrant workers are dependent on their employers or middlemen - for debt and advances, residence and support system at the destination of migration.

The framework envisioned by CLRA has developed an alternative paradigm of empowering/ collectivising organizing informal workers that has proved its efficacy over the last decade. The strategy takes into account the constant movement of the workers along the migration stream, the critical role played by the middlemen, the nature of production process and the labour processes involved, in addition to developing the socio-economic profile of the workers. The latter becomes particularly critical – since in order to work with the workers it is imperative to understand the context from which the workers originate and are located.

CLRA’s framework rests on three pillars: i) Mapping and Research ii) Building Capacities of the workers and their leaders to access their labour and human rights iii) Policy Advocacy with State and Stakeholders. With an amalgamation of the three, the Centre has been channelizing its work and efforts to ensure the workers can realise their right to just and dignified remuneration ensuring for themselves and their family members an existence worthy of human dignity, supplemented, by social protection.

Mapping and Research

Ground based research is an integral component of CLRA’s work. One of the core drivers for the persistence of informality is the absence of record keeping and data concerning the informal workers. The large masses of seasonal migrant informal workers remain undocumented. Therefore, one of the first steps is to develop a data base of the target group of workers. Research endeavours undertaken by CLRA comprises of (i) mapping and documenting workers to create a data base for different informal sectors where seasonal migrant workers are employed (ii) developing an in-depth inquiry into working and living conditions, investigate the socio-economic and cultural context of the workers (iii) study value chains to understand the profile of the industry, different production and labour processes involved. The centre believes that in order for the interventions to hold ground – there is a critical need to understand the lifeworld and the context the workers originate from along with their material experience of both at the source as well as the destination. The findings of the studies undertaken in action research methodology become the foundation for the interventions that are formulated and implemented in developing capacity building programmes and in policy advocacy with the state.

Engendering Leadership, Enhancing Capacities: The Centre dedicates a considerable part of its energy to build capacities of the workers across various informal sectors to build leadership among the worker communities. For this teams across south Rajasthan and Gujarat have designed modules and training programmes to uprise the migrant workers about the laws that concern them and their rights and entitlements. These trainings are designed to equip workers with skills and build their capabilities to reap the benefits of collective bargaining and negotiations with their employers and state functionaries – so as to access their right to a dignified work and life. Borrowing from a decade of experience, the project teams periodically organize training workshops aligning with the migration patterns of the workers in various locations.

Policy Advocacy- Linkages with Public Goods and Services:  Across various locations, CLRA teams are dedicated to carrying out advocacy efforts with various public and state functionaries to assist and link workers with public services. Informal migrant workers, often by the virtue of their status, are left outside the ambit of public services and goods when they are in the destination of migration. The workers and their family members are unable to access the nutrition and health schemes, education benefits and health facilities primarily a) lack of clear policy on access of migrant workers to services in destination areas and tough documentary evidence demanded by local service provider departments. b.) lack of data with local service departments on the number of migrant workers in their service areas. The Centre encourages workers to demand the services as their rights.  The success of the work of the project team is evident when the women workers in the unrecognised settlements of Ahmedabad make representations to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation for linkage with water supply, installation of toilets, demand for ICDS services in their settlements and were able get the same for themselves.

The Centre also works with various State functionaries to help them reach out to the community of workers. One example of this initiative is the ongoing collaboration of the CLRA team in Surat with the Surat Municipal Corporation to run the Shelter for Urban Homeless (SUH) since 2018. The family-based shelter for the Urban homeless is the fruit of years of representations made to the Urban Community Department of SMC who responded by opening a SUH at Sahara Darwaja for migrant construction workers. The said shelter has now become a model for the family-based shelters that are now being designed and built across Surat.

BRIEF HISTORY of CLRA: CLRA started in the year 2006. It was initially located within Prayas, a rights-based NGO based in District Chittaurgarh of Rajasthan. As the work expanded, a need was felt to have an independent legal identity and an independent Board. CLRA is now registered in Ahmedabad Gujarat as a Trust and Society.