The International Labour Organisation and the World Labour Force: From “Peoples of the World” to “Informal Sector”
Jeffrey Harrod Author's Preface. This article was written for a conference on the history of the International Labour organisation (ILO) held in 2007. It is part of a personal publishing project relating to the study and understanding of the social movements and actions of what is now referred to as the "global poor". (cf. M. Davies and M. Ryner (eds) (2006) Poverty and the Production of World Politics (New York, Palgrave, Macmillan) Further publications in this project will concern archival material, the development of a suitable theoretical approach (cf. Harrod (2006) "The Global Poor and Global Politics: Neo-Materialism and the Sources of Political Action@ in Davies and Ryner above) and the publishing of a lightly revised edition of the author's 1987 work Power Production and the Unprotected Worker (Columbia UP, 1987). This article has been produced to normal academic standards of evidence and construction and is subject to normal international copyright rules. It may be used and distributed for personal or educational use and may be quoted and referenced subject to standard citation rules. The citation from this site would be: - Harrod, Jeffrey (2007) "The International Labour Organisation and the World Labour Force: From “Peoples of the World” to “Informal Sector”" ( Scribd URL)

Jeffrey Harrod The Netherlands, 2008.

ABSTRACT At its foundation in 1919 the ILO (International Labour Organisation specialised agency of the United Nations) was actively involved in global politics through its incorporation of trade unions in its governing structure. But the organisation found it difficult to deal with the largest portion of the world labour force – that which is not organised into unions or other social organisations. Thus, currently, unlike the ILO in the first quarter of the last century, it cannot easily devise strategies for intervention into different structures of work nor anticipate the socio-political importance of them. This problem is not directly assigned to the ILO, its staff or leadership but to the interplay of external and internal ideologies and rationalities. The article then develops a "concept history" by examining chronologically some of the concepts which have been used at different times to both exclude and include the unorganised, unprotected majority of the world labour force. There follows a discussion of the succession of concepts used by and 1

within the ILO as, for example, “peoples”, “masses of workers” “worker”, “unionist”, “informal sector”, and “poor”. It is noted that the newer concepts still result in exclusion because they are not flexible enough to allow a narrowing of focus which would in turn reveal the power and social dynamics of variegated economic activities. Introduction The International Labour Organisations (ILO) was created in 1919 and made an annex to the League of Nations. After World War II the ILO joined the other newly-created Specialised Agencies of the United Nations such as the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agricultural Organisation. In this manner it became one of the "social policy" inter-state international organisations in contrast to the economic policy organisations of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The ILO constitution states that a "lasting peace" can only be achieved on the basis of "social justice" and then declares that in 1919 conditions of work exists which produce "unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperilled". The preamble of the constitution refers to protection needed for workers, children, young persons, women and people in old age. The use of the term "labour" in the name of the organisation, the preamble of the constitution the inclusion of workers and the putative non-workers (of children, women and people in old age) and the macro objectives of the organisation could not be said to impose a restrictive intention on the organisation in dealing with the world labour force. In the constitution it is only when the structure of the organisation is described and the requirement made that delegates should be drawn from "industrial organisations, if such organisations exists" that an element of exclusion is introduced. Even here, however, the "worker" of the preamble becomes the more inclusive "workpeople" in industrial organisations. Nevertheless, the representational requirement of workpeople meant that they would be represented by trade unions as the most representative industrial organisation. This practical need meant that for most of the Ilk's 90 year history the majority of the world labour force have not been the prime nor discerning subject of the organisations activities because workpeople in "industrial organisations" have always been a minority of the world labour force. Thus in the general, academic and policy discourses the workpeople not represented by industrial organisations have been assigned such names as "the unorganised" "peasants”, “marginals” “unwaged”, “lumpenproletariat”, "informals" "underclass" and other, often insulting, names. It is perhaps then not surprising that throughout the longest period of its history until recently, and then only with uncertainty, has the ILO been able to engage with the largest part of the world labour force in terms of programmes and activities for the improvement of returns and conditions of work - if the latter is seen as a universal and ubiquitous expenditure of energy for production of any type. That it has been only a minority of workpeople who have been in trade unions is not in doubt. Even if the very broadest definition of organisation is taken to include not only trade unions in the EU and North America but the state organised unions in China and elsewhere, the employee organisations and various organisations of farmers and self-employed it is still 2

that less than 20% of the world labour force are in such organisations. For example, of the global labour force of 3.1 billion less than 200 million are considered to be in trade unions or about 6 percent of the global labour force. This become more easily understandable if it is noted that the self-employed, women working in the household, small farmers, landless labourers, own-account workers, casual workers, unemployed are amongst those usually not in meaningful organisations devoted to the improvement of their material conditions. Within the ILO that trade unions should service its membership and its representation function needed no justification - it would be a dereliction of duty and responsibility to behave otherwise. For the ILO, however, the restrictive definition of its operations and its actions had to be supported by concepts and definitions which at the level of discourse confirm that such a trajectory is both legitimate and justified. The purpose of this article is then a preliminary attempt at the history of the concepts used by and within the ILO which were involved in the approach to the world labour force and which prevented a sustained focus on the majority of the people in it. It is therefore uses some of the ideas found within discourse analysis, social constructivism and pathdependency (Heller, 2006). The history of concepts helps reveal the process of agenda setting (Palonen 2005) and thus, important in this context, what is excluded from the agenda. Finally, it is also contributes to the discussion of the “rationalities” which are used to justify material outcomes within the framework of a neo-materialist approach (Harrod, 2006). The focus on the concepts used within the ILO means that concepts developed outside the ILO and in other possibly oppositional traditions have not been examined - especially Marxist concepts such as the “labour aristocracy” the “petty bourgeois mode of production”, “reserve army of labour” and likewise with the neo-classical view of a global “labour market” or "segments of the labour market", "secondary labour market" and other such concepts. The unpacking of a concept, its history and its change in meaning overtime requires intensive research of each concept and each change. (de Goede, 2005) Because of the number of concepts discussed in this article it can only be a survey supported with illustrative evidence. The history of concepts used in the ILO must be clearly distinguished from a history which attempts to evaluate an entity or organisation in absolute terms as, for example, the success or failure an organisation has in achieving a declared mission. Global social-policy organisations, in contrast to global economic-organisations such as the World Bank and IMF, have at best a persuasive and informational power. Thus the ILO as an organisation nor its staff and policy-makers can or should be held substantially responsible for the history of the exclusionary nature of its operations. The lack of autonomy of international organisations, however, cannot simply be assigned to their nature as inter-state organisations. This observation is particularly apt in the case of the ILO where it has the original and continuing mandate to be involved with organisations at the sub-state level in the “civil society”. The operational outputs of the organisations are not only governed by an international relations realism and national interest. but rather the overarching global hegemony based upon a widely accepted ideology with which the 3

organisation must interact (Harrod, 1985, 2001). Such ideologies provide guidelines both for the executors of power and the willing conformists to it. In addition, the latter part of the 20th century must be considered to be the high point of neo-liberal doctrine. This doctrine, aggressively promoted by the major powers within the international economic agencies, had the effect of marginalising the ILO within substantive discourses on global social and economic policy (Wilkinson, 2005). The opportunities for international social policy organisations to increase their influence are then based upon any changes (additions or diversions) which can be made to the prevailing ideology. This in turn is dependent upon, first the strength of the prevailing economic ideology, second, the level of comprehension within the organisation of that ideology and the opportunities and possibilities for engaging with it and finally, but to a lesser extent, the internal and external leadership within the organisation (cf. Reinalda, 1998). This view of organisational possibilities lies behind the purpose of examining how the organisation has accepted, resisted, changed, promoted or dealt with the conceptions of differences within the world labour force "Worker" in ILO pre-history (1789 -1919) An organisation is only created in the mood of the times and incorporates in its initial configuration the history of the development of that mood. The subsequent history of the organisation is the articulation of contemporary developments with the embedded notions of the past. This is both the creationist and evolutionary view of organisation. Often created for high purpose derived from a theology or ideology of the time, the organisation must immediately begin to evolve as that purpose either becomes fulfilled or remains unobtainable. The creation of the ILO was a mix of motives including the realist view that ILO was created by the British to prevent labour cost competition from the non-colonies, the class-political view that improving the lot of the working class would reduce the likelihood of a workingclass- based revolution as predicted by Marx and the liberal view that working conditions should be improved because it was right to do so. All these creational motives all had one aspect in common – the target, instrument or social phenomena most crucially involved was a so-designated “worker” or “working class”. The origin of these concepts is connected with the Enlightenment manner of dealing with the "fear of the mass" (Balibaar, 1993). The French revolution of 1789 launched the concept of "citizen" but it also fuelled the fire of the fear of the mass so evident in the schemas designed by Enlightenment philosophers to assuage it. Bulbar (op. cit.) and Israel (2001) single-out Spinoza as one Enlightenment writer who had a different view of the mass and indeed saw it as a political force which could only be made positive by recognising and accepting leadership from it. But the basic core Enlightenment project of dealing with the mass prevailed in which segments of the mass were to be institutionalised and brought by "reason" into a social contract. Such a dismemberment of the mass was not without its opposition. In the United 4

Kingdom the concept of a "labourer" had emerged while the division at least in industry between "master" and "journeyman" lead eventually to employer and worker. But "labourer" and "journeyman" were still euphemisms for the threatening masses of potential opposition. British parliamentarian Wilberforce (of slavery abolition fame) declared in 1799 that workers' organisations (combinations of journeymen) were “a general disease of our society” which required a permanent and general elimination. (Hammod & Hammod, 1920:117). More benignly the "poor" was used as a concept which enabled a sanitised ontology of the existing social circumstance. As Disraeli (1845) pointed out the concept only demarcated the “two nations” of rich and poor and did nothing to engage or mitigate any fear. Despite his known antipathy to work-place based movements and his notion of the "pauperisation of the mass" it was left to Marx and liberal reformers to finally segment the mass into worker, lumpenproletariat and the agriculturalist. The criterion for Marx was the concept of industrial work. Thus those without it were beyond the pale and "form a mass strictly differentiated from the industrial proletariat, a recruiting ground for thieves and criminals of all kinds, living on the crumbs of society, people without a definite trade, vagabonds, gens san feu et san aveu (without hearth or home) “…as he famously described the lumpenproletariat of 1848 in France (Marx, 1848: 108-109). With Engels, in the Communist Manifesto, this group became "social scum" while peasants were not afforded more positive attributes for they were living in the "idiocy of rural life". The narrower concept of worker and workpeople was also well received by supporters of liberal reform. Activists considered to be amongst the important contributors to the founding of the ILO were rooted in the catholic-liberalism of Daniel LeGrand and the evangelical Protestantism of Wilfred Owen (Fellows, 1951; Beeler, 1956). Significantly both of these activists were manufacturers. Thus whether revolutionary or reformist the changes to be effected, observers were assured, would not be that of the beheading peasants of the French Revolution seeking to escape from rural idiocy nor the unemployed, homeless, criminals and deserters who supported Napoleon and erupted into chiliastic violence but the rational, calculating and cognisant workers. The fearsome “mass” dissolved and the redeemable “worker “emerged In this fashion the "worker" concept became important to the ILO foundational myth and the ILO itself became a creature of the Enlightenment with the workers being partners in a social contract. Shotwell, an early ILO supporter and policy activist, writing in 1932 expressed these sentiments in the title of an article “The ILO as an Alternative to Violent Revolution” (Shotwell, 1932). The discourse before the creation of the ILO had already pushed the bulk of the then world labour force into the background. The contradiction between this discourse and the discourse of universality and universal peace through law inherent in the social legalists of Pound, Ihering and Duguit (Harrod, 1977) resulted in the changing concepts as the organisation wrestled to incorporate these two opposing notions. “Peoples” and “Mass of Workers” ( ILO 1919 -1935) 5

Given the above account it may be strange to argue that at the beginning of the ILO existence it was not so firmly glued to the worker concept as might have been expected. There were perhaps two reasons for this. The first was the belief of the socialists that socialism was immediately universal rather than a target which needed at the beginning a leadership from one segment of the population, and second, both the character and the political philosophy of the first Director General Albert Thomas. Thomas was a socialist and his concept of his constituents was broader than working class. He referred often to “masses of workers” (Phelan 1936:41) and argued for a social justice which although spearheaded by worker organisations would be essential to the “liberation of other “social layers”. Trade unionism was not an end in itself but “as a means of securing for the masses of the people a real political apprenticeship.” (Phelan 1936:23). Such a position in turn may have been derived from his early involvement with organisations other than those based on work. At the turn of the century while Mayor of a Paris suburb he found that the workers from Paris, taking advantage of the new railways, were using his suburban village as a dormitory with the consequent frictions and financial problems for the local authority. Thomas thus became a “banlieusard” promoting the interests of those in the suburbs (Ramadier, 1951:54). It may be for these reasons then that Phelan could say with such certainty that Thomas saw it as an organisation of the “peoples of the world” (Phelan, 1936: 240) rather than an employer-worker constellation. Within this conception the “peoples” certainly included all those in work regardless of sector or organisation. Further evidence for the broader position taken in this period comes from the events and documents surrounding the request for an Advisory Opinion from the Permanent Court of International Justice (PICJ) in 1921. An ILO publication of the late 1920’s argued that the recourse to the Court came from a general opposition to the ILO “since it was impossible to make a direct attack on the existence of the organisation without provoking serious discontent among the workers, efforts were directed towards excluding from the competence certain classes of workers whose inadequate trade union organisation made their claims the least insistent (Shotwell, 1934:59). The ILO's notion of a more inclusive competence led the PICJ to make an Advisory Opinion in 1922. The judges argued that the English word “industrial” before "workers" also meant agricultural workers because of the confusion between the different meanings of the work in French and English. Significantly the judges found a solution to the concept of “worker” problem by referring to “work-people” (PICJ Advisory Opinion 2 1922). From the ILO Conference standpoint the route away from a people's organisation was to concentrate on those Conventions which were segmental and applied to workers in specific industries and to specific conditions of work. Towards the end of this period, having fought but not won, the battle to make the ILO a “work-peoples” organisation the escape route was not through further broadening concepts but to base the arguments on the underlying concept of “social justice” which would have included “peoples”. The rhetoric turned from socialism to social justice and the instruments of the state and legislation to achieve it. 6

Tripartitism and “workers” (ILO 1935-1950) During the first period of the establishment of concepts to deal with the competence of the ILO the external ideology neither was hardly global nor was it formed with any degree of sophistication. However, from 1930 the ideology laid down its global dimensions when first the United Kingdom and then subsequently all the currently dominant countries of the world, with the exception of the USSR, accepted the Keynesian economic idea that full employment was the responsibility of the state and that the state had a role in macro-economic management far beyond that of the neo-classical purview. For the ILO the issue of unemployment presented an opportunity to continue the inclusive objective of the organisation. The unemployed were not essentially workers and most of them would not be and need not have been trade unionists yet it was an easy project for an ILO to promote a focus on the unemployed. But that possibility was not taken and it was soon eliminated by the world-wide state action to legitimise trade unions and the tripartite system. The spate of legislation in the 1930s throughout the world brought renewed vigour to the “worker” concept as organisations of workers become institutionalised at the state level. The 1944 ILO Declaration concerning the Aims and Purposes of the International Labour Organisation (commonly known at the Philadelphia Declaration) was entirely confident on the target section of the world labour force – it was “The employment of Workers in the occupations in which they can have the satisfaction of giving the fullest measure of their skill and attainments and make the greatest contribution to the common well-being “(Johnston, 1970: 303). This was perhaps the highpoint of exclusory concepts in the ILO. Likewise, the reason for such a focus was also clear. Harold Butler, ILO Director from 1932-1938 and supporter of Keynesian economic policies opined in memoirs in 1941 concerning the foundation of the ILO - “the working man is deluded into belief that the less work he does the more [work] is left to his workmates. His state of mind was a danger to the community and a menace to the peace of the world. The problem was not merely how to improve his material conditions but how to produce a better mental atmosphere. That was why labour regulation and the improvement of labour conditions was an urgent part of the work of the peace conference” (Butler, 1941: 110). Conceptually then the potentially dangerous mass of unemployed and the social conditions which seemed to portent social difficulties metamorphosed into the more comprehensible and understandable worker and trade union. In doing so the peoples of the lumpenproletariat and all others outside mass production work become the shadowy backdrop to the power plays of the tripartite system as it became installed. The installation at the global level was led and consolidated by the ILO conventions as it was in this period that the fundamental conventions were passed by the Conference – 1948 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise and 1949 Right to Organise and Bargain Collectively. Again, it should be noted that the support of unionists was useful and necessary and in the history of the rise and decline of the traditional union structure the ILO will be seen as a useful if not proactive tool. 7

Corporatism and “trade unionists” (ILO 1950-1980) The period after World War II through to the 1970s was a time of conceptual peace during which social, state and enterprise, corporatism were established and institutionalised. The concepts of tripartism remained unchallenged – “worker” and “workers” delegates were understood to be the union representatives in the tripartite arrangement. Corporatism – the national or enterprise institutionalised relationship between management and production workers and state regulation– had in these period two important origins. The first was the heightened level of state involvement at all levels and its consequence the need to develop tripartite corporatist arrangements in the Anglo-American model and the social partner models in continental Europe. In both cases this reinforced the “trade unionist" concept as the legitimate holder of power on behalf of workers. The second was the perceived utility of corporatist arrangements as preferential to any further collectivisation. Power writing in 1968 concerning US employer delegates notes that “Determined to make American capitalism influential and to counter other economic systems in the ILO, they have discovered tripartitism a useful means to communicate their ideas and work the reform of the organisation” (Power, 1968: 259) The cold war battles thus only reinforced the existing concept of the labour force as represented by “responsible” organised labour. One important example of this was the McNair Committee which was established to investigate whether trade unions in different countries were “free” or not, Although the committee findings were inconclusive, that the trade unions should be investigated as to their legal requirements for legitimacy within liberal democracies further pushed the unorganised workers who had no civil society legal status into the background. In the 1950s, for example, the British national centre, the Trades Union Congress (TUC, opposed the independence of Jamaica on the grounds that it was not ready for self-government having no freely functioning trade unions (Harrod, 1972). Thus the corporatist period can only be seen, from the standpoint of this paper, to be the most stable and confident in the concepts which excluded that part of the labour force outside the corporatist umbrella, whether that be essentially state labour law or trade union power, were not considered either as targets for control, or groups in need of pacification nor suitable objectives of social policy. In the 1970s and thereafter the exclusory concepts associated with corporatism began to falter (Ryner, 2006). The corporatist system, the legitimisation of the trade unions, and the Keynesian policies resulted in redistribution against the higher incomes. The reaction to this long-term process ushered in supply-side economics and the “deregulation” of the preexisting labour laws in the rich and industrialised countries which spilled over to the inherent weaknesses in state corporatism in some third world countries (as they were then known) . The attack upon regulation and upon the source of such regulation corporatist mediation at the national level essentially represented an attack upon two of the ILO’s major elements – improvement of wages and working conditions by legislation and, the legitimate role and power of unions while at the same time increasing the numbers of workers outside the corporatist umbrella. 8

In the state corporatist system of the developing countries the process was two-staged but even more dramatic. The first stage was the destruction of corporatist unions by revolts within them. Thus in Brazil and South Korea at different times, originally corporatist unionists founded and led independent unions. But if tripartitism had decayed into corporatism the decay of corporatism did not resurrect tripartitism. The end result was an individualist neo-liberal labour market which massively moved workers from the corporatist umbrella to the realms of the unemployed or partially employed. Developmentalism and “Informal Sector” (ILO 1980 – 2000) It was not only the decline of corporatism which raised the need for a more inclusory concept than worker and unionist. Of importance at that time was the successful challenge of the feminist movement and its insistence that the worker concept was too narrow to allow the proper discussion of both the waged work of women as well as the unwaged work in child-bearing, child-rearing and household service production. (Deckward, 1975; Davies, 2006) Of equal importance, as it included the labour force participation of women, was the obvious failure of the modernisation school to “clear the labour” market by supplying sufficient employment in the developing countries. The result of all these trends was that the third world became more visible within the ILO. The increasing membership of the organisation of the developing countries which had started in the 1960s meant that the organisation now had member states in which the “worker” or “unionist” concept had limited relevance. With often under 5 percent of the national labour force in industry, with unions which were politically weak and employers associations which sometimes had to be created in order to join the organisation, the labour force of these countries bore no resemblance to the foundational concepts of the ILO which was based on the worker in industry and employed labour in agriculture. This problem might have been surmountable if it were not for the further complication that the numbers of people without structured work was growing and did not appear to making an easy transition from peasant to worker as the modernisation theory had expected. (cf. Kerr et al, 1960) Latin American scholars defined those stuck between peasant as and worker as “marginals” living at the marginal areas of urban areas. They further argued that this was a permanent feature of underdevelopment under the existing (dependent) model (cf. Stavenhagen, 1970). Another important factor contributing to the conceptual uncertainty was that the ILO was increasingly involved with these marginal populations by virtue of becoming the executing agency for the UNDP. Between 1960 and 1975 the funds arriving from the UNDP to be administered by the ILO grew from $2 million to $22 million (Harrod, 1977:189). In the 1970s then this resulted in a serious effort to devise new concepts which could account for the changing situation. Two initiatives within the ILO can be identified at this time. The first was the Future Industrial Relations Project at the International Institute for Labour Studies (IILS) and the second was the “employment missions of the World Employment Program (WEP). 9

Future Industrial Relations Project and the “Marginals ”1 The Institute for Labour Studies was founded in 1960 largely at the initiative of David Morse as an embryonic staff college and a place where the staff “could be protected against elements which will inhibit the free and independent exchange of views” (Morse, 1966). In this role it would be a “ginger” group - that is a group of individuals linked but independent of the organisation proper who could consider the conventional wisdom and doctrine of the organisation for its benefit. It was thus independently funded from the ILO budget and the staff was provided “academic freedom” unlike international civil servants who may not publish without permission of their respective higher authorities. At the time of the launch of the Future Industrial Relations Project the Institute was headed by Assistant Director General, Robert Cox. The core of the project was the understanding that tripartitism was essentially a way of viewing segments of the labour force using a power criterion. Thus “workers” organisations were a power entity within the power relations of tripartiism. Industrial or labour relations likewise with their processes of bargaining, mediation and conciliation were also systems of power relationships. If one segment of the world labour force could be so distinguished it should also be possible that other segments could also be identified using the power criteria. Thus tripartitism became only one “industrial relations system” amongst many (Cox, 1971). The Interim report of the project identified at least eleven such systems (Cox, Harrod et al, 1972). If the ILO was able to be involved in, to attempt to regulate, for one such power relationship then that also could legitimately be possible for others. For the self-employed (non-employing artisans) conditions of work and return to work would be affected if the power relations between the self-employed and suppliers, buyers, regulators and competitors were changed. Thus the argument was that if there was an ILO “workers” department dealing with the power relations in the tripartite circumstance there could be a “self-employment” department dealing with the power relations of the self-employed. At the time there were no new concepts introduced although the “marginal” concept was used often to describe at least those unorganised workers in an urban circumstance. Concepts for segments of the world labour force were not needed if labels were devised from power relations. The global labour force would be disaggregated by the criteria of power relations rather than sector, occupation, gender, or physical attribute (as for example, infancy). But in making this argument it was necessary to note in the published documents that of the total world labour force less than 10% at that time were covered by what could be considered as “organised “ in the traditional sense and that the part within the tripartite system covered less than six percent of the world labour force. This six percent, however, still absorbed the bulk of the budget of the organisation. The author must declare an interest in the following account. He was the Research Coordinator for the Future Industrial Relations Project from 1970 to 1972 at the International Institute for Labour Studies (under its independent constitution) and resigned on being ordered to transfer to a department of the ILO


This observation was not appreciated by the embedded representatives of tripartite who, when supported by the new Director General Wilfred Jenks, wedded as he was as an inhouse lawyer to an exclusively state-sourced regulation of people, objected to the IILS role. Robert Cox, the Director of the Institute was challenged by the Director General for not submitting publications to receive the latter’s “nihil obstat” which meant that the Director General assumed the right to prevent publication if it was considered to “offend dogma” of the ILO (Tribune de Geneve 15.June 1972). This stricture was not acceptable to the Director of the Institute, the very purpose of which was freedom of discussion and publication, who consequently resigned on this issue. As a result of these events the project was officially closed, the research team disbanded and the project never completed. (It was, however, continued privately and the schema for the world labour force was subsequently presented by Robert Cox in his Production, Power and World Order: Social Forces in the Making of History (1987) and the detailed application and elaboration of it to the unprotected work of the world labour force in the current authors Power, Production and the Unprotected Worker (1987). This initiative of the Future Industrial Relations was both inclusory and discerning and had it been accepted would have provided an understanding if not a status to the different sections of the world labour force be they casual day labourers or self-employed neuro-surgeons. World Employment Programme and “Informal Sector” The World Employment Programme (WEP) was created in 1969 partly as a result of the demand to create programmes suitable for the new members. Essentially this sought a way out of the conceptual impasse by categorising the “marginal” population as the “unemployed” No further names or concepts were needed because the world comprehended the unemployed. But it required the belief that unemployment could be solved by employment and that essentially unemployment and under-employment were transitional states. Part of the WEP action programme were employment missions and it soon became apparent that the absence of a concept for the “unemployed” which fitted the conditions in the third world was a major problem. Typical of these missions was the mission to Colombia which reported in the document Towards Full Employment: A program for Colombia prepared by an inter-agency team organized by the ILO. The report was one of the first examples to challenge the corporatist idea in favour of considering people , sectors and issues which fell outside the trade union and the structured formality which that attempted to bring to the issue of employment. It was condemned both by employer's organisations and trade unions (Harrod, 1977) more overtly than was the Future Industrial Relations Project for publishing the same sentiment. For persons outside the ILO the issue was simple ,as noted by the head of the Colombia mission Dudley Seers, a development economist, “Of course, workers need protection, but the total effect of labour laws in Colombia ….is to give greater security to a small minority of workers at the cost of greater insecurity for the remainder” (Seers, 1970: 383) The Columbia report then rejected the idea that the focus should be on the protected worker but did not offer a new concept which would allow perceptually a way of dealing with people neither in trade unions nor in industry and thus not collectively organised for production. It was three years later in 1972 that a similar mission to Kenya, presumably 11

cognisant of the problems of the Colombia mission, launched the now ubiquitous concept of the informal sector and the informal sector worker (ILO, 1972). The informal sector concept was the dialectic expression of the inability of the organisation to rise above its foundation concept because the informal sector was defined negatively in relation to the formal sector which was populated by the “workers” and “trade unionists”. It was perhaps a politically more acceptable concept for the “marginals” or lumpenproletariat. . In 1991 nearly twenty years after the informal sector was first mentioned the Director General in his report The Dilemma of the informal Sector stated “it has so far proved impossible to reach a clear and generally accepted definition of the concept. There is far from universal agreement on what constitutes an “informal activity or what distinguishes it from a “formal” production unit. Indeed there continues to be some controversy as to whether the concept is useful or appropriate either for analysis of for policy-making, or whether the phenomenon that it describes can in any way be called a “sector” (ILO, 1991: 3). In 2000 twenty eight years after its first mention a World Employment Programme paper written by an ILO official entitled The ILO and the Informal Sector and Institutional History states “but the concept remains as elusive and mercurial and ephemeral and mysterious as it was in 1992 ….only bigger” (2000: 25). After an exhaustive review of the institutional history of the concept Bangasser points out that the uncertainty and malaise the organization staff and directorate had with the concept is reflected in the fact that by 2001 there were no units in the organization based on it, there were no posts created for it and there were no international labour standards applied to it (Bangasser: 26-27). Thus after nearly three decades the informal sector was not made a focal point of the organisation and there were substantial doubts by the Director General and the writer on the history of the concept in the ILO and presumably large sections of the staff. This has not stopped an informal sector “industry” from developing especially in academia. While this reflects the current sociology of knowledge in which a concept or “theory” is introduced and, regardless of its initial validity, provokes a massive and exhaustive literature usually denying its validity, in the case of the “informal sector” it went even further. It has been both reified provided personality and even produced its own people - the “informals”. The “informals” are said to join political community holders’(Staudt, 1998) to compete with other sectors (Maldonado 1995); while collectively they make a contribution to the national economy (Chen,Sebstad,O’Connel,1999) At the time of writing an on-line library (Questia) yields 23,459 entries in a search for “informal sector”. The early criticisms of the concept were ones of non-engagement – to oppose is to accept. (Bremen, 1976; Bromly,1979). More important, however. was the policy, social and political effects if it were to be accepted. The acceptance of the concept meant that a power and work-empty concept was being accepted as a suitable descriptor for more than 80 percent of the world labour force. The worker and union concepts were descriptions of power – the “worker” concept as noted in the introduction may have emerged from a fear of the mass and in particular the possibility of a “workers revolution”. The unionist was a consolidation of this power legitimised as a power-exerting entity in a tripartite power relationship. Both of them were associated with a form of power relations and a type of work – so-called blue collar mass production. 12

The informal sector, however, had no power and yet had no focal point of work. Thus it hid more than it could ever reveal. There was no possibility that accepting it could provide an understanding of the socio-politics of the world labour force. To do so sections would have to be singled out. Thus the analysis at the World Bank, more politically astute perhaps than elsewhere, sought out the self-employed from the informal sector in an attempt to make them employing entrepreneurs and supportive of the neo-liberal doctrine. It is to the credit of the ILO organisation that it did not accept the informal sector as a guide to policy and action but at the same time it still did not move to fill the conceptual hole left by the decline of the “worker” and “unionist” concepts at the end of the 1980s. The concepts of “informal economy” and “informal activity” still remain (cf. Director Generals Report 2003) but have no central importance. “Work” and “Poor” (ILO 2003 It is not the purpose of this paper to examine in depth the contemporary developments within the ILO although the same analytical framework could be applied to the new concepts Viewing the introduction of new concepts exclusively from the standpoint of this paper – the degree of exclusivity inherent in them - some preliminary observations may be made. Three changes in the use of concepts can be observed in the last years. First, the move from “informal sector” to “informal economy” solves perhaps the “sectoral problem” but does not solve the problem of the criteria needed to distinguish the people who work in the informal economy. Second, the introduction of “Decent Work” to be the guiding concept of the ILO in 1999 (ILO, 1999) appeared to be an important departure. It does not seem to be exclusionary– the world labour force is economically active in the sense of expending energy for the purposes of survival and material gain. It can be seen as an attempt to end the 30 year old struggle with the “informal sector”; an entirely new departure from agents of work to work itself. But without a qualifying adjective there could be no entry point. Thus “Decent” became necessary and the success depends upon the definition of it. Initially it was simply defined in terms of the existing core concerns of the organisation and thus represented only new configurations rather than new substance. Added concepts as “productive” work move back towards the exclusionary concepts of the 1950s as noted above. In terms of capturing the bulk of the world labour force at least the first years do not reveal it as the answer to this problem. Writing in 2003 Dharam Ghai notes “It shows how the notion of decent work is anchored in the long-established and enduring concerns of the ILO” (2003:114) and concludes that more data was needed on decent work characteristics of“non-formal employment in the informal economy, in the countryside and in home-based employment." (2003:144). Third, is the appearance of “poverty” derived from the increasing pressure to revise the neoliberal doctrine promoted by the international economic agencies and the popularity of the idea of “helping” the poor. The notion of poverty and the need to alleviate it has, of course, been a constant since the beginning of the organization and reasserted in the Philadelphia Declaration of 1947. However the new appearance of poverty is in the garb of “the poor” that is, a concept applied to a collection of individuals in the world population to whom can be ascribed the definition of poor which is usually of a material nature. The ILO approach 13

to the poor is said to be based on macro-economic policy which “implies a stress on redistribution, equity and solidarity “(ILO,2007) “but once the answer to the question of what the poor do every day? There emerges the “working poor” and this concept joins the list of descriptions for unorganised, unprotected workers. Conclusion The focus of this article has been the use of concepts which until recently have been able to exclude the majority of the world labour force variously referred to as the marginals, informal sector workers, unorganised and unprotected workers. In terms of concepts the historical trajectory of the organisation has been a u-curve starting with the inclusionary “peoples” and “mass of workers” becoming narrower with “workers” and “trade unionists” then moved to an apparently unsuccessful and inelegant expansion with the “informal sector” and ending with the and yet to be concluded flirtation with “work” and “poor” At each point on this curve the organisation has had to respond to powerful external ideologies and doctrines and especially those which sought to perceptually tame the threatening nature of the work-produced and related political movements. While there have been some missed opportunities there have also been resistances and a consistencies in producing the work of the organisation. The failure to be able to deal adequately with the bulk of the world labour is largely because the external doctrines were joined with the internal first to deny its existence and then when it became too large to ignore moved to power-denying and work-empty concepts. In the first quarter of the 20th Century the ILO was equipped with concepts of elements, organisations and movements within the world labour force which reflected power in the major societies. It was indeed possible then to consider the role and purpose of these power entities in the establishment of peace and a general conflict resolution because it was thought, with some justification, that these power entities would be involved in both the creation and the solution to war and conflict . Yet since the middle of the 20th century political change has been sourced precisely outside the traditional concepts of worker and unionists It was the women forced from the countryside into the slums of Argentina who socially determined Eva Peron as the first woman in power ever to suggest wages for women’s housework (Hollander 1974) , according to Thaxton (1982) the revolutionary Red Army in China in 1949 was not an army of peasants as is popularly believed but an army of “urban marginals”, it was the self-employed truck drivers in Chile who spear-headed the social turmoil which precipitated the military coup which brought down the democratically elected government of Allende in 1974 , it was the self-employed taxi drivers who were involved in unseating Haile Selassie in Ethiopia, it is the millenarian appeal of the Islamic religion to urban-living traumatised peasants in Iran which upheld the Iran Revolution in 1979, (Harrod 1987) , and now it is urban marginals who support the popularism of Chavez, the movement of the untouchables in India which is , according to a long- time social commentator, restoring to the Indian rich the “fear of the mass” (Sainath, 2006) and it is partially employed, marginals, homeless, criminals and deserters of Marx’s lumpenproletariat who disproportionately make up the Mahadi Army in Iraq in 2007.


In each case the populations involved are parts of the “informal sector” or the “poor” who work under different conditions and different power relations and have therefore different needs and consciousness and yield to different mobilizing appeals. Yet unlike the first quarter of the 20th century there are no concepts which can effectively reflect and help deal with these differences. To deal with these developments in the sources of political change, concepts are now needed which, as before, facilitate an engagement with different types of workplaces and work and the different power and social dynamics which govern them. The doctrines and ideology which have prevailed for almost the past three decades are beginning to falter, the era of the weakened state begins to end and strategic populations begin to respond to new forms of mobilization. Under these circumstances the opportunity presents itself again, as it did more than a century ago in the decades before the founding of the ILO, to devise new concepts, but this time representing the new power of the largest proportion of the world labour force.

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