Building Organizations

“The first step out of poverty is organization. Organizing allows us to become social actors…we can engage in stable transactions, build convergence of interests and access social protection.”

                                                                                                                                                         -Bernardo Toro

 Organizing: The First Step

Informal workers increasingly recognize the need to unite into larger organizations to expand their visibility, voice, and power. Organizing gives the poorest segments of the working class – those working in the informal economy – a way to be heard by the decision makers who can affect their lives.

These resources will help leaders, advocates, and workers

These resources also offer a wealth of learning of how waste picker, street vendor, home-based worker, and other groups have organized to advocate for themselves, to change policies, and to achieve rights recognition and better working conditions – often through long-term campaigns.


What is a Membership-Based Organization?

In membership-based organizations (MBOs), the members elect their leaders, operating on democratic principles that hold the elected officers accountable to the general membership.

MBOPs are MBOs in which the vast majority of members are poor although some non-poor persons may also be members.

An MBOP — whether legally registered or not —range from trade unions and cooperatives to funeral societies and self-help groups (SHGs). They share a commitment to collective action that will improve the conditions in which members live and work.

Building Strong Organizations


Collective_Bargaining_thmCollective Bargaining Case Studies


 Informal Workers and Collective Bargaining: Five Case Studies. WIEGO Organizing Brief 9 by Debbie Budlender.

This paper presents the findings of the above case studies of collective bargaining by informal workers in five different countries.


 Defining and Categorizing Organizations of Informal Workers in Developing and Developed Countries.WIEGO Organizing Brief 8, by Françoise Carré. 

For researchers and activists concerned about informal workers, this paper provides a framework for tackling case study research. It clarifies the dimensions most useful for sorting among the vast variety of organizations that seek to address the representation needs and policy concerns of informal workers in developing & developed countries.


Building an OrganizationOrganizing in the Informal Economy: Resource Books for Organizers



Building an Organization -- The Only School We Have:  Learning from Organizing Experiences Across the Informal Economy

The Only School We Have: Learning from Organizing Experiences Across the Informal EconomyCompiled and edited by Christine Bonner and David Spooner. 2012.

This handbook is a resource for those organizing informal workers in any sector, though it is based on the organizing experiences in (mainly) four groups: domestic workers, home-based workers, street/market vendors, and waste pickers.


Ten Trade Union ActionsBy Claire BosseWCL. 2005.Building an Organization -- Ten Trade Union Actions

This manual is focused on trade union strategies to obtain a better legal status and uphold legal rights for informal workers. It was produced by the former World Confederation of Labour (WCL), now part of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). It is intended for use for presentations and/or training, and contains information, activities, and questions.



ILO AIDS – Implementing the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work: an education and training manual Module 8 HIV/AIDS and the informal economy

This extensive manual is designed to help ILO’s partners understand the issues and apply the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work, which was adopted in May 2001.


Building Democratic Worker Organisation and Representation in the Informal EconomyBy Crystal Dicks(IFWE). 2006.

This training manual is a two-part guide for worker educators to use in training and planning for (i) trade union organization in the informal economy and (ii) for building democratic organization among worker activists in the informal economy. It is produced by the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations (IFWEA).

Lets Organise! By Stirling Smith. ICFTU, ILO, ICA. 2006

The handbook is for organizers from the trade union and cooperative movements who will be helping groups of informal economy workers. It can also be used by facilitators providing training for organizers. The handbook is not intended for the workers in the informal economy. It is for organizers, who will work with them.

Handbook on Cooperatives for use by Workers’ Organisations. By Guy TchamiILO, Geneva. 2007.

This comprehensive ILO handbook lists the essential things to know about cooperatives for all those who are interested as members, future members, politicians or staff of national or international institutions in charge of the promotion and development of cooperatives.

Tools for Advocacy: Social Protection for Informal Workers (also in Urdu). By Francie Lund & Jillian Nicholson, (eds). WIEGO & HomeNet Thailand. 2006.

The materials are meant to be used by organizations and networks of informal workers, by groups of informal workers or by individual workers. They deal with the following six topics: an introduction to informal employment and social protection; value chains and social protection; health insurance; occupational health and safety; child care; organizations, networks and alliances.

Building Gender Equitable Organizations

WIEGO’s Waste and Gender Project

Although little research exists about gender relations and divisions among waste pickers, this collaborative project involving waste pickers in Latin America seeks to shed light on the multiple levels of discrimination that women waste pickers face and their needs.

All for one = One for All.  A Gender Equality Guide for Trade Unionists.All for one = One for all. A Gender Equality Guide for Trade Unionists Section 2.  Making Unions more Women FriendlyBy Celia Mather. International Union of Foodworkers. 2007.

This manual is designed for trade unionists, both men and women, who are interested in making their union stronger and more representative by promoting gender equality, at the workplace and in the unions.

Enhancing Africa’s Trade Union Capacity by Promoting Gender Equality Module 3:  Gender & the Informal EconomyBy Eugenia Date-Bah, et alILO/OATUU. 2006.

This manual was produced by the ILO and Organisation for African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), as part of their Gender Project for African Trade Unions (GEPATU). It is part of the OATUU and ILO’s effort to ensure that trade unions develop the culture of mainstreaming gender in their day-to-day activities and into the culture of their organizations.

Waste Pickers

Waste Pickers: The Right to Be Recognized as WorkersWaste-Pickers-The-Right-to-Be-Recognized. WIEGO.

Long before the green economy concept was globally adopted, waste pickers and other recycling and waste workers in the informal economy have offered a public service with positive economic, social and environmental impact for their communities. For centuries they have been fighting to have their activities recognized as an occupation and to improve their working conditions, their status and their earnings.


Carbon Finance for Waste Picker Organizations: Issues to Consider. WIEGO Technical Brief 7. By Ernest Achtell. 

This brief clarifies the requirements for carbon finance mechanisms to provide an assessment of whether informal waste picker membership-based organizations (MBOs) in the global South can reasonably meet these requirements and the potential investments needed to successfully secure carbon financing.


Recycling in Belo Horizonte, Brazil: An Overview of Inclusive ProgrammingReciclaje en Belo Horizonte, Brasil. WIEGO Policy Brief No. 3. By Sonia Dias.

This brief gives an overview of two recycling programmes in Belo Horizonte that engage informal workers – the carroceiros and the catadores – in their operations.


The Municipal Waste and Citizenship Forum: A Platform for Social Inclusion and Participation. WIEGO PThe Municipal Waste and Citizenship Forum: A Platform for Social Inclusion and Participationolicy Brief No. 5. By Sonia Dias. 

This brief details the participatory approaches to planning and implementation of solid waste management (SWM) in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The trend has been away from repressive policies on waste picking andtowards adoption of inclusive policies focused on legal backing, redistributive measures and social recognition of informal recyclers’ organizations.


Organizing Informal Waste Pickers: A Case Study of Bengaluru, India 2013. By Chaya Chengappa.

This case study reviews efforts to organize waste pickers in Bangalore city, Southern India by a network of non-governmental organizations. Using a “top down” approach, the network engaged with the top leadership in the municipality and the alternate dispute resolution system or “Lok Adalat” to direct the municipality to recognize waste pickers. This effort led to the first enumeration and registration initiative by an Indian urban local body and to the forming of a city-wide waste pickers’ and waste itinerant buyers’ membership-based organization called Hasirudala (meaning “green force”).


First Global Strategic Workshop of Waste Pickers: Inclusive Solid Waste Management. Pune, India 2012Building an Organization -- Global Strategic Workshop for Waste Pickers.

This report details the outcomes of the Global Strategic Workshop for waste pickers. T




Refusing to be Cast Aside: Waste Pickers Organizing Around the World. Edited by Melanie Sampson.

This book profiles waste pickers, the organizations and networks that they have formed and the struggles that they are waging in a number of countries.



Mapping of the Policy Context and Catadores Organizations in Maputo, Mozambique. By Charlotte Allen and Elísio Jossias (with contributions from Sonia Dias). WIEGO Organizing Brief  No. 6. 2011.

This report seeks to understand the situation of catadores in Maputo, Mozambique, whether and how they are organized and what possibilities exist for future organizing of catadores. It provides background information on the political and socio-economic context, relevant legislation and policy, and current approaches to waste management and recycling in Maputo.


Options for Organizing Waste Pickers in South AfricaOptions for Organizing Waste Pickers in South AfricaBy Jan Theron. WIEGO Organizing Brief No. 3. 2010.

Across the country waste pickers are starting to organize as they recognize that this will help them to win recognition for the work that they do and to advance their collective interests. This booklet aims to assist them in this process by explaining the different kinds of collective organizations that they can form and identifying some of the key issues that they should consider when forming organizations. Summary in English, French, and Portuguese.


Organizing on the Streets:  A Study of Reclaimers in the Streets of Cape TownOrganizing on the Streets: A Study of Reclaimers in the Streets of Cape TownBy Koni Benson & Nandi Vanqa-Mgijima. ILRIG, WIEGO Organizing Brief No. 4. 2010.

This report provides background on reclaiming in Cape Town, including who the reclaimers are, what they reclaim, how they see their work, how their work is organized, and their earnings. It also examines the challenges and opportunities for organizing reclaimers. Summary in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French & Hindi.


Organizing Reclaimers in Tshwane, South AfricaOrganizing Reclaimers in Tshwane, South Africa: Lessons from Top Down and Bottom Up ExperiencesBy Melanie Samson. WIEGO Organizing Brief No. 5. 2010.

In 2009, a network of reclaimers working on all Tshwane municipal dumps was formed. Tshwane became unique within South Africa in that a relatively open Council and reclaimers have both organized initiatives seeking to improve the reclaimers’ situation. This report explores these initiatives in order to distil lessons on how to support organizing by reclaimers and to transform their position in the waste management system and recycling economy. Summary in English, SpanishPortuguese, French & Hindi.

Organizing Waste Management Workers: The South African Experience. By Debbie Budlender. ILO. 2005.

This booklet describes how workers and employers have organized in South Africa’s waste management sector. The booklet is based on research done in South Africa in 2003 as part of a multi-country ILO project on organizing in the informal economy and is intended for general reading or as a resource for educators or facilitators on organizing waste workers.

Street Vendors

 New Manifesto Campaign Guide, StreetNet International 2013

NMC is a Campaign designed to unite the strengths of informal street/market vendors to let them express their needs & concerns while developing an international street vendors’ manifesto with the full participation of a wide range of street vendor organizations in different countries. It will represent the collective demands on a global scale. The NMC was launched at the StreetNet International Congress in 2007.

Download in Russian   Download in French

World-Cup-For-All---Final_thmWorld Cup for All: A Portrait of Street Vendors’ Organizations in the World Cup Host Cities in Brazil. By Nora Wintour. 2013.

This report is an English summary of a Portuguese research study StreetNet International commissioned on organizations of informal traders in host cities for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The research was conducted over the period of May – October 2011 and was conceived as a preliminary step to establishing the World Class Cities for All (WCCA) Campaign in Brazil. The original report is titled “Copa do mundo para todos. O retrato dos vendedores ambulantes nas cidades-sed da copa do mundo de 2014”.


Working in Warwick:  Including Street Traders in Urban PlansWorking in Warwick: Including Street Traders in Urban Plans. By Richard Dobson and Caroline Skinner with Jillian Nicholson.

Working in Warwick offers a fresh look at street traders’ lives, the role they play in city life and their contribution to the economy. It contains practical examples and aims to inspire other local authorities and planners in their dealings with the informal economy.


StreetNet International:  Organizing Street VendorsStreetNet International: Organizing Street Vendors.

StreetNet International promotes the exchange of information and ideas on critical issues facing street vendors, market vendors and hawkers and promotes practical organizing and advocacy strategies. StreetNet affiliates, from Africa, Asia and the Americas, join in international campaigns to promote policies and actions that can contribute to improving the lives of millions of street vendors, market vendors and hawkers around the world.

Street Vendors & their Organizations in South Africa.  By Debbie Budlender. ILO. 2003.

This booklet is based on research done by Shirin Motala in 2001, as part of a bigger ILO research project on the informal economy in different parts of the world. The main aim of the research and booklet is to help build strong local and national organizations so that street traders can speak with one voice and influence policy makers.

Home-Based Workers

Supporting Women Home-Based Workers: The Approach of the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India. WIEGO Policy Brief No. 13. By Shalini Sinha. 

The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India has been organizing home-based workers since its inception in the 1970s. It has developed, over the years, a multi-pronged and multi-layered strategy to holistically address the needs of home-based workers, who comprise nearly 30 per cent of SEWA’s members in Ahmedabad. This brief presents an overview of SEWA’s interventions for the urban home-based workers, with a focus on Ahmedabad, the city in which SEWA was started and where it has been particularly active.

Challenges and Experiences in Organizing Home-Based Workers in Bulgaria. WIEGO Organizing Brief 7. By Dave Spooner.

This brief analyzes how the Home-Based Workers’ Association in Bulgaria has built an impressive national organization, won substantial gains for home-based workers, and begun to assist the development of home-based workers’ organization throughout South-East Europe.


Promoting the ILO Homework Convention (C177)Promoting the ILO Homework Convention (C177) and the Rights of Homeworkers:  A Manual for Workers’ Educators and Facilitators. By Dave Spooner and Celia Mather. 2012.

This manual, primarily for trade unionists and social mevement activists, is designed to provoke and encourage discussion about homeworkers and their rights as workers, raise awareness about the international ILO Home Work Convention and its significance for homeworkers in each country, encourage homeworkers and their supporters to get the ILO Home Work Convention put into national law in their own country, and foster stronger organization of homeworkers so that they can continue fighting for their rights.


We are Workers, Too!We are Workers, Too! Organizing Home-based Workers in the Global Economy. By Celia Mather. WIEGO Organizing Series. 2010.

This manual aims to help home-based workers, no matter where in the world, to know more about: their skills and value, not just to their families but to society at large and to the economy, even at a global level; their status as workers, and the fact that, like all other workers in the world, they have rights, even if many others do not recognize this yet; and how they can get together with other home-based workers to get more recognition and improve their situation.


Campaigns at Work:  A Guide to Campaigning for HomeworkersCampaigns at Work: A Guide to Campaigning for Homeworker OrganizationsBy Annie DelaneyHomeWorkers Worldwide. 2004.

The aim of this manual is to provide guidelines, ideas and processes to assist you to develop approaches to campaigning. The manual breaks down a campaign into distinct areas and offers practical ways to develop a planned approach that encourages participation and leadership from homeworkers. In addition, it promotes the use of visible props and creative actions to educate consumers, form alliances with a range of organisations and individuals, and work in solidarity with unions and worker organizations.

Other Occupational Groups

“Yes, We Did It!” How the World’s Domestic Workers Won Their International Rights and Recognition. By Celia Mather. WIEGO. 2013.

Manual for Domestic Workers: Organizing a Better Future. By Suguna Papachan. CAW. Hong Kong. 2008.

This manual aims to assist the leaders of domestic worker groups to come out of a powerless situation by “embracing the strength of the domestic worker organisation or trade union,” particularly in the context of the campaign for the ILO Convention on domestic workers in 2010-11.

Organizing in the Taxi Industry: The South African ExperienceBy Debbie Budlender. ILO. 2003. 

This booklet is based on research done by the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU) in 2001, as part of a bigger ILO research project on the informal economy in different parts of the world. The booklet is intended as an educational tool for trade union organisers and taxi workers.