Thursday, January 29, 2009

hawkers, politics, and murder

A grisly story out of Kolkata, India: a dispute over the allocation of stalls at a train station on the northeastern fringes of the city may have claimed the lives of two hawker leaders, Express India reports. The two street sellers, from the Durganagar Station Hawkers Union, were hacked to death Tuesday, and their assailants were affiliated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), police said. Apparently, platforms at the train station had recently been extended to accommodate 12-car trains and the union was negotiating over who would be in line to get the additional stalls. Both the victims and their assailants were members of the CPM -- Communist Party of India-Marxist -- which controls the local government.

But here's a different take on the story: The Telegraph reports that the fight began when the two protested against an illegal liquor bar at the far end of the platform.

And here's an interesting angle, from Kerala Online:
The case brings to fore how railway platforms in all suburban sections of the Sealdah division are up for grabs. Those who want to set up stalls — selling anything from tea to snacks to fruits and vegetables — have to pay to the ruling party. In most places, it is the CITU-backed unions who rule the roost. Every inch of the platform has a price and largely, the CITU controls as to who will be allowed to vend his wares.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

omnia vincit donuts

Victory--at least partially. The Swindon Advertiser reports that the donut man can stay in the town center! But he has to give up selling hotdogs, hamburgers, and bacon rolls.

Biagio Mazzotta, the donut vendor in question, had previous declared that he was willing to go to jail rather than give up his right to sell on the street. The newspaper reports that other street traders are also expected to go to appeal the council’s new guidelines banning fast food stalls.

the informal inside the formal

Even in the U.S., informal merchants are part of what keeps the formal economy afloat. Consider the newspaper hawkers of South Florida, who testified recently against a proposed ban on street selling (see The Suncoast News.) By turning to a network of informal roadside hawkers to augment the distribution of their papers, formal Newspaper companies gain circulation (and, by extension, advertising revenue through higher readership numbers.) The newspaper companies do not pay these hawkers and provide them no benefits, other than orange safety vests. Pasco County Commissioners vowed to create an exemption in the proposal to allow street sales of newspapers. But no word on whether the commissioners understand that their proposal will also block people from selling peanuts on the streets, too.

Monday, January 26, 2009

the new crime: "flouting norms"

That's how Kolkata Mayor Bikash Bhattacharya characterizes the nefarious activities of his city's street sellers. The Times of India reports his administration promises a 600 percent increase in raids on hawkers--from once every two weeks to three times a week.

Sounds like the Mayor is the one flouting norms.

Friday, January 23, 2009

vietnam vs. hawkers

Authorities in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, want to banish hawkers. Yet from this photo, it seems the street markets are quite restrained. Viet Nam News has the disturbing details:

"We don’t know how long the market will exist so we won’t invest in upgrading the stall," said a local trader at Hoe Nhai Street market.

The market, in Nguyen Trung Truc Ward, Ba Dinh District, has existed for 30 years despite local authority efforts to wipe it out.

According to municipal authority statistics, 40 per cent of temporary markets have no water-pipeline system, 41 per cent have no electric system, and 42 per cent were flooded after a big rain.
Thirty years on, and they're still being blamed. Does the government think the street vendors should install their own electrical grid, or their own drainage system? How could that actually happen -- or is the government simply blaming the victim of its own misguided policies?

free movement for whom?

"Illegal hawkers are not entitled to any protection." That's the word from the Bombay High Court, The Times of India reports. A two-judge panel ordered Central and Western railways to remove all vendors from platforms and footbridges at stations across the city. The oral directive came in a suit brought by six street sellers who are resisting the railroad's efforts to push them out. "The land [occupied by the hawkers] is required for ensuring free movement of the commuters," the lawyer for the Railway Authority told the court.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

where selling your own music is a crime

Manchester England has won its case against a local rap musician who was prosecuted for selling his CDs on the street, the Lancashire Evening Post reports. Elavi Dowie, 31, must pay an £80 fine and £220 costs for selling his CDs in a shopping street in Manchester.

"Because of the way the music industry is at the moment, especially for urban music. People are selling their music on the streets in the absence of a record deal. We aren't harming anyone," Dowie told the paper. "The council has this initiative to promote black and ethnic minority music but on the other hand are trying to destroy someone like me."

The article also reports this ominous fact: "Various councils throughout the country are pursuing a private Bill through Parliament, aimed at cracking down on illegal street traders."

Why are these communities so afraid of street traders? Can anybody enlighten me here?

growing against the current

An economist tells The Jakarta Globe that small and medium sized enterprises in Indonesia will likely do well in current global economic conditions because of their flexibility as part of the nation’s huge informal economy, which accounts for about 80 percent of the country's total economy. One-quarter of those businesses, according to a recent survey, are planning for growth and will invest in their businesses this year.

I make much the same point, in a recent Q&A with New American Media.

Monday, January 19, 2009

the stupidest thing ever....

...well, not ever, but...
The Swindon Council in the UK is trying to evict a donut seller from the roost where he has done business for a dozen years because, as a police official put it, street traders bring with them "very low level antisocial behaviour." This Is Wiltshire has details. The local Labour Council Member, who is supporting the donut man, offered this revealing comment: "The real hypocrisy is that when they bring in a French market or a farmers’ market all the complaints they seem to have ... go out of the window."

Friday, January 16, 2009

the union of scavengers

In Pune, India, the Waste Collectors' Union organizes 2/3 of the waste pickers in the city. The vast majority of these informal workers are women. Union members get official approval to conduct their work and qualify for health insurance, and the premiums are paid by the city. The union is trying to negotiate more benefits, and is working with the scavengers to create a more profitable business model. Scoop has details.