Revolution in the Garbage Dump: The Political and Economic Foundations of the Colombian Recycler Movement, 1986-2011

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Abstract

Flouting 150 years of reports on their political impotence, millions of informal workers have recently begun mobilizing for labor rights. What provoked this unexpected development? This article analyzes the Colombian informal recycler movement - a "least likely" case for successful mobilization due to the recyclers' extreme marginality and the Colombian state's violent repression of labor movements. The article argues that the rise of neoliberalism and the consolidation of democracy created political opportunities that conventional perspectives on the informal economy would not lead us to expect. Three specific links connected these macro-level transformations to increases in the recyclers' collective organizing capacity. First, technical, financial, and symbolic backing from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) enabled recyclers to develop innovative organizing models. Second, new human rights provisions contained in the Constitution of 1991 created an opening to challenge state policy. Third, the privatization of waste management spurred recyclers to action by leaving them with two clear-cut possibilities: waste corporations might permanently displace them, or recyclers might collectively organize to protect and improve their livelihoods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-372
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Problems
Volume63
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science

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