Our partners Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) and SWaCH were founded on the principle of collective action - the idea that the most vulnerable sections of society are stronger when they have collective power. KKPKP supports collective action both in its capacity as a trade union, collectively negotiating to protect the livelihoods and occupational safety of its members, and as an advocacy body that empowers its members. SWaCH, a cooperative has harnessed the collective power of individual waste pickers to negotiate an agreement to provide solid waste management (SWM) services across the city of Pune.
Since the union and cooperative were formed, through the process of collectivization, the negotiating power, visibility and dignity of waste pickers has increased and we are working with our partners to safeguard the livelihoods and leadership of waste pickers in municipal SWM. Collective action is also a strategy in our work to create pathways to social inclusion, by educating waste pickers about their entitlements, enabling them to fight for their rights and entitlements, increasing access to existing services, demanding additional services to fill gaps, and by leveraging existing and new mechanisms and strategies to hold government and other service providers accountable.
Risks and Contributions of Women Waste Pickers
As low-income Dalit women, most waste pickers face multiple, intersecting vulnerabilities and are representative of the most marginalized urban informal workers. Their work provides them with critical livelihoods, but also exposes them to considerable economic, environmental, social and occupational risks, including not being able to ensure payment for their services, exposure to hazardous waste and harassment and the risk of accidents. As many as 10,500 waste pickers are currently organized into the trade union KKPKP, and in 2008, the SWaCH cooperative was created through a formal agreement with the PMC. SWaCH is India’s first wholly owned cooperative of self-employed waste collectors and currently has over 3,500 members. Through SWaCH, waste pickers provide reliable, reasonably priced and accountable garbage collection and materials management services to 810,000 properties, collect 1,100 tons per day (TPD) of waste, divert 200 TPD of waste from landfills, compost 3 TPD of waste and are often the sole breadwinners of their families.