Dispatch from Mexico City: Informal work in times of COVID-19

This text is a translated transcript of a segment with Jaime Montejo broadcast by the Agencia de Noticias Independiente Noti-Calle in Mexico City on March 17, 2020.

What to do in this moment, when the message that the media is sending to the people is to follow “socially responsible isolation”?

Who can stay in their homes, and buy things with credit cards that are delivered to their doorsteps, watch movies on apps from the comfort of their beds or sofas, and avoid being in the street?

We think that of the two million ambulant vendors that work every day in México City (CDMX), only a quarter could stay home without their families going hungry and being unable to pay rent, water, and electricity, to mention but a few expenses.

Then there are the 60,000 unsalaried workers who make their living in the CDMX, among whom are the shoe shiners, stevedores, the guides, those who classify fruits and vegetables; the mariachis; the musicians, troubadours, and singers; the organ grinders; artists who work in the street, the plumbers, the metal workers, sharpeners and mechanics; the photographers, typists and hair dressers, the construction workers, the cobblers, the painters, the assistants at the graveyards, those who care for and wash cars, the buyers and re-sellers, the lottery ticket sellers, and those who sell publications and outdated magazines.

In addition, there are more than 70,000 sex workers without a salary, who work inside or on the street and in public places in México City.

Most unsalaried workers do not own their own homes because their income is less than twice minimum wage.

What will they do? Wait to pay the rent until after the “quarantine” that everyone in this city will likely be required to do?

And the people living in the street? Will they take down their camps so that they can go somewhere more dangerous than where they already are?

Author Bio

Jaime Montejo was a social activist and co-founder of the Elisa Martinez Street Brigade in Support of Women in Mexico City. He died of COVID-19 after being denied entry to 16 hospitals in México City. Read more about Jaime’s life and death here.