India Working: Essays on Society and Economy

India Working: Essays on Society and Economy

India Working: Essays on Society and Economy

India Working: Essays on Society and Economy


Drawing on her knowledge of the country and on theoretical literature, Barbara Harris-White describes the Indian economy through its most important social structures of accumulation. The book explores a range of topics, including labor, class, the state, gender, religious plurality, caste and space. Harris-White's conclusion adeptly challenges the prevailing belief that liberalization releases the economy from political interference.


Nothing is ever produced without labour. in a capitalist economy labour is taken and turned into labour power; so the way this power is organised and disciplined shapes the accumulation process. in this chapter we will see how social and political institutions that discipline and regulate labour and labour power fuel accumulation and contain the conflicts generated by capitalist growth. Even trade unions play roles that facilitate backward forms of accumulation and the practices of 'flexible employment' which characterise advanced capitalism have long been established in India and are crucial to accumulation.

India's economy is about the size of Belgium's, but for every Belgian there are a hundred Indians competing for livelihoods. Out of the country's huge labour force of over 390 million, only 7 per cent are in the organised sector (that is, are workers on regular wages or salaries) in registered firms and with access to the State's social security system and its framework of labour law. Even the term 'organised' is seriously misleading because only about half of that 7 per cent are unionised, and we will see later that in India unions are deliberately disorganised. the rest–variously estimated at between 83 and 93 per cent of the workforce labours in the 'unorganised' or 'informal' economy. in fact, India's economy is 'unorganised'. All this 'unorganised' labour is unprotected by the regulatory regime of the State because what little exists is not enforced. It is thereby deprived of rights at work. 'Unorganised' firms are supposed to be small. in fact, they may have substantial workforces, occasionally numbering hundreds, but where workers are put deliberately on casual contracts. There is no neat boundary between organised and unorganised labour. Some sectors, notably mining and dock labour,

Albeda and Tilly 1994; Kotz 1994.

Bhowmik 1998.

Eighty-three per cent is the ncaer estimate, Sinha et al. 1999. Ninety-three per cent is
the residual from organised-sector statistics. Most of the agricultural sector is included,
even though land is registered, because of the small and fluctuating size of labour forces
on the vast bulk of individual holdings.

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