Was the Indian Labor Movement Ever Coopted?


ABSTRACT Despite its central importance to India’s political and economic development, the organizational capacity of India’s working class is poorly understood. Standard social scientific accounts portray the Indian working class as weakened by continual fragmentation and wholly dominated by political parties and the state. Social scientists therefore assume that the Indian working class is economically and politically inconsequential. This essay challenges these prominent misconceptions. Drawing on original survey data, government statistics, and a discussion of Indian industrial and labor law, the author shows that the Indian labor movement has been much more unified, much more contentious in the collective bargaining arena, and much more politically influential than previously assumed. The author speculates that the key reason social scientists have misjudged the strength of organized labor in India is that their assessments have relied too heavily on “key source” interviews with business, political and trade union elites, all of whom have incentives to portray workers as divided and weak.

Critical Asian Studies