From Work to Welfare

A New Class Movement in India

Author: Rina Agarwala


The rigidity of early class analysis and the recent demise of any type of class analytics have turned attention away from examining the growing population of informally employed workers as a class. By not examining informal workers as a class “in themselves,” we are losing insights into how they are translating their positions into a class “for themselves.” As a consequence, the recent literature on globalization and liberalization is increasingly concluding that the decreasing proportion of formally employed workers (and the subsequent rise in informal employment) the world over signifies a decline in all class-based organization. Such arguments have obscured our understanding of the current social dynamics of exploitation and resistance. In an attempt to begin filling this gap, this article recovers class as an important analytical tool with which to examine (1) the current relations of power between the state, employers, and the majority of India's workers, and (2) how the structures of production within which informal workers operate affect their collective action strategies. A reformulated labor movement model is offered to expose the underlying mechanisms through which informal workers translate their location in the class structure as a class “in itself” into a political group as a class “for itself.” Insights into how informal workers organize can have profound implications for our understanding of changing state-labor relations as national governments attempt to liberalize their economies and simultaneously rein in their welfare functions.
Regions: South Asia
Countries: India

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December 2006