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BOOK REVIEW

Essays on Indias Working Class exploitative colonial policies to serve in


these factories. The working class also
bore the brunt of caste oppression.
Workers resisted low wages, long work-
Kanchana Mahadevan ing hours and formed a collective soli-
darity by overcoming differences of reli-

W
orking Class Movement in Working Class Movement in India in the Wake gion, caste, region and language. These
India in the Wake of Globaliza- of Globalization edited by Jose George, Manoj Kumar organisations in turn forged the All India
tion is an anthology edited and and Dharmendra Ojha (New Delhi: Manohar), 2012; Trade Union Congress (AITUC). Most of
pp 470, Rs 1,295.
written by academics and activists Jose the trade unions were dominated by
George, Manoj Kumar and Dharmendra communists, though with resistance,
Ojha mapping the evolution of the work- analytical category in the social sciences. others also tried to acquire union posi-
ing-class movement in India. An outcome It roots its empirical findings in the theo- tions. The essay delineates the increasing
of a seminar that was conducted in Sep- retical insights of the Marxist legacy and momentum of this movement from the
tember 2009 by the Department of Civics presents the reader with an alternative 1920s to the 1980s, as well as its waning
and Politics, University of Mumbai, the reading of Indian history from the point in the 1990s with the structural adjust-
book is dedicated to the eminent commu- of view of peoples struggles. ment programmes through the World
nist leader M K Pandhe (who passed The books introduction situates the Trade Organisation, the International
away in August 2011). Pandhe has con- various articles against the backdrop of Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
tributed a foreword and an article. the neo-liberal challenges facing the The introduction thus covers some of
The books unique position of being working-class movement in India such the key issues over 100 years of Indian
between the worlds of academia and as contract work, voluntary retirement history through the lens of the working
activism enables it to track the concept of schemes, declining organised labour and class, which are followed through in the
class as a point of departure for organ- welfare. It examines these specific issues rest of the five sections of the book.
ised resistance from the period of its against the larger canvas of neo-liberal
emergence in colonial India to its devel- states and globalisation in the post- A Wide Range of Issues
opment in post-Independence India. It Soviet world. Part I deals with the emergence and
also engages with the challenges con- In keeping with the link between the growth of the working-class movement in
fronting such resistance in the era of global and the local, the introduction India. In Part II, it takes a more theoretical
globalisation, characterised by privati- shows how workers agitations in the look at the ideological underpinnings of
sation and weak labour unions. erstwhile Bombay Presidency arose the peoples movement in India. Part III
Some of the essays in the book also take alongside the agitations against the narrates the experiences of the working
a critical look at some of the paradoxes Tsars in Russia. Industrialisation in India class in the urban industrial sector. Part IV
generated by organised labour in an era occurred during the colonial period is titled The Growth and Struggles
that is dominated by informal, flexible when factories of jute, cement and sugar of the Working Class in Rural Areas,
and contractual work. It engages with the were set up in cities such as Bombay. while Part V is The Status of Working
methodological challenges for quantita- Further, labour from the de-peasantised Class during Liberalization, Globaliza-
tive research posed by taking class as an rural areas entered the cities through tion and Privatization.
30 january 4, 2014 vol xlix no 1 EPW Economic & Political Weekly
BOOK REVIEW

This review discusses only a few of the earlier constructive role and grass-roots Gandhian counterpart. This is especially
essays, though all the essays are note- mobilisation to even oppose the struggles important in the Indian context, where
worthy. The essay by M K Pandhe analyses waged by social movements such as the left has been perceived as indifferent
the emergence of the trade union move- those of displaced communities for land. to and even antithetical to these aspects
ment in India from its origins in the unity He observes that in this the trade unions of human life. By discussing the rela-
of the working class, to its fragmentation play a pro-state role by viewing such tionship between the left and other so-
in the contemporary globalised world. eviction as necessary for development. cial movements, this book also touches
V B Athreyas paper Workers Struggles Venugopal suggests a more comprehen- upon the extent to which trade union
and Challenges Ahead elaborates the sive approach for trade unions in colla- politics in India can be insulated from
relationship bet ween the workers move- boration with social movements and the other political formations. Indeed, the
ment and nationalist struggles. It also unorganised sector. book indicates that it is precisely because
examines its presence during the crises in of the absence of such insulation that
economic growth in 1960s and the 1970s. Resistance of Labour the trade union movement itself has
In her paper in Part II, Working Class This book contributes in several ways been partially hijacked by the extreme
and Insecurity Hypothesis, Anuradha to the understanding of the complex right. Moreover, it also takes a critical
Kalhan examines the impact of flexi- mechanism(s) of capitalism at local and look at the complacency and the pro-
bility of work in the labour market with global levels, as well as labours resist- establishment tone adopted by estab-
special reference to countries under the ance. It situates its various studies of lished trade unions, which then have the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation working-class movements in India within tendency to become anti-democratic.
and Development (OECD), which include the global canvas from colonisation to This book illustrates how even seem-
the US, UK and India (where such flexi- the neo-liberal post-Soviet world. It ing intangibles such as knowledge(s),
bility is the highest). meticulously shows the emergence of psychologies and cultures are mediated
Vivek Monteiro looks at the experiences left-wing trade unions in different parts of through the social relations generated
of the unorganised sector to show how India, such as Pondicherry, Bihar, Kerala by capital. It shows that to comprehend
they question the basic premises of neo- and Maharashtra through which one these intangibles one has to adopt the
liberalism. He opens up an important topic can draw out the notion of a national Marxist framework. Consequently, this
in methodology through his critique of left culture. anthology is an instance of how qualita-
the second National Labour Commission Some of the essays elucidate the over- tive research can be scientific or objec-
study of the workforce, and suggests a lap between class and caste, which has tive despite adopting a theoretical frame-
way of documenting labour in a scientific not been given prominence in theoreti- work and it shows the way for a huma-
manner so that the organisation of the cal discussions of the working class. For nities curriculum that could integrate
unorganised sector becomes possible. instance, Athreya points out how divisive theory and practice.
In Part III, one of the essays by Jose forces of caste and religion splinter the However, despite these strengths this
George and Manoj Kumar takes stock working class and obstruct its political book contains some oversights in its ana-
of the Kamani experiment of workers consciousness (p 104); neo-liberalism lyses of the relationship between working-
participating in industrial management. has thrived on such divisiveness. He sug- class movements and those striving for
K Srinivasalu examines the challenges gests that such obscurantism be rooted social democracy such as womens strug-
faced by the handloom industry (and out through education, which is one of the gles, eradication of caste and those for
the textile industry) in Andhra Pradesh tasks of a democratic movement (p 104). ecological balance. These oversights
to keep itself going in the light of neo- K K Theckedaths essay, which revisits the range from glaring omissions to inade-
liberalism. P N Samant looks at the pos- vibrant teachers movement in Bombay, quate analyses. This anthology tends
sibility of autonomy in trade unions, which highlights how this movement has been to either assimilate all social relations
emerged as the face of political parties. an ally (and can continue to be so) of under class or compartmentalise them.
It refers to Datta Samants Kamgar the labour movement through solidarity The challenges that have been posed by
Aghadi as an instance of such autonomy with their struggles and through the movements of gender, caste and ecology
to a partial extent. M A Hussain and consciousness-raising activities by intel- to class in the Indian context need to be
C Nagaraja Rao delineate the resistance lectuals. He points to how education can adequately engaged with.
of municipal workers engaged in scav- open up the possibility of an interface
enging jobs in Andhra Pradesh, against between the Marxist approach and that What of the Womens Movements?
their deplorable conditions of existence. of Ambedkar (p 203). Womens contribution to the labour
In Part V, the paper Trade Unions at Several contributions in the book ad- movement is conspicuous by its absence
the Crossroads by B Venugopal takes dress other aspects of social life that in this anthology. India is rife with
a critical look at trade unions (with have not received adequate attention examples of womens active participa-
special reference to Kerala) during the from the left such as culture and ecology. tion in the struggle for economic, social
neo-liberal period. He points out that in Rural left mobilisation is effectively arti- and political rights from the colonial
recent times they have abdicated their culated in terms of its difference with its times to the present. For instance, rural
Economic & Political Weekly EPW january 4, 2014 vol xlix no 1 31
BOOK REVIEW

and urban women have contributed to unions and the lack of acknowledge- at length. However, these essays assume
the labour movement through leader- ment of their contribution to labour. that caste relations conceal those of class
ship and mass participation in the textile Feminists have observed that this is (Ramakumar: 340). The problem of caste
industry, railways and agrarian work from because labour is typically understood hierarchies persisting among working-
the colonial period to the present. as productive labour in the public sphere, class people, despite the equality of class,
Labour movements have also contri- at the cost of domestic reproductive labour has not been adequately problematised.
buted to the struggle for womens rights. (ibid). Alongside such a problematic Caste hierarchy is rooted in oppressive
Thus, womens participation in produc- status given to women in the labour Hindu religious and social practices, but
tive labour in the public sphere and movement, neo-liberalism continues to it is not merely ideological as it has a
reproductive labour in the domestic target women and exploit the sexual di- material dimension as well. Labouring
domain has been pivotal to the labouring vision of labour to reinforce itself. Marxist activities in India have been and continue
classes and their struggle for freedom theory itself has not been indifferent to to be performed by those belonging to
and equality. Yet, the womens move- gender issues, as the critique of the underprivileged castes. An exclusive focus
ment also emerged as a struggle inde- bourgeois family by Marx and Engels on class tends to obscure this central
pendent of labour only because the latter (1959: 24) or that of bourgeois feminism dimension of Indian social reality.
tended to emphasise the contribution of by Luxemburg (1971: 216-22) reveals. A Moreover, despite their contribution
men at the expense of women. Hence, discussion of the relationship between to labour and labour movements, dalit
considering that the womens movement the womens movement and the left voices are not heard adequately in these
is a social movement, its similarities, movement in this anthology could have contexts. Further, as the experiences of
differences and the affinities with the opened up these complexities. many from underprivileged castes reveal,
labour movement need to be analysed in the acquisition of economic rights has not
an anthology such as this. What of Caste and Class? necessarily freed society from the scourge
One of the most contentious issues that The relationship between caste and of caste. Hence, one cannot assume that
the left movement needs to engage with is labour has been touched upon in some class consciousness will automatically rid
the feminist critique of the class-oriented of the essays (Athreya and Theckedath). society of caste discrimination, or that
approach as patriarchal (Hartmann 1997). The contribution of dalits to the labour the struggle against exploitative class
This critique is borne out by the decline movement in Kerala (Ramakumar) and relations is identical to a similar struggle
of women in leadership positions in left in Bihar (Kumar) have been brought out for removal of caste inequality. Indeed,

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and politics. The book shows that spirituality goes beyond morality to hierarchy. A signicant nding of this book is that members of a caste
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32 january 4, 2014 vol xlix no 1 EPW Economic & Political Weekly


BOOK REVIEW

there is a need to reflect on the converse to Gandhian ideology. The association between trade unions and social demo-
aspect of whether caste consciousness between workers struggles and ecologi- cratic movements (p 261).
can lead to class consciousness. cal movements needs to be spelled out
To what extent are the social relations with greater clarity and emphasis. Valuable Contribution
of caste and class distinct? In what ways The book importantly also discusses the Despite these limitations, this book is a
do they intersect? What is the impact of extreme rights usurpation of the trade valuable and unique contribution to un-
globalisation on the disenfranchised union movement (Ojha: 171-81), its ab- derstanding the role of trade unions in
underprivileged caste groups of India? sence (Singh: 309-14) and the anti-worker the creation of peoples movements. Aijaz
What are the specific ways in which glo- tendency in some trade unions (Venu- Ahmed (2001: 20) has remarked that Marx
balisation reinforces the caste system? gopal: 425-38) to put aside uncritical and Engels have the resources for think-
How does the contribution of dalits to trade-union optimism (Luxemburg ing about the relationship bet ween
labour offer a critical perspective on views 1971: 263). However, this very crucial socialism, caste eradication and resistance
that celebrate globalisation as emanci- point in the contemporary globalised to imperialism. One can add gender and
patory for dalits (Omvedt 2001)? These world needs to be expanded properly ecology to this list. This books merit is
questions are critical for the future of from a theoretical perspective. The frag- that it provokes one to think about these
emancipatory politics in India, which can mentation of the working class cannot aspects of the Marxist legacy, both
combine the legacies of Ambedkar and vaguely be attributed to regionalism or in empirical and philosophical terms,
Marx. Ambedkar was critical of both ruling class conspiracy without discuss- in the context of the challenges posed
casteism and liberal economism in his ing these in historical detail. by globalisation to organised labour.
endorsement of class equality (Ambedkar Further, the specific differences be- Working Class Movement in India in the
2002a, 2002b; Teltumbde 2011). Thus, tween rightist unions and their left-led Wake of Globalization will be a valuable
according to him, the Brahmin enslaves counterparts need to be brought out resource for courses in social sciences
the mind and the Bania enslaves the body through a comparative lens. The weak- that engage with the Marxism in politi-
(Ambedkar 2002a:148). But Ambedkar ening of left-wing trade unions is exacer- cal science, philosophy and history. It
was clear that material equality alone will bated with the influx of those with can also serve as an impetus for evolving
not guarantee freedom or fraternity a right-wing and extremist ideology. a course with special focus on the work-
(2002b:189); the latter requires an eradi- There is a need to analyse this influx and ing-class movement itself.
cation of caste as well. There is a need to examine the factors that are leading a
engage with his critique and also examine significant mass of labouring classes Kanchana Mahadevan (kanchamaha@
hotmail.com) teaches at the Department of
the complex relationship (as well as an towards them. Luxemburgs analysis of
Philosophy, University of Mumbai.
absence of the same) between the labour trade unions is relevant at this juncture.
movements and social movements for The increasing emphasis on bargaining References
the removal of caste. leadership, short-term gains and bureau- Ahmad, Aijaz (2001): Introduction in Aijaz Ahmed
(ed.), On the National and Colonial Questions
cratisation have contributed to trade Selected Writings by Karl Marx and Frederick
Other Issues unions perceiving themselves as inde- Engels (New Delhi: LeftWord Books).
Ambedkar, B R (2002a): Class, Caste and Democ-
The ecological destruction caused by pendent of or neutral to social and politi- racy in Valerian Rodrigues (ed.), The Essential
capitalism is also brought out in a full- cal relations (Luxemburg 1971: 265). Writings of B R Ambedkar (New Delhi: Oxford
University Press).
length discussion in this anthology Indeed, she saw such autonomy as only
(2002b): Buddha or Karl Marx in Valerian
(Thampatty: 301-08). It points to the apparent and as the outcome of reaction- Rodrigues (ed.), The Essential Writings of
B R Ambedkar (New Delhi: Oxford University
contribution of the environmental move- ary and autocratic state politics (ibid). Press).
ment against the pollution by Grasim This autonomy has made them vulne- Foster, John Bellamy (2000): Marxs Ecology: Mate-
Industries in Mavoor, Kozhikode, Kerala. able to being taken over by extremist rialism and Nature (New York: Monthly
Review Press).
However, there could be a further dis- forces serving neo-liberal goals. Only Hartmann, Heidi (1997): The Unhappy Marriage
cussion of whether this movement also such analyses will allow for perceiving of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More
Progressive Union in Linda Nicholson (ed.),
struggled on behalf of the exploited the openings for a prospective revitali- The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory
workers of Grasim industries. Further, sation of left-wing trade unions. Such (New York and London: Routledge), 97-102.
Harvey, David (2010): The Enigma of Capital (Oxford
the extent to which the workers strug- analysis needs to turn to Luxemburgs and New York: Oxford University Press).
gle in this context created the awareness critique of the autonomy of trade unions, Luxemburg, Rosa (1971): Selected Political Writings
(London: Monthly Review Press).
of the ecological crisis could also be dis- which have a reformist agenda and are Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels (1959): Manifesto
cussed by bringing in Marxist theoreti- severed from mass movements for radi- of the Communist Party in Lewis S Feuer
(ed.), Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy
cal tools (building on insights from cal change through social democracy. (New York: Anchor Books), 1-46.
Foster (2000) in the Indian context). Treating trade unions as independent Omvedt, Gail (2001): Globalization and Indian
Tradition, The Hindu, http://www.hindu.com/
Such a discussion is especially impor- entities has the danger of degenerating 2001/02/06/stories/05062523.htm
tant in India, where the mainstream to reactionary politics. The alternative Teltumbde, Anand (2011): Dalit Capitalism and
Pseudo Dalitism, CounterCurrents, 7 March,
approach perceives ecological concerns as to this quandary is rightly suggested by viewed on 7 October 2013, http://www.coun-
either autonomous or as inevitably tied Luxemburg as the cohesion and unity tercurrents.org/teltumbde070311.htm

Economic & Political Weekly EPW january 4, 2014 vol xlix no 1 33