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The Everyday Politics of Labour: Working Lives in India’s Informal Economy presents an analysis of contemporary labour politics in India’s informal economy. Following increased integration in global economic networks, India’s informal sectors, in some parts of the country, have expanded drastically over recent decades and are employing an increasing number of the country’s working population.
The book presents a powerful critique of simplifying representations that portray workers’ politics in this informal sector as marked by low levels of class consciousness, limited abilities for resistance, and ruled by ‘primordial’ relations of caste, kinship and patronage.
Drawing on detailed ethnographic accounts of three textile industries in Tamil Nadu, collected during two and a half years of fieldwork between 1995 and 2000, the author describes everyday labour activism, explores the character of trade unionism and individualized forms of resistance, and depicts the political culture of the shop floor. A recurrent theme of the book is that a preoccupation with relations of production (or class relations) has for too long marginalized the study of relations in production. The latter focuses on the ways in which relations of hierarchy, authority, class and gender are enacted on a day-to-day basis within the workplace, and how they intertwine with neighbourhood and community relations. Interesting case studies illustrate how labour politics have been shaped both by the social mobility of some communities and the increased feminization of some occupations. While castes in the dyeing industries, which were considered to be polluting, have become owners of dyeing factories, gender patterns in the handloom factories have been reversed as men have moved out to power loom sectors in search of better-paid jobs.