Informal Indian Workers: Between a Neoliberal Civil Society and a Capitalist State
Morgenstierne seminar lecture
Jonathan Pattenden, University of East Anglia
Neoliberalism tends to move workers’ collective action from ‘workplace’ to ‘living space’. Drawing on fieldwork among informal precarious labourers working in Karnataka’s agricultural and construction sectors, this paper analyses constraints on labour’s power in sites of production and reproduction. The state’s role is pivotal - its widespread failure to regulate production sites facilitates ‘super-exploitation’ and channels class struggle towards its own institutions, with contradictory implications. Programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and Construction Workers Welfare Boards provide some material gains and political space while underwriting social stability and the expanded reproduction of Indian capital in a competitive global marketplace. Meanwhile, in rural sites of reproduction neoliberal microfinance-oriented civil society organisations divide and depoliticise, and may divert workers from their own self-organisation – a key part of the hegemonic practices of a neoliberal capitalist state. If workers’ collective action is to loop back from ‘living space’ to ‘workplace’, then the constraints in both need to be analysed along with the spatial and temporal patterns of organisation likely among informal precarious labourers fragmented within and across sites of production and reproduction.