Articulating Interests: How Kinship, Caste and Regional Identity Enable and Impede Union Organising in an Indian ‘Industrial Village’

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Tom BARNES, Australian Catholic University, Australia
Arguments that unions should adapt to advance informal or precarious workers’ interests often sit uneasily alongside claims that these workers have different interests to traditionally-unionised workers. This paradox has been accompanied by increasingly discursive treatments of informal and precarious work, with some arguing to collapse the former into the latter or into broader concepts of social class. In accepting views that concepts of informal work, precarious work and social class address overlapping but distinctive processes, this paper goes further in arguing that a more refined theory of work-based social interests would help to critically assess the possibilities of solidarity between workers with diverse experiences and identities. The paper uses a study of a recent unionisation campaign among automotive components workers in an ‘industrial village’ near New Delhi to illustrate a framework of ‘articulated interests’, which represent work-based interests held neither in-common nor in-conflict. The study shows how ‘local’ workers leveraged gendered networks of kinship, land ownership and caste identity to enable a unionisation drive and found common cause with migrant workers brought in by labour contractors via a union-hostile local labour control regime. However, these same local networks also limited the campaign’s impact and produced radically different outcomes for workers in different ‘employment configurations’.