The politics of classes of labour: fragmentation, reproduction zones and collective action in Karnataka, India

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In the contemporary global economy, new technologies are growing the ‘reserve army’ of labour, while the wage-system is becoming increasingly unable to meet workers’ ‘basic needs’. Bernstein’s concept of ‘classes of labour’ refers to the growing proportion of the world’s population that is now compelled to reproduce itself through various forms of petty production and wage-labour that is increasingly scarce, informal and precarious. Rather than more ‘visible’ locations in global production networks, this paper focuses on the under-researched majority of labourers who have little structural or associational power. Drawing on fieldwork in India, the paper seeks out the social, spatial and temporal forms of labour’s collective action by analysing spatial patterns of reproduction and forms of control. Inflected with the agency of both capital and labour, these ‘local labour control regimes’ are shown to vary across two contrasting ‘reproduction zones’: a commuting zone that links villages to nearby cities, and a circulation zone that links remote villages to a distant city. The paper analyses how collective action varies across the two ‘zones’, and considers the possibilities for scaling up, consolidating and extending class struggle.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1039-1059
JournalThe Journal of Peasant Studies
Issue number5-6
Early online date30 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • classes of labour
  • collective action
  • informality
  • agrarian
  • India
  • precarity

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