Working at the margins of global production networks: local labour control regimes and rural-based labourers in South India

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This article analyses why informal labourers working ‘at the margins’ of global production networks lack ‘structural’ and ‘associational’ power. It does so in order to better understand potential changes in their material and political conditions, and as part of broader calls to put labour at the centre of development studies. The article focuses on rural-based labourers in south India who work relatively invisibly as agricultural labourers, informal factory workers, and on the construction sites of a ‘global city’ (Bangalore). It deploys a three-way labour control regime framework that encompasses i) the macro-labour control regime, which is ultimately defined by capitalist relations of production, and characterized in India by particularly high levels of informality (precarious and largely unregulated work) and segmentation (due to the fragmentary impact of caste); ii) the local labour control regime, which refers to how class relations in specific places are shaped by patterns of accumulation and work (themselves shaped by differences in agro-ecology, irrigation, and remoteness from non-agricultural labour markets), distributions of classes and castes, and the uneven presence of the state; and iii) the labour process, which is increasingly marked by forms of ‘remote control’ marshalled by labour intermediaries. Debate on the macro-labour control regime and on the labour process is well established, but little has been said about local labour control regimes, which are newly defined here and discussed in terms of differences between ‘wetland/circulation zones’ and ‘dryland/commuting zones’. The article identifies locations where labour has greater potential structural and associational power. Increased worker organisation in these areas could have knock-on effects in more ‘obscure’ sites.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1809-1833
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number10
Early online date15 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016


  • Local labour control regimes
  • class relations
  • exploitation
  • India
  • Karnataka

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