Where Lean May Shake: Challenges to Casualisation in the Indian Auto Industry


  • Lorenza Monaco University of Johannesburg, SA




By analysing the industrial conflict that has affected the Indian Maruti Suzuki since 2011/2012, the article reflects on the meaning of the lean manufacturing paradigm today. It explores what continues to make it dominant, and the ultimate frontiers it has reached. It argues that its global significance could not have been established without the exploitation of local labour regimes, and without stretching their competitive advantage to the detriment of workers. In particular, the desirable condition now sought at global level is the possibility of relying on regimes based on high levels of casualisation, allowing the progressive “substitution” of permanent workers. However, as the Maruti case also reveals, working-class composition and the sustainability of the local labour process can generate mechanisms and unexpected alliances that could potentially destabilise the system. Indeed, the case shows how corporate strategies intended to fragment and depoliticise labour, inbuilt into the paradigm, were directly challenged and encountered resistance. Ultimately, though, the case also shows how, without strong legal and political support, the potential of a labour movement can be suffocated by institutionalised violence. In this sense, lean reacts, and the despotic imposition of consent becomes visible as never before.

Author Biography

Lorenza Monaco, University of Johannesburg, SA

Lorenza Monaco holds an MA in Development Politics from the University of Naples “L’Orientale”, Italy, and a PhD in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, UK. At SOAS, she also worked as a Teaching Fellow in Political Economy of Development. From her MA to her PhD her research focused on Casualisation, Labour Organising and Institutions within the Indian Automobile Industry, based on fieldwork conducted in Delhi / National Capital Region (NCR) in 2009, 2011 and 2012. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the South African Research Chair in Industrial Development, University of Johannesburg, where she is working on a comparative research project on the impact of auto policies on employment in India and South Africa.