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