Classes of Labour in India: A Review Essay


  • Jan Breman University of Amsterdam



From the very beginning of my writing on the regime of informality I have rejected the notion of a dichotomy between formal and informal labour relations. The fracturing solidifies a differentiated absorption in the labour process – own-account workers versus waged labourers, regular against casual employment, replacement of sedentary engagement in paid work by footloose mobility – and all of this culminating in divergent patterns of livelihood and lifestyles. It is along these lines that I have split up “informality” class-wise, following up on the contention that rather than juxtaposing the working class as an amalgamated lot, there are indeed diverse classes of labour with distinct identities. The way in which differentiation has come about cannot only be comprehended in terms of social class-based alignments but also finds expression in an axis of steep inequality. It is a ranked order taking the shape of a class–caste nexus and makes clear how corresponding trajectories of accumulation and dispossession operate in tandem. The backdrop to this essay is the process of informalisation pushed by the stakeholders of globalised capitalism from the early 1970s onwards. The shift away from the regime of formality which used to be enjoyed by a minor segment of India’s mega-workforce has in many instances ended their privileged employment, legal protection and social security, tearing up the domains in which labour moves around.