Undervalued Dissent

Informal Workers' Politics in India

By Manjusha Nair

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies, Industrial / Labor Relations, History, Sociology Of Work, Ethnography
Series: SUNY series in Global Modernity
Paperback : 9781438462462, 248 pages, July 2017
Hardcover : 9781438462455, 248 pages, December 2016

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

1. The Shifting State-Labor Relations in India

2. Mining for the Nation: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Mining Township

3. Determined to Win: The Mine-Workers’ Success

4. The Neoliberal Developmental State in Chhattisgarh

5. Molding Lives in the Steel City

6. The Taming of Dissent: The Industrial Workers’ Failure

Glossary of Indian Words

Uses two case studies to demonstrate how neoliberal reforms in India have de-democratized labor politics.


Honorable Mention, 2018 Global Division Book Award presented by the Global Division of the Society for the Study of Social Problems

Historically, the Indian state has not offered welfare and social rights to all of its citizens, yet a remarkable characteristic of its polity has been the ability of citizens to dissent in a democratic way. In Undervalued Dissent, Manjusha Nair argues that this democratic space has been vanishing slowly. Based on extensive fieldwork in Chhattisgarh, a regional state in central India, this book examines two different informal workers' movements. Informal workers are not part of organized labor unions and make up eighty-five percent of the Indian workforce. The first movement started in 1977 and was a success, while the other movement began in 1989 and still continues today, without success. The workers in both movements had similar backgrounds, skills, demands, and strategies. Nair maintains that the first movement succeeded because the workers contended within a labor regime that allowed space for democratic dissent, and the second movement failed because they contested within a widely altered labor regime following neoliberal reforms, where these spaces of democratic dissent were preempted. The key difference between the two regimes, Nair suggests, is not in the withdrawal of a prolabor state from its protective and regulatory role, as has been argued by many, but rather in the rise of a new kind of state that became functionally decentralized, economically predatory, and politically communalized. These changes, Nair concludes, successfully de-democratized labor politics in India.

Manjusha Nair is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the National University of Singapore.


"This book is an important contribution in several ways. There are not many books on the historical sociology of social mobilisations in post-colonial India; this is a welcome addition to the literature. The book is of modest length; Nair proves that we do not need to write tomes to make great books … In time, this book may well come to be considered among the pioneering works on the topic. " — Asian Journal of Social Science

"This book is a significant contribution to a growing understanding of the precarious nature of work, be it in formal or informal sectors. " — Economic and Political Weekly