Article Title:
Reshaping the social contract: emerging relations between the state and informal labor in India
Title of Journal:
Theory and Society
Vol. #:
Issue #:
Agarwala, Rina.
April, 2008
Publication Type:
Journal Article

This article focuses on informal construction and bidi (local tobacco) workers in India. Informal workers in these sectors can be categorized as casual employees or industrial outworkers. Over 90% of the lowest rung of workers in both sectors is composed of women contract workers. Seven informal workers‟ organizations are examined in the article. Six of the organizations are trade unions, registered under the Trade Union Act, and one is a nongovernmental organization (NGO), registered under the Trust and Societies Act.
The unions use industry-specific tripartite Welfare Boards to negotiate with the state and the employers. At first the unions regarded the government as a potential mediator between labour and capital. However, as a result of failed efforts to address the employers, the unions are now directly addressing the state. This signals a turn from defending the members‟ rights as employees to a focus on their rights as citizens. Instead of asking the state to make employers respect their rights as employees, the unions are using the concept of citizenship in order to make direct claims to the state for better welfare. One of the major achievements has been the provision of state-certified identity cards to informal workers. These ID cards acknowledge their status as workers even when employers are unwilling to do so, and are a key to provision of a range of welfare services such as access to healthcare and education. Significantly, these benefits are extended to workers regardless of who their employer is.

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