Work with Honour or for Mere Survival?


Human beings work or sell his/her labour power to meet the essential needs like food, clothing, shelter etc. And if the owner of labour power “works to-day, to-morrow he must again be able to repeat the same process in the same conditions as regards his health and strength” says Marx. (Capital Vol I). Continuous physical or mental labour can lead to wear and tear of the body and mind. Hence, rest and recreation becomes essential for reproduction of the labour power, for it ensures physical and psychological well being. Capitalist production relations however perpetuate an unevenness in these requirements, leading to exploitation of the workers. This unevenness manifests in the form of indignity of work, poor working and living conditions, poverty or lack of means of subsistence, long working hours, lack of job security, social security, etc. The knowledge of this unevenness and the need to fight for rights led to the formation of strong labour unions across the world.

Workers of the world usually fall under two broad categories of organized and unorganized sectors. Organized sector workers have job security, social security and better standards of working conditions. However, over the course of time, the vigorous neoliberal turn of the economy and state interventions through legislations have weakened the labour unions in the industrial base and blocked the space for organizing. Increasing the working hours and building stress levels are common in organized private sectors like IT, aviation etc. In comparison to this, workers from unorganized sectors constitute the largest workforce without proper working and living conditions, job security, or social security. In the urban centres most workers in the unorganized sectors are pushed to the margins (slums) with poverty and destitution. Class, caste, poverty and education levels determine the unorganized sector workers’ labour power. Scattered, they are unable to organize themselves and demand justice. However, recent resurgence of the unorganized sector workers, leading to collectivisations like the Safai Karamcharis Union, Construction Workers Union, Self Employed Women’s Association etc. give some hope for future.

This May, Bodhi is presenting a special edition on the workers’ struggles. The edition would carry articles that specifically speak about the history and relevance of changing strategies for workers’ struggles, changing notions of struggles, and articles on a range of workers’ struggles from both organized and unorganized sectors. This edition is in no way a complete account of all the workers’ struggles, but a glimpse of the issues that the workers take forward. At a time when the government is vigorously imposing labour reforms and pushing neoliberal policies, a reflection of these struggles and the lessons learned from them are significant to move forward with determination. Ultimately what matters is to understand the changing dynamics of workers’ struggles and consolidate power to resist the exploitation of workers.


We express our special gratitude to all the authors who contributed for this special edition and Shammi for his excellent illustrations.