Exploitative Informal Labour Process in India: a conceptualisation

Azim Premji University,


This working paper will focus on conceptualising why informal labour continues to persist in the Indian economy. More specifically, it will try to theorise why, despite generating growth, informal labour has been locked in unequal and exploitative terms of contracts. Crucially, it will try to understand why informal labour processes do not evolve mechanisms for providing security and support to labour in the form of benefits and rights. In this paper, I will focus specifically on highly exploitative and unequal informal labour processes. I categorise under this category those labour processes that do not provide a mechanism to reproduce labour power. These processes are predicated on maximising the appropriation of surplus from labour, without providing any provision to support the workers in ill health, facing work related accidents and injuries, or due to retrenchment. While informal labour is defined as labour without legal rights or contracts, I specifically focus on those processes where there do not exist any norms or mechanisms of providing security to labour within the production process. Hence, I refer to these processes as highly exploitative and unequal labour processes. This paper will be structured in the following manner. Firstly, it will introduce the concept of labour process and argue that highly exploitative informal labour processes in India broadly fall into two distinct labour processes namely: informal coercive accumulation process and petty commodity production. It will then derive concepts from the Paris Regulation School to modify the labour process framework. It will then describe concrete case studies conducted by other researchers, to demonstrate that this framework can be utilised to make sense of field work based research on the informal sector. Lastly, I will assess the questions posed in this paper based on the derived framework and will argue that informality is connected to the nature of capitalist development in India.