ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Labour, Class and Economy: Rethinking Trade Union Struggle

The fundamental challenge before the trade union movement is to find a new discursive space which will allow it to accommodate the reality of diverse labour practices and relate these practices to their created, appropriated and distributed wealth. For this to happen, the authors' provide a theory of labour that incorporates the varied labour practices and the manner in which wealth from these practices are appropriated, distributed and received, thereby widening the imagination of what is possible in trade union practice.

It is by now a commonplace argument that the trade union movement in general and the Indian trade union movement in particular is, at best, under strain and, at worst, in a state of crisis [Thomas 1995; Tulpule 1996; Munck 2002; Hariss 2003]. The following conversation between Luis Anderson (a leading Latin American trade unionist of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions) and Bruno Trentin (a leading Italian trade unionist) that was recorded in the mid-1990s by Munck points directly to the heart of the problem:The objective of representing informal work in our countries implies a true cultural revolution and, yes, it would be a bit like going back and confronting situations, conditions and strategies similar to those the trade union movement confronted when it was born. We need to broaden the base of representativity, widen it to include new categories or workers, to include and offer representation to those not enrolled. This would reinforce the representativity and democratic nature of the union. We speak of a cultural revolution, because it means changing com-pletely the horizon of trade union strategy and to change, at the same time, the forms of representation which the trade union had adopted for a whole century [Anderson and Trentin in Munck 2002: 127].Two aspects stand out. The first aspect concerns the need to produce a new imagination through, literally, the production of a new language of trade unionism. The second aspect locates the structural problem (such as the “discovery” of the informal sector) into which the received trade union activism has stumbled and lost its bearing. Far from being independent of one another, we, like the interlocutors, contend that the two aspects are intrinsi-cally related. Against this background, it would not be too far-fetched to argue that the fundamental challenge before the trade union movement is to find a new discursive space which will allow it to accommodate the rather diverse labour practices as also relate these to their created, appropriated and distributed wealth. Worldwide, attempts are being made to revive the faltering concept of trade unionism by recreating the meaning of labour-ing practices and in the process open new spaces for possible trade union intervention. In India, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and even traditional unions such as the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) could be shown to be cultivating hitherto “unconventional” sites. While such “prag-matic” interventions capture an increasing acceptance on the part of trade unions and social movements to accommodate diverse labour practices, they lack a theory of labour that will (i) incorporate within its discursive terrain the varied labouring practicesasalsomake possible their demarcation and comparison, and(ii)explicate why and how the wealth from diverse labour 
ractices are appropriated, distributed and received in their specific forms and what are their possible effects and impacts on other social processes in society. Answering these questions hold immense importance in fashioning a new language of trade unionism in the process of carving out fresh avenues of social intervention and providing meanings to them. As Luis Anderson and Bruno Trentin observed so perceptively, the crisis of trade union imagination cannot be shaken off as long as a gap between theory and practice remains.At this juncture, this paper intervenes in two ways. First, it lays down a theory of labour which encompasses diverse labouring practices and the equally varied manners in which wealth resulting from the labouring practices are appropriated, distributed and received. This perspective of labour in which we ground a new meaning of the trade union follows a particular Marxist approach that seeks to produce an alternative economic cartography in terms of class defined as the processesof performance, appropri-ation, distribution and receipt of surplus labour [Marx 1967, 1969; Resnick and Wolff 1987, 2002; Gibson-Graham 1996, Gibson-Graham, Resnick and Wolff 2002, Chakrabarti and Cullenberg 2003, Chakrabarti, Cullenberg and Dhar 2007a]. Second,we claim that this class-focused economic cartography makes possible a new language of labour that takes us beyond the problematic terrain of a homogeneous “working class” into a more heterogeneous space of diverse economic organisations with their equally heterogeneous labouring practices. In this regard, an inability to incorporate this economic cartography with its diverse labouring practices can only circumscribe the imagination of what is the possible field of trade union practice. The above mentioned category of class is sharply distinguished from both non-Marxian and other Marxian definitions of class. They differ in two respects. First, the convention renditions of class exclude or demote the element of surplus labour from their definitions of class and, in contrast, define class in terms ofproperty or power or consciousness or even some composition of these and more elements such as income, status, prestige, ethnicity, etc. In contrast, Resnick and Wolff (1987) insist on Marx’sentrypoint of surplus labour as the process around which class is defined. They argued that the surplus labour definitionofclassbrings its own uniqueness to bear on social analysisandpolicythat cannot be reduced to power, property or income based definition of class. Second, almost all other theories understand class as a noun, that is, homogeneous group of persons. Hindess (1987, 1988), Chakrabarti and Cullenberg (Chs 1 and 3) and Chakrabarti,Cullenbergand Dhar(2007b) argue that,ingeneral,class cannot act, that is, class cannot be concep-tualisedasasocial actor and, moreover, no matter how it is bended in Marxian theory, a noun version of class is logically inconsistent and unsustainable. These two critiques of the noun version of class provide the ground to move towards an understanding of class as an adjective to a verb (class process or process of surplus labour). Our adopted concept of class as process of surplus labour and the class-focused economic cartography it enables will not only problematise the received notion of labour, worker and working class. In the process, it provides fresh and combative ground for rethinking the imagination and strategy of trade unionism. To exemplify the scope of our class-focused analysis and the kind of new horizon it opens up for rethinking trade unionism, we take up the case of “self-employment” and disinter that category to reveal the diverse existence of labouring practices it telescopes. This also points to the difficulty of organising such diverse existences of workers, a kind of challenge that trade unions must fathom and confront. Rather than address the case for a Marxian standpoint regarding the direction in which Marxists would like trade unions to move, this paper is limited to highlighting a unique Marxian discursive space of contemplating labour and how it questions, unsettles and displaces received imaginations of trade unionism, Marxian and non-Marxian alike. Insofar as transforming the language and strategy of trade unionism is con-cerned, we shall show how and why the class-focused discursive horizon of labour has something new to offer.A Marxist Theory of Labour and WealthWe use the class-focused Marxian analysis to present the conception of a decentred and disaggregated economy that harbors multiple forms of labouring practice thereby making the reduction of labouring space into a homogeneous “working class” problematic. To arrive at the definition of class, we begin with the labour process in which total labour time exerted by the direct produc-ers in the process of creating goods and services is divided into necessary labour and surplus labour. Necessary labour comprises of the performance or “doing” that pays off (wage in money or kind) for the socially determined basket of goods and services needed to sustain the worker. Performance of labour beyond necessary labour is called surplus labour. For analytical convenience, those who perform surplus labour are defined as direct producers. The surplus product equivalent of surplus labour when exchanged for money is said to acquire the form of surplus value. Sometimes, surplus labour remains in the form of surplus product if they are directly consumed as use value without being exchanged for money, as is the case in the household. Both surplus value and surplus produce are thus forms of surplus labour. Whether as surplus produce or surplus value, surplus labour is appropriated by some entity and distributed by the same. The distributed por-tion of surplus, as Engels pointed out, falls into the hands of the rest of the society in various divisible amounts. This conception of surplus that connects the labouring process to the existence and flow of wealth is central to Marxist theory.These four processes of performance, appropriation, distribu-tion andreceipt of surplus labour are defined as class. The worth of surplus labour in money (as surplus value) or kind (as surplus produce) is the discretionary wealth of society available to be appropriated, distributed and received after having, first, deducted the payments of the direct producers of the wealth in the form of wages (again in money or kind) which, by definition, is the neces-sary labour equivalent and, second, the payments on account of the purchase of the means of production. Marxist theory uses the category of appropriation to differentiate the various forms of surplus labour in any institutional setting: The essential difference between the various economic forms of society, between, for instance, a society based on slave labour, and
one based on wage-labour, lies only in the mode in which this surplus labour is in each case extracted from the actual producer, the labourer [Marx 1954-67, vol I, p 217].There are three possibilities. The process of appropriation can be exploitative if the direct producers are excluded from the proc-ess of appropriation. The enterprises are non-exploitative if the direct producers are not excluded from the process of appropria-tion; instead, in some commonly decided manner, they share in the process of appropriation. Finally, the process of appropriation is self-appropriating if both the performance and appropriation of surplus labour is done individually. Taking the cue from Marx’s impulse and its elaboration in Resnick and Wolff (1987), Chaudhury and Chakrabarti (2000) re-formulated the organisation of surplus in terms of a complex of fundamentally dissimilar man-ners in which performance and appropriation of surplus labour can possibly take place. This is given in the accompanying table.Direct labour (A) is labour that is performed individually in the production of goods or serv-ices. Non-labour (B) is a category symbolising the place of some-body who is not directly producing any goods or services. Collec-tive labour (C) refers to the mass of labourers who together pro-duce goods or services. In any combination,thefirstalphabetindi-cates the production of surplus labourandthesecondstandsfor the appropriation of surplus labour. In the above matrix,AA andCC designate independent class process and communistic class process respectively, while AC andCA represent two forms of community class process, and the rest, AB andCB map out different kinds of exploitative class processes to be further classified as capitalist class process, feudal class proc-ess and slave class process. Let us define these class processes.In capitalist class process, the surplus labour produced by the direct producers qua productive labourers is appropriated by pro-ductive capitalists through a unique combination of values com-prising of labour power, of the means of production and surplus value. This commodity form could be market-driven or state-sponsored and, the appropriators could be privately placed or connected to the state. Depending upon the specific relation of commodity and appropriators to the state or private, capitalist class process could be state or private [Resnick and Wolff 2002].Slave class process is defined as the appropriation of surplus labour of slaves by their non-performing masters in a setting where the slave-master relation is based on the condition that the one set of human beings (master) retains possession of the labour power of another set of human beings (slaves) in perpetuity [Weiner 2003: 33-48]. Accordingly, there is no market for slave labour power that would allow for its buying and selling or its free entry and exit from the clutches of the master. What exists instead is the market for slaves, the buying and selling of humans. Feudal class process refers to another exploitative arrange-ment where the serf produces the surplus labour which is appro-priated by the non-performing lords. Here the relation between serf and lord, while not similar to the property nature of the slave, is still defined in terms of a personalised form of bondage grounded on loyalty, fealty, kinship, and so on.Under communist class process,CC, both performance and appropriation happen collectively. It epitomises a non-exploitative form of appropriation since the direct producers are not ex-cluded from the process of appropriation;rather, they share in that process. Resnick and Wolff have talked about two kinds of communist class process – typeI, where “all adult individuals in society participate collectively in that class process as appropriators of surplus labour, but only some individuals (a small number) perform surplus labour” (1988: 21); and, typeII, where “only those particular individuals who perform surplus labour collectively appropriate it” (1988:21). In typeII communist class process, only the direct producers and nobody else appropriates the surplus labour. In typeI com-munist class process, a community of people greater than but not excluding the direct producers appropriate the surplus labour. Independent class process,AA, is non-exploitative because the individual producer appropriates his own surplus labour individually. CA communitic class process signifies a situation where work is done collectively (C) in sense of being shared but one member (A) of the collective appropriates the total surplus labour of everybody including his own.CA type class process is exploita-tive since some direct producers are excluded from the process of appropriation. An example would be a family farm where the entire family (head of the family, brothers, sisters, children, wife, cousin, etc) takes part in the production process collectively but only one performer, say, the “head” of the family, is the sole appropriator of surplus which he then distributes according to some socially defined norm. AC communiticclass process symbolises a situation whereper-formance of surplus labour is done individually (A) while appro-priation is collective (C). Take a male table producer who, say, individually creates and the appropriates the surplus, which he then distributes according to some principle. This class process in which the surplus labour is performed and appropriated individ-ually is clearly independent. Now suppose that the family under-goes a change in gender perception such that the individual pro-ducer’s family comes to a conclusion that whatever surplus exists should be collectively appropriated. Correspondingly, with this altered cultural condition of existence, the previously independent class process undergoes a dramatic change in its type. The class type becomesAC communitic since now while the performance of surplus labour is individual, the appropriation is collective. In any society, all these different organisations of performance and appropriation of surplus labour would coexist in specific relations of constitutivity or overdetermination with distinct sets of processes of distribution and receipt of surplus labour and other non-class processes. These non-class processes include notonly the non-class economic processes, but also the political, cultural and natural processes. An enterprise is a conceptual site comprising a specific cluster of class and non-class processes and is therefore not simply an economic institution but a social institution. Consider an indus-trial capitalist enterprise. In order for the capitalist enterprise Table: Different Forms of Performance and Appropriation of Surplus Labour Appropriation Direct Non- Collective LabourlabourLabour Performance (A) (B) (C) AA AB AC CA CB CC
to reproduce itself, the industrial capitalist must distribute its surplus value in such a way as to satisfy a number of various conditions of existence. Such conditions comprise of an economic process (such as exchanging commodities in the market or using part of surplus value for the process of further accumulation of capital), a political process (such as paying the managers to supervise the workers or paying the state to keep the workers and unions under control), a cultural process (such as paying for advertisement to create a certain image of the commodity produced by the enterprise) and a natural process (such as paying for keeping the working environment dust free). Other constitut-ing conditions of existence could include processes of gender, caste, property and so on. No longer reducible to the economic process of class or any other entity, the enterprise instead is an overdetermined site of processes of surplus labour and their related economic, cultural, political and natural processes. Cross-ing the public-private division, these enterprises exist across the social terrain spanning sites in industry, agriculture, state, house-hold and even the unlikely sites of media, temple, university, brothel, sport, etc. The class-focused economy would comprise of a specific con-figuration of capitalist, slave, feudal, CA communitic, AC commu-nitic, communist and independent class enterprises, that is, con-figuration of class and related non-class processes containing a complex array of an overdetermined set of activities, practices and social relationships. Not only is the class-focused economy not a homogeneous space, the very concept of an economy as such, existing somehow independently from the rest of the society, with its own independent “economic” logic, cannot be sustained in thisMarxist theory (Gibson-Graham 1996). What, when, where and how we produce, distribute and consume are not simply matters of economy. They are grossly constituted by processes related to power (authority-hierarchy), culture (meaning) and nature. Because the economy cannot be reduced to any one type of class configuration such as capitalist or feudal, it is decentred. Moreover, because each class enterprise is unique by virtue of a specific combination of class and non-class processes, no one enterprise can be reduced to another. The economy is thus also inherently disaggregated. The decentred and disaggregated economy presents a unique field of labour practices with their associated array of created, appropriated, distributed and received wealth. This comes against the backdrop of a remarkable phase in the history of the trade union movement in which the decen-tered and disaggregated economy and its connected labour practices were reduced to the capitalists (private and/or state) andthe “proletariat” which, from our class-focused approach, is not only logically illegitimate, but also produced its own set of problems as discussed below. The Problem of Trade Unionism in the Classical SettingOne of the biggest challenges for the trade union movement in the recent time is the disarticulation and dismembering of the imagined homogenous “working class” space. While there appeared sharp differences between unions regarding capitalism or communism as the end of history, what had hitherto united both Marxists and non-Marxists alike have been the acceptance of a social division between the capitalist and working class/industrial proletariat.Defining class as a homogenous group of conscious social actors and placing working class at the centre of a teleological evolution of history (as exemplified by historical materialism) had a deep impact on the meaning and role of radical trade unionism. Radi-cal trade unionism simply did not mean distributional struggles (such as asking for increased wage and better working conditions). It also became geared towards enacting structural transforma-tion of society such as changing the structure of ownership or power and so on though, in line with a general occlusion or demotion of surplus labour, rarely did the transformation of exploitative mode of appropriation towards non-exploitative form become the target of such interventions [Resnick and Wolff 2002]. In contrast, in the non-Marxian space, trade unionism pertained to economic struggles concerning working conditions and wages, and to rectify somewhat the balance between the propertied and non-propertied, powerful or powerless and so on. While Marxist trade unions and non-Marxist trade unions differed on this purported division between the political (revolutionary) versus economic (social democratic) emphasis of trade union practices and the proposed directions of “class struggle”, none questioned the site of factory (and, generally, of the public space) as the centre stage of trade union struggle and the industrial pro-letariat a la working class as the singular subject of class struggle. Undoubtedly, the long drawn struggle of trade unions produced significant worldwide impact on social life and its transition across the globe. However, they also had two shortcomings: (i) the assumption of industrial proletariat as the principle and, often, singular subject of trade union struggle and, at times, figure of revolution and/or (ii) the presumption of factory-based struggles as the centre or fundamental site of social struggle to bring about the transition of society. It was believed that other social groups and their struggles were less fundamental to the factory based working class and its struggle and consequently were either ignored or demoted. Even if, at times, they were considered important as is the case with peasant struggle, such struggles were considered subsumed under the leadership of the working class. This assigned role of the social groups and their associated struggles in terms of the centricity of factory-based working class was part of the world-view that considered “progress” as an inevitable journey from the “agrarian” traditional setting to an industrial modern setting in which the population would ultimately get divided between the working class and capitalist class. Consequently, the presumption of the working class qua industrial proletariat as a homogeneous and singular figure of societal change displaced not only the importance of other struggles within society, but also distorted the meaning of trade unionism itself. The other figures of labour – the self-employed, serf, peasant, home workers, slaves, etc – lost out or, at best, when organised, found themselves in a secondary role vis-a-vis the working class. That is, the other struggles were either excluded or demoted in the dominant domain of trade union imagination. Moreover, the association of working class with the industrial proletariat meant that the private space of household or family
based enterprises (in industry, agriculture and elsewhere) became purloined sites of trade union gaze and intervention. Trade unionism became coterminous with the “rational”, rather masculine, public space. It is notable that, from a class-focused perspective, such a private-public division is illegitimate. If trade unionism is to be concerned with labour practices and their associated processes of wealth creation, appropriation, distribution and receipt, then the site and manner of their occurrence cannot be a matter of consideration except in so far as fixing the strategy and mode of trade union intervention within these are concerned. The class-focused Marxist approach debunks the noun-based concept of class as a homogenous group of conscious actors and any suggestion of working class as a singular historical figure of change. As we show, the worker and working class is extracted from “industrial proletariat” and grounded on an altered field of diverse labour practices and their associated processes of creation, appropriation, distribution and receipt of wealth. This altered field informs a new language of trade union struggle. The (Un)Making of ‘Worker’ and ‘Working Class’The term “worker” is a disaggregated category that can be, to begin with, clubbed into two types: productive and unproductive.The term “productive” labour refers to the direct producers who create surplus value in a capitalist enterprise in order for its appropria-tion by “productive” capitalists [Marx 1954, 1969; Resnick and Wolff 1987, chapters 3 and 4].1 The rest of labouring activities are dubbed as unproductive. Who are the “unproductive” labourers? At an elementary level, the unproductive labourers can take various forms. First, unproductive labour includes those whose labour enables the “productive labourers” to produce the surplus value. These unproductive labourers include the managers, clerks, supervisors, sales and marketing agents, etc, who receive a wage from the productive capitalists for providing “internal” conditions of existence. Second, part of the surplus value is dis-tributed to other “unproductive capitalists” such as the merchant capitalists, the bank capitalists and the shareholder capitalists as also other institutions such as the state, auditing enterprises and so on for providing various conditions of existence to the capital-ist enterprise that enables the productive capitalist to complete the processes of extracting and appropriating the surplus value from the productive workers. The “unproductive capitalists”, state and other enterprises employ a host of workers – the second array of unproductive labourers such as clerks, accountants, managers, supervisors, bureaucrats, accountants, etc – to ensure that the guaranteed “external” conditions (such as the processes of buying and selling commodities, lending money or lending ownership capital, providing legal and political conditions, audit-ing the accounts) are completed against which they receive wages as a component of the surplus value already distributed to the “unproductive capitalists”, state and so forth. Thirdly, unproduc-tive labourers will include those direct producers who exert sur-plus labour in non-capitalist enterprises. Consequently, direct producers pertaining to slave, feudal, communist, communitic (CA andAC type) and independent are also a segment of “unpro-ductive” labourers. Finally, there are labourers providing those conditions of existence that enable direct producers in non-capitalist enterprises to produce surplus and for the appropriators of this surplus to complete the process of appropriation.The term “productive” as against “unproductive” was used by Marx and is important for Marxist theory because it helps locate and differentiate the roles and relationships of capitalist and worker in surplus creation and appropriation, that is, differenti-ate the mode of exploitation in capitalist class enterprise from other modes of appropriation as also the sphere of circulation. This differentiation was never to emphasise that productive workers are superior to unproductive workers as many Marxists falsely believed. In Marx’s own words, He [the unproductive labourer] performs a necessary function, because the process of reproduction itself includes unproductive functions (1967a: 2, 131).In the production of commodities, circulation is as necessary as produc-tion itself, so that circulation agents are just as much needed as pro-duction agents…But this furnishes no ground for confusing the agents of circulation with those of production…[Marx 1967: 2, 126-27]. In other words, Marx was conceptually distinguishing produc-tive labourers from unproductive labourers not only to highlight the specificity of capitalist existence from other institutional forms, but he was also clearly hinting at how even the “industrial proletariat” is disaggregated. Consider the case of a capitalist class enterprise, say, a corporation in which the productive capi-talists personified by the board of directors appropriate and dis-tributed the surplus labour of its productive labourers. The condi-tions of existence of the performance, appropriation, distribution and receipt of surplus value of a corporate capitalist enterprise could be divided into “external” and “internal” conditions. The external conditions of existence may include processes in-volving shareholder capitalists, bank capitalists, merchant capi-talists, state, etc. For providing various conditions of existence, the owners/directors/ministries of their institutions receive a distributed amount of surplus and hence are occupying a class position of being receivers of surplus value. The class positions of bankers, merchants, shareholders, state bureaucrats/ministries, and so on must not be confused with the labourers who work for them.Take the case of bank capitalists who activate the non-class process of advancing money loan to the productive capitalist against which they receive a portion of surplus value from the productive capitalist. The process of advancing loans is itself not a process of surplus labour (hence not a class process) while that of receipt of payments is certainly one since it is a first hand dis-tributed portion of surplus value. To produce the latter condition, the process of advancing loan must materialise. For that to happen, the bank capitalists employ an army of workers such as managers and assistants (accountants, clerks, dealers, etc). In this bank enterprise, the managers and assistants are no longer receivers of surplus value, but their wage income is in fact a com-ponent of an already distributed surplus value that has fallen at the hand of the bank capitalist. The managers and assistants too are unproductive workers who participate in the non-class process of lending money capital which then the bank capitalist, advance to the “productive capitalists” in capitalist class enterprise.
In this case, the unproductive workers must not be confused withthe productive workers who produce surplus value for the productive capitalists. Other than the external conditions of existence, various “internal” conditions of existence occur within the capitalist enterprise. Non-class economic processes (such as exchanges of the means of production and labour power, sale of produced com-modities, etc), cultural processes (say, the process of advertising the product), political process (the process of controlling the behaviour of workers), natural processes (say, the process of controlling the environment in the shop floor) would typically constitute the processes of performance, appropriation, distribution and receipt of surplus labour against which a host of agents (such as managers, accountants, clerks, artists, marketing personnel and supervisors) are employed by the corporations to activate these conditions of existence. These processes are strictly speak-ing non-class processes and the agents or workers performing these activities for the capitalist enterprise are “internal” unpro-ductive workers whose “wages” are paid out from the total surplus value produced by the productive workers and appropriated by the productive capitalist. This above described differentiation between the productive and unproductive workers and then between varied kinds of unproductive workers in a capitalist corporation help us locate and differentiate the multiple positions occupied by the workers in concrete reality, sometimes even in conflict with one another. This dis-aggregation of “workers” gets further enhanced if one includes the workers of other non-capitalist class enterprises and those workers providing their “internal” and “external” condi-tions of existence. Through the distinction between productive and unproductive worker, the class-focused Marxist theory is able to (i) show the disaggregated nature of the term “worker” and resultantly (ii) clearly locate and demarcate the productive workers in capitalist enterprises from workers involved in labour-ing activities elsewhere. Our representation of a disaggregated workforce is in contra-distinction to the rather homogenous representation of “working class” meaning either the productive workers in the capitalist class enterprise or at best additionally inclusive of those (internal and external workers) who provide conditions of existence to the capitalist class enterprise. Whether it is the privileging of produc-tive workers or a group of productive and unproductive workers attached to the capitalist class enterprise, our class-focused Marxist approach cannot accommodate and hence rejects, not the existence, but the discursive privileging of “industrial” or “organised” sector workers. We believe that in so far as the struggle gets connected to changing the class character of capitalist enterprises or referring to a change in an order built on the centricity of capital (call it capitalism), the term “working class” can be deployed metaphori-cally to highlight the various ill effects of capitalism on the work-ing population as a whole. Such ill effects would include the instances and impacts of, to name a few, exploitation, unfair distribution and inequality, plunder, marginalisation and coloni-sation. In this case, the role of trade unions (and of other social organisations) in imagining and strategising the complex array of struggles pertaining to diverse and often contradictory labour practices within the metaphor of “working class” against, say, capitalism, will be vital. However, such a deployment of “workingclass” as an imagined community is a far cry from the conventional understanding of working class as a self-proclaimedhomogeneous group of social actor. Displaced Understanding of Trade Union Struggle In the class-focused Marxist approach, class struggle is not fundamentally a struggle between two homogeneous groups of persons. Instead, it is essentially seen as a struggle over class processes undertaken not by a pre-given “working class”, but contingently emerging community of actors (individual or social), including but not exclusively the trade unions [Resnick and Wolff 1987, Chakrabarti, Cullenberg and Dhar 2007b]. The two funda-mental issues of class struggles are: (i) to fight for changes in the performance and appropriation of surplus labour which could lead to a change in forms of enterprises (say, changes within the same type of capitalist class enterprise) and/or in the types of enterprises (say, a change from capitalist class enterprise to communist one).(ii) to fight for changes in the distribution and receipt of sur-plus labourin order to transform the conditions of existence that underlie performance and appropriation of surplus labourand thus effect the process of distribution and receipt of wealth. Examples of class struggles are diverse and cover a wide span: the housewife struggling against the other family members and relatives over the manner of performing surplus labour inside the household, the workers in an enterprise struggling against the productive capitalist or against the state bureaucracy to win the right to appropriate and distribute the surplus or, say, the distri-butional struggle between the managers/board of directors and the unions in the tea gardens regarding who is entitled to receive how much of the surplus – the tea garden workers for the purpose of hospital and school or the profit claimants for further invest-ment in share market. Whether those who struggle over class processes are aware or unaware of these struggles as class struggles do not alter the fact that their intervention produces effects on the class processes and hence constitute class struggle. It is another matter that interpellating the subjects to the language of class will make them aware of the effects of their interventions and, consequently, enable them to take conscious positionanddecision regarding the direction the class processes are changing as also the direction in which they would like class processes to change, which is indeed why trade union interventions remain important.We further broaden the purview of trade union struggles. Struggles that take shape over natural, political, economic (otherthan class) and cultural processes providing conditions of existence for the class processes are non-class struggles. From a class-focused Marxian perspective, these struggles are relevant for trade unions not simply because they are important in their own right (which these are), but also for the reason that they determine the specific evolution of class processes and hence of the enterprises. These are then not strictly class struggles,
but certainly constitute the class-focused discursive terrain beckoning trade union interventions. Consider the bank employees taking part in non-class processes in banking enterprise. Struggles over these non-class processes are definitionally non-class struggles except when the bank workers demand that they and not the bank capitalists (say, its board of directors) be the direct receivers of surplus value from productive capitalists. For example, the ongoing struggle of bank unions in India against the outsourcing of banking activities is a non-class struggle whose resolution could have important effects not only on the concerned enterprises, including the class posi-tion of bank capitalist as receivers of surplus value, but it might spill over into other class enterprises as well since, by virtue of being provider of conditions of existence, any change in the non-class processes within the bank will have an overdetermined effect on class processes within the capitalist enterprise and vice versa. Similarly, struggle over legal (political) conditions such as that concerning the second National Labour Commission Report [Chakrabarti and Dasgupta 2007], struggle over gender condi-tions that constitute who will perform which kind of labour and who will remain the “head” of the family or household enterprise so as to enjoy the right of appropriating and distributing surplus [Chakrabarti and Dhar 2007] and so on are all non-class struggles that constitute class processes and could be potentially seen as part of trade union imagination and activities. The above field of class struggle contrasts sharply with the conventional wisdom of trade unionism in which labour is by definition a noun and that too belonging to a paradigm that sees the social space as necessarily split between (productive) capital-ists and the proletariat/working class. Under this conventional wisdom, trade unions were seen as attempting to overcome the proletariat-capitalist setting by embracing new settings such as communism and/or protect the proletariat from the capitalists by undertaking various struggles at the level of working conditions and distribution. However, different labouring practices make it increasingly difficult to reconcile a rather decentred and disag-gregated concrete reality with that of an assumed reality within which all kinds of labour are subsumed into a homogeneous and privileged category of working class qua industrial proletariat. The gap between the categorisation of “working class” as a homogeneous group of conscious actors moored to industry/public space and the rather disaggregated existence of the work-ing population is simply unbridgeable. In this context, any tendency of trade unions to see any kind of aberrations as a derivative existence of either the productive capitalists or working class were understandably criticised as inadequate and myopic. Consequently, efforts to smoothen the complexity by reducing the diverse labouring practices into the capitalist-proletariat duality in order to then function within this assumed duality could be seen as displacing rather than addressing the trouble-some presence of a multiplicity of labouring practices. The inability to account for multiple forms of labouring practices and provide language to the complex array of class processes and class-related situation of conflicts that occur outside the proletariat-capitalist setting have been one important reason for the recent decline in trade unionism, both in its prestige and membership. As Luis Anderson and Bruno Trentin remarked, any effort at arresting this decline must begin by addressing the issue of ab-sence of language for these rather unconventional struggles that take an acute form in settings that are distinctly different from the presumed classical setting of capitalist and proletariat. Far from ignoring the classical forms of class struggle as, say, taking place within the factory, this additionally involves recognising and articulating class struggles in unfamiliar spaces where the classical setting of capitalist-proletariat is absent. As an exempli-fication, we turn to “self-employment”, a category which the trade unions are now being forced to negotiate with and accom-modate in their imagined space of intervention. The Spectre of Self-employment The category of “self-employed” is a far cry from the classical set-ting of working class. Trade unions working within the working class-capitalist class duality are evidently ill equipped to handle this moment of “abnormality”.2 As part of this dualistic paradigm, the “self-employed” is seen as “ab-normal”, a relic of the past or with suspicion as epitomising symbols of capitalists’ attempt to break up the unity of working class or with sympathy who must somehow be attempted to be made server to the working class ideal or sometimes even as a sign of entrepreneurship and outside the purview of labour and hence trade unions. All these figures of self-employment are seen as presenting a hurdle for the working class movement and often are displayed as a symbolic figure capturing the failure and irrelevance of trade unions to accom-modate diverse labouring practices. Indeed, it is a failure if we imprison the meaning of trade union within the conventional rendition of labour. In contrast, within the class-focused Marxian framework of labour, this is no longer true.A class-focused Marxian analysis represents an economy that telescoped diverse labouring activities, including those of the self-employed. Consequently, any attempt to articulate class struggles from this perspective must come face to face with these differences. And this forces a reconsideration of trade union activities and its scope of social struggles that it must comprehend as part of its effort to change the concerned site and even the social system. Since labouring activities take various forms, trade unions must be flexible to incorporate these forms into their band of struggles and this changes the meaning of trade unionism as well. The difficulty for trade unions gets compounded if it is recog-nised that, from the perspective of the individual, the meaning of self-employment can take different forms. For example, while the processes in which a person is participating are part of an enterprise, the individual may be taken in by the category of self-employment and views himself as somehow independent and would thus like to be seen as self-employed. This immediately complicates trade union activities in terms of articulating this perception of the individual with that of struggles within and in terms of the enterprise. What is required is a language to locate and articulate the presence of these differences as part and par-cel of a decentred and disaggregated concrete reality and that is exactly what the class-focused analysis provides. We integrate and expand Hotch (2000) in terms of our diverse class matrix and explicate how the organisation of surplus labour
becomes diverse when it hits the category of self-employment which hides within itself a quite remarkable array of class processes – self-appropriating, exploitative and non-exploitative. Thus, what we are emphasising here is not simply the diverse labour practices within the decentred and disaggregated economic field, but also the various social forms in which self-employment is deemed to exist. That is, the seemingly uniform category of “self-employment” itself needs to be unpacked in terms of organi-sations of surplus. Accordingly, the trade unions must come to terms with disaggregation pertaining to both the economy and self-employment in trying to locate the site and shape of class struggles. This further highlights the problem as also the irrele-vance of reducing class struggle into the classical setting of capitalist and proletariat. One can think of our explication as trying to provide a class language to an already existing trade unionism concerning “self-employment” as also referring to those situations in the realm of possibilities. We start by delving into self-employment as independent class enterprise. We have defined independent enterprise by the feature of self-appropriation, that is, where the performance and appropriation of surplus labour is done individually. In this case, necessary labour and surplus labour is performed individually and surplus labour is appropriated and subse-quently distributed by the same individual. Such independent enterprise may exist with commodity or non-commodity forms of distribution of the output and could exist in the so-called private (household) or public space. One can imagine an important role for the trade unions in rela-tion to independent class enterprise. For example, the trade unions may intervene to ensure the flow of loan capital at a cheaperthan market rate in order to secure a condition of existence forthe independent class processes or they could intervene to extract tax benefits for such enterprises. In another example, we can imagine the trade unions intervening to ensure suitable training facilities for the individual producers and/or adopt new techno-logies and so on. Such interventions may require the trade unions to intervene at the level of state and to seek transfers from the state. Such transfers would guarantee some indispensable conditions of existence without which the independent class enterprise would not survive in their current state or in some form considered desirable. The conditions of existence could even be external to the independent enterprises such as struggling to bring in new legal protections or stop the extinc-tion of existing legal protection for goods and services produced by the independent enterprises. The trade unions may also have to intervene in order to defend and protect the right of self-appropriation as a legitimate form of economic existence (thus intervening at the level of political parties, media and other venues of knowledge formation) and to prevent the trans-formation of the class enterprise from its self-appropriating status to an exploitative one, another form of self-employment to which we move next. We now move to that possibility of self-employment in which those who perform surplus labour do not appropriate it. For example, it might very well be the case that an enterprise (a local company or multinational) could have certain decentralised operations. It could employ individuals in their respective house-holds by remunerating them with wage or in terms of piece rate, say, at their necessary labour equivalent. The enterprise may have such contracts with large number of independent producers whose products it collects as its own private property and sells in the market. The difference in the price of the individually produced commodity and the wage rate paid to the workers plus any referred cost of the means of production is the surplus value that is appropriated by the non-performing exploiter. In terms of our class matrix, such forms of “self-employment” would resemble what we described asAB type exploitative class process. This type of class enterprise in which surplus labour is performed internally while its appropriation and distribution is external couldbe seen as attractive from the exploiters’ point of view for the following reasons. One can have an extreme case where the exploiter may not bother about the conditions of existence of the individual labour process. At other times, the exploiter may provide some conditions of existence for the individual producer such as loan capital to purchase necessary inputs, but would avoid other subsumed payments (such as say paying rent to landlord or taxes to the state). Either way, the individual producer is here taking responsibility for some or all conditions of existence that should have been borne by the exploiter in the sensethatpayments would have had to be disbursed for the samebythelatter, which are now avoided under AB organisation of surplus. Thus, once such payments are accounted, the net remuneration that the individual producer received from the exploiter may be less than the socially necessary equivalent he needs to reproduce his labouring capacity. In fact, if he disburses these payments from his wage income, the individual producer may very well be living under the condition of poverty. Since, effectively, the individual producer is not getting the necessary labour equivalent, the exploiter could in this case be seen as engaging in a process of super-exploitation. This super-exploitation enables the exploiter to appropriate and distribute higher amount of surplus value than would otherwise be the case. One can imagine a host of possible trade union intervention in ensuring that workers are not super-exploited and able to secure their necessary labour equivalent if not more. This it can do by asking the state to enact laws to stop such practices (imposing the minimum wage under varying circumstances of, say, sharing and not-sharing input costs of production) and/or it could directly engage in a struggle with the exploiters to com-pel them to fix the wage rate under varying circumstances as also provide a share of its appropriated surplus value in favour of the individual producers. One can even imagine trade union intervention to change the very type of class enterprise from its previously exploitative moorings into a non-exploitative one. By intervening at the node of appropriation of surplus, it could substitute the exploiters witha non-exploitative arrangement. That is, not only are the individual producers not excluded from the process of appropriation. Instead they could, say, through a (marketing) cooperative, col-lectivelyparticipate in the process of appropriation (and distri-bution) of surplus. This is akin to what was described as theAC communitic class process. To achieve this would require an

Gibson-Graham, J K, S Resnick and R Wolff (2000): Class and Its Others, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London.

Dear reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top