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Conversations with Workers

Eco-labour’s Challenge to the Neo-liberal Understanding of Nature

A conversation is constructed around three themes that mediate the encounter between labour and nature. The first is external pollution and internal hazards, that workers know it is the same toxins affecting their workplace that are responsible for the impact on the environment. The second is collective labour and cumulative nature, that as workers collectivise at work to press their demands for justice, they become conscious of the cumulative impact of labour on ecosystems. The third is externalities and exertions, that the invisible costs of production immanent in waste streams are similar to the invisible appropriation of labour’s surplus. These three streams are brought together to show how labour’s alienation from nature is not rooted in the nature of labour, but is a construct of capitalism that can be overcome only when industrial society is challenged and transformed.

This is a conversation, not a paper. It is an attempt to continue a dialogue. It is also an account of collective growth and learning of individuals who came together for some periods of time and worked out their own stories. The “us” in this account, therefore, refers to these groups as they grew and changed over five decades.1 The origin of this conversation lies in the Shahdol Group—named thus after a district in Madhya Pradesh—that came into being in 1972. It was an experiment in exploring what was then emerging as a concept of “people’s planning” (Roy et al 1982). The experiment had its roots in earlier popular efforts, such as the novel work of the Koraput Gramdans (land grants made to the Sarvodaya leader Acharya Vinoba Bhave) in Odisha (1957), the Vaishali Area Small Farmer’s Associations (1968) in Bihar, and the evolution of the Employment Guarantee Scheme in Marathawada (1971). But, it went further in seeking to grasp the urban along with the rural, and to place development in an environmental frame. Nature was then entering public debate with the Chipko and Save Silent Valley movements in Uttarakhand and Kerala, respectively.

External Pollution and Internal Hazards

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Updated On : 16th Jul, 2020

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