Bombay dyeing and the future of laborers past: Politics and social welfare in the Bombay cotton mills, 1918--

Author: 
Asher, Thomas F.
Year: 
2006

     This dissertation explores the history from which a contemporary crisis facing mill workers in Mumbai, India emerged. It takes as its starting point the formation of a work force endowed with a political will during the period immediately following World War I and concludes with a discussion of the effects of economic liberalization upon politics in contemporary Mumbai. I trace the agentive vehicles fashioned by mill workers and their representatives with attention to emergent political practices including the founding of unions and social welfare organizations, the initiation of general strikes, outbreaks of collective violence, the circulation of stories, rumors, and ballads, and the creation of a viable body politic. While each of these vehicles promised to expand associational life and amass collective power on behalf of mill workers, too often, I argue, these practices proved to delimit rather than extend participatory politics. The repeated failure of any recent politics able to protect mill workers' interests proves to be only the latest installment in a history of tragic outcomes to a revolutionary spirit. This wayward spirit is perpetually displaced into forms incapable of sustaining the hopes invested in these institutions and processes. Moreover, contemporary politics---largely devoid of revolutionary aims---swiftly reveal further limitations. No longer do unions demand for workers greater access to institutionalized power. Instead, unions seek to preserve workers' access to mill-provided housing and social security provisions promised long ago by companies that since have been transformed into landlords and developers. A quest to sustain a politics admitting workers as actors that might determine their own fate has given way to the protection of workers' welfare. The goal of cultivating a space in which mill workers might found their own vision of politics and society largely appears to have been abandoned in post-industrial Mumbai.

Advisor(s): 
Kelly, John D.
Department: