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This chapter deepens the discussion on postcolonial labour through a specific examination of labour employed in the logistical and infrastructural expansion of economies. Such an expansion requires labour ready at hand but not always necessary; labour at work but not visible; labour living but whenever required can soon be made dead. In this ghostly transformative exercise, money (increasingly in credit and digital mode) seems to be the most important tool. This chapter reminds us of the lesson Marx drew on the question of money in circulation—the supply chain of money—that it becomes a commodity like other commodities, appearing as forms of circulation of the same capital. Hence, even though money’s function is one of capital, it appears as one of circulation—the spectral “other” of living labour in the postcolonial condition. Labour will follow the commodity chain, and will become a part of the commodity chain.
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Mezzadra and Neilson clarify at the outset, “Our emphasis on heterogeneity is also important for the analysis of what we call with Karl Marx the composition of contemporary living labor, which is more and more crisscrossed, divided, and multiplied by practices of mobility and the operation of borders… we also focus, to make a couple of examples, on the hukou system of household registration in contemporary China and the complex systems of bordering that internally divide the Indian labour market.”—Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, Border as Method, or the Multiplication of Labor (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), preface, p. x.
“The property, therefore, which labour-power in action, living labour, possesses of preserving value, at the same time that it adds it, is a gift of Nature which costs the worker nothing, but which is very advantageous to the capitalist inasmuch since it preserves the existing value of his capital. So long as trade is good, the capitalist is too absorbed in making profits to take notice of this gratuitous gift of labour. Violent interruptions of the labour-process, crises make him painfully aware of it.”—Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, 1867, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin Books, 1976), Chapter 8, p. 315.
Ibid., pp. 579–580.
Ibid., pp. 792–793.
Ibid., pp. 719–720.
Duncan McDuie-Ra in Borderland City in New India: Frontier to Gateway (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016) discusses the long history of successive labour migration regimes in the evolution of a frontier city. In the background of violence and insurgency, and periodic attacks on outsiders, McDuie-Ra writes, “With this in mind it may seem odd that there is such a strong ‘pull factor’ in the disturbed city… Yet people continue to arrive, guided by promises of work, stories of returnees who have spent time there, the opportunities from border trade, and by the centrally funded infrastructure projects that require labour… It is also interesting to consider the flow of migrants into Imphal at the same time as locals leave the city for other parts of India and beyond… During my research with Northeast migrants living in Delhi respondents would often speak of the unequal exchange of intelligent and skilled indigenous people contributing to the economies of metropolitan India, a brain drain of significant proportions, to be replaced by unskilled labour… Imphal in this sense represents the classic dilemma of connectivity. There is no clean connection, un-spoilt by labour. As in Imphal, there will be street corners on main roads frequented by migrant day labourers, some with harnesses for construction sites, some with a few tools, their chronically insecure condition representing in many ways life at this end of the economy as perpetually insecure. In an era of connectivity that has transformed the borderland from a frontier to a corridor and recalibrated Imphal as the major urban centre through which goods and people flow between Southeast Asia and South Asia” (p. 113), the paradoxical phenomenon of connectivity and the desire for exclusion of labour will thus co-exist.
This also includes militarisation of borders, and the pronounced presence of armed groups in the border towns. Militarisation and the influx of labour go side by side. On this, studies of towns and settlements in Mexico on the US–Mexico border are insightful. See for instance, Peter Andreas, Border Games: Policing the US–Mexico Divide (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000); and, Kurt Birson, “Mexico: Abuses against U.S. Bound Migrant Workers” NACLA, 23 September 2010— https://nacla.org/news/mexico-abuses-against-us-bound-migrant-workers (accessed on 16 December 2016).
Goods and Services Tax is a proposed system of indirect taxation in India, merging most of the existing taxes into single system of taxation. It will be a comprehensive indirect tax on manufacture, sale and consumption of goods and services throughout the country, replacing taxes levied by the union and state governments. Instead, it will be now levied and collected at each stage of sale or purchase of goods or services based on the input tax credit method. Taxable goods and services will not be distinguished from one another and will be taxed at a single rate in a supply chain till the goods or services reach the consumer. Administrative responsibility would generally rest with a single authority to levy tax on goods and services. Exports would be zero-rated and imports would be subject to the same taxes as domestic goods and services, adhering to the destination principle. It is claimed that amalgamating several Central and state taxes into a single tax would mitigate cascading or double taxation, facilitating a common national market. The Union government has assured states of compensation for any revenue losses incurred by them from the date of introduction of GST for a period of five years.
Border as Method, pp. 66–67.
For instance, one study on US workers shows that transit mobility fails to improve the employment status of low-income persons. See Thomas W. Sanchez, Qing Shen and Zhong-Ren Peng, “Transit Mobility, Jobs Access and Low-income Labour Participation in US Metropolitan Areas”, Urban Studies, Volume 41 (7), June 2004, pp. 1313–1331.
One of the ways to think through the problematic is to conceptualise what the labour historian Samita Sen calls, “organised informality”; see Samita Sen’s study, Organised Informality: Autorickshaw Drivers in Kolkata (Kolkata: Jadavpur University, School of Women’s Studies, 2016.
It is not altogether beside the point that in as much as migration invokes race and racism, it is also the other way round, in the sense that race has produced over centuries bounty hunters, escapees, vagrants and fleeing bondsmen.
Colonial history is replete with accounts of circulating labour. For instance, Ian J. Kerr, “On the Move: Circulating Labour in Pre-Colonial, Colonial, and Post-Colonial India”, International Review of Social History, Volume 51, 2006 (pp. 85–109); Kerr wrote that in 1770 a British official in Madras observed groups composed of men, women, and children who formed “a kind of travelling community of their own under a species of Government peculiar to themselves, with laws and customs which they follow and observe wherever they go”. These itinerant, coveted groups of earth- and stone-workers circulated from worksite to worksite where they dug tanks (small reservoirs), ditches and wells, and built roads and fortifications. They lived close to their worksites in temporary huts which they threw up for the occasion, and always chose a spot distinct from any village, “wandering from one place to another as is most convenient”, p. 85.
Stephen Castles and Godula Kosack, Immigrant Workers and Class Structure in Western Europe (London: Institute of Race Relations, 1973).
Roy Parker, Uprooted—The Shipment of Poor Children to Canada—1867 to 1917 (Bristol: Policy Press, 2010); also see in this context, Robert Coles, Uprooted Children—Early Life of Migrant Farm Workers (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970).
There is an astonishing collection of documents and writings published on the occasion of the Women’s Suffrage Centenary in South Australia (1894–1994) titled, Behind the Wall—The Women of the Destitute Asylum, Adelaide, 1852–1918, ed. Mary Geyer (Adelaide: Migration Museum 1994), which tell us a great deal about the destitute migrants’ lives behind the walls.
For instance, Jan Breman, Taming the Coolie Beast—Plantation Society and the Colonial Order in Southeast Asia (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989); Rana P. Behel and Marcel van der Linden, Coolies, Capital, and Colonialism—Studies in Indian Labour History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Mike Davis on the late nineteenth-century famines and migration in China, India and Brazil in the context of the El Nino spells, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (London: Verso, 2001); see the report by Furquan Ameen Siddiqui, “Escaping A River’s Wrath”, Hindustan Times (Kolkata edition) 16 September 2016, p. 7.
For a collection of such studies, Kevin Hewinson and Ken Young (eds.), Transnational Migration and Work in Asia (London: Routledge, 2006).
Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Seabury Press, 1973).
Michal Rozworski, “How Not To Fund Infrastructure”, The Bullet, 1296, 25 August 2016— http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1296.php#continue (accessed on 15 September 2016); Rozworski wrote, “Recycling is supposed to be a good thing, so when the federal Liberals (in Canada) quietly announced that ‘asset recycling’ would be part of their strategy for meeting their much-ballyhooed infrastructure promises, not many eyebrows were raised. They should have been. Asset recycling is an obscure code word for selling our public goods for private profit. It’s privatization by another name… there is no crisis that says you have to sell a bridge to fund a hospital or the other way around. Or, better put, we have manufactured crises. Decades of slow but crippling austerity, tax cuts and restructuring have led us here. We cannot afford transit and hospitals by choice and it is in our power to reverse things. Deficit spending can be part of a reversal in the short term; asset recycling cannot… However, getting funds for investment by selling other assets into a system that has created massive asset price inflation—seen in stock markets at record highs, a lack of sub-million dollar homes in Vancouver or smashed art auction records—seems questionable at best.”
Ned Rossiter, Software, Infrastructure, Labor: A Media Theory of Logistical Nightmares (New York: Routledge, 2016).
“Focusing on the combinatory force of logistics and infrastructure between the 1800 and 2000 communication system of the cable, I argue that the logistical operation of imperial infrastructures produces territory in ways that skew and structure the relation between States and empire… the territoriality of power manifests through communications infrastructure such as telegraphic cables and data centres to produce a new sovereign entity that I term the logistical state”. (italics author’s)— Ibid., pp. 140–141.
Ibid., p. 160; incidentally in colonial times telegraph poles were also the guide for the coolies escaping the tea gardens in the wilderness of India’s northeast. See the “Autobiography of a Tea Garden Coolie” (in Bengali Cha Kulir Atmakahini by Jogendranath Chattopadhyay) in Passage to Bondage: Labour in the Assam Tea Plantations, edited and compiled by Samita Sen, trans. Suhit Sen (pp. 131–214), p. 181.
See the study of Johannesburg in this context, Jennifer Robinson, “’Arriving at’ the Urban Policies/the Urban: Traces of Elsewhere in Making City Futures” in Ola Soderstrom, Shalini Randeria, Didier Ruedin, Gianni D’Amato, and Francesco Panese, Critical Mobilities (Lausanne: EPEL Press and New York: Routledge, 2015), Chapter 1, pp. 1–20.
Software, Infrastructure, Labour, p. 193.
Income illegally obtained or not declared for tax purposes, which, the government believed, went into financing terror and other illegal activities.
Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, “As Tea Gardens Worry about Wages Post Note Ban, Centre Mandates Bank Accounts for Labourers”, The Wire, 25 November, 2016— http://thewire.in/82668/demonetisation-tea-gardens/ (accessed on 18 December 2016).
“Demonetisation Stirs the Lives of Tea Garden Workers, Forced to Eat Flowers and Leaves for Survival”, report by Neha Vashishth, India Today, 16 December 2016, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/tea-garden-workers-suffer-food-darjeeling-demonetisation/1/836070.html (accessed on 18 December 2016).
One business paper admitted, “The importance of cash in India can be seen from the fact that the country has a much higher cash-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio than most major economies. Even in terms of cash–deposit ratio, India is much ahead of the US and Euro zone. While some of this could be due to hoarding of undisclosed income, India’s huge informal economy is also a major factor in the dominance of cash in day-to-day transactions. Low average balance in Jan Dhan Yojana accounts suggests that those dependent on the informal economy might not have been using bank facilities regularly and are most vulnerable to the transition costs.” At the same time the same newspaper showed that while India had a high cash–deposit ratio, access to banking was limited, and the cash– GDP ratio was not abnormally high. Bank notes and coins in circulation as percentage of GDP at the end of 2015 was for India 10.86, for the US it was 7.9, for Switzerland 11.76, and for Japan 20.66.— Live Mint, 15 November 2016— http://www.livemint.com/Politics/kcDSOV9ds7ZXw1ZwoKNGiP/Three-charts-that-show-why-demonetization-is-painful.html (accessed on 21 December 2016).
Prabhat Patnaik, “India’s Demonetisation Quagmire and Its Victims”, Al Jazeera, 5 December 2016— http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/12/india-demonetisaton-quagmire-victims-161204101742156.html (accessed on 17 December 2016).
Himendra Mohan Kumar, “India’s Demonetisation Creates India’s Payday Cash Crisis”, The national Business, 1 December 2016— http://www.thenational.ae/business/economy/indias-demonetisation-creates-payday-cash-crisis (accessed on 17 December 2016).
“Govt. to Review Curbs on Cash Withdrawal after 30 December”, The Statesman, 16 December 2016, news report, p. 1.
Kritika Banerjee, “Midnight Queues, Violence, Banks to Refusing to Cooperate: 7 Points that Sum Up Currency Crisis”, India Today, 13 November 2016— http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/7-points-currency-crisis/1/809528.html (accessed 15 December 2016).
Dinesh Unnikrishnan, “Demonetisation: After 12 Days Cooperative banks Still gasping for Breath”, First Post, 19 November 2016— http://www.firstpost.com/business/demonetisation-narendra-modi-risks-too-much-by-triggering-a-crisis-for-cooperative-banks-3113630.html (accessed on 15 December 2016).
P. Sainath, “The Cashless Economy of Chikalthana”, Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 51 (46), 12 November 2016, http://www.epw.in/journal/2016/46/web-exclusives/cashless-economy-chikalthana.html (accessed on 21 December 2016).
For such a study of logistical nightmare, Ishita Dey, Ranabir Samaddar, and Suhit Sen, Beyond Kolkata: Rajarhat and the Dystopia of Urban Imagination (London and New Delhi: Routledge, 2013).
On this the classic study is Christian Marazzi, The Violence of Financial Capitalism (LA: Semiotext(e), 2010).
See the note by Alok Prasanna Kumar, “Demonetisation and Rule of Law”, Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 51 (50), 10 December 2016 (pp. 19–21), p. 21.
Software, Infrastructure, Labor, p. 128.
See Chapter 2, which discusses the data-centric position of the postcolonial world in the global map of knowledge production.
https://cloudscene.com/market/india/all (accessed on 12 October 2016).
Belapur in Navi Mumbai in India is typical of such a logistical territory, though the crucial thing here is that logistical operations create “trans-territorial” territoriality. Data centres of banks located in Belapur help banks to create their own operational territories. Belapur houses a cluster of data centres of various financial institutions. The story of the financial growth of the area, the profile of customers, land utilisation, and the nature of its workforce tells of the way the immediate and expanded territorialities of a data centre materialise. That can also tell us of the relation between data centres in India and those across the east and southeast Asian region.
The development of disaster-recovery programmes and Acts in various countries like India has to be seen in the perspective of the increased logistical strength of the State.
https://data.gov.in/ (accessed on 13 October 2016).
http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/ibm-sets-up-public-data-centre-in-chennai/article7757332.ece (accessed on 13 October 2016).
In the study of the new town in Rajarhat also this issue acquired importance. See, Beyond Kolkata: Rajarhat and the Dystopia of Urban Imagination, pp. 82–85, 195–196; on this it is important also to see the growth of government’s new towns policy.
For details see, https://uidai.gov.in/ (accessed on 27 April 2017).
One aspect of this transformation is that besides the conditional visibility of labour in the logistical milieu, labour’s individuality (product of visibility) is over as the infrastructural turn of capitalism overwhelms the society. In the logistical milieu, infrastructure is able to present labour as a necessary coordinate to the universal future made of mobility. The sacrifice of labour as individual to a projected digital future signals the transition of industrial capitalism to postcolonial capitalism, from the factory to the imperium of roads, airport cities, ports, containers, special freight corridors, Uber taxis, fast transmission cables, autorickshaws and trucks.
In this respect reports on South Africa are instructive. For instance, “Since the mineral revolution of the late 19th century, migrant labour in South Africa referred not only to workers coming into South Africa from neighbouring countries, but also to a system of controlling African workers within South Africa. Migrant labour provided abundant cheap, at the same time occasioned enforcement of strict labour supervision in the form of racial segregation of land. Male migrants employed by white-owned businesses were prohibited from living permanently in cities and towns designated for whites only. Hundreds of thousands of African men lived in crowded single-sex hostels near their jobs and were not allowed to bring their wives and children, who were described as ‘superfluous appendages’. Thus, migrant workers were divided into labourers during most of the year and full human beings—spouses, parents, and community members—during their short Christmas and Easter holidays in the rural reserves. Migrant workers were initially almost all men, who needed to earn a wage to pay hut taxes. Later, women, too, became migrant workers, chiefly doing domestic work for white families. Millions of Africans within South Africa—workers and their family members—were affected by this system. As the economy became more reliant on industry, urban migration increased further. There was pressure for reform of the labour system to allow Africans to stay in urban areas where their work and accumulated skills were needed, although apartheid still afforded them no political rights outside the so-called Bantustans. Migrancy continues to be significant in South Africa to this day.”— http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/multimedia.php?id=65-259-5 (accessed on 16 December 2017).
According to the 2001 census, in the city of Mumbai, of the total population of 11.97 million, 5.18 million or 47.3 per cent was categorised as migrant population. Migrants from other parts of the state were concentrated in the cotton textile mills; workers from Andhra Pradesh were concentrated in the construction sector; migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were mainly taxi and auto drivers; Muslims from Uttar Pradesh, previously engaged in garment-making and power looms, and some in the textile mills, are now engaged in labour-intensive activities; Marathi Muslims are now mostly involved in the leather industry, zari work and embroidery, bakeries, garment making and tailoring and jewellery making; amongst Dalits, Mahars are mostly engaged in contractual jobs and unskilled employment.
In 1998, the government initiated a drive of deporting “illegal immigrants” who had apparently come from Bangladesh. An unofficial estimate of the homeless population of the city is around 1.5 million persons. Following the “Vision Mumbai: Transforming Mumbai into a World-Class City”, a document prepared by a global consulting firm, McKinsey & Company in 2003, the state government initiated transforming Mumbai into an International Financial Centre with world class infrastructure, citizen-friendly services and business-friendly environment. The government embarked on slum redevelopment to free at least 60 per cent of the land occupied by slums. In 2004–05, more than 90,000 slum units were demolished. Since then, periodic demolition of the slums has been a regular phenomenon.—from the research report, Cities, Migrants, and the Urban Poor: Issues of Violence and Social Justice, Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata, 2016— http://mcrg.ac.in/Rural_Migrants/Final_Research_Briefs.pdf (accessed on 12 October 2016).
- Living Labour II: Logistics, Migration, and Labour
- Chapter 5
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