Association of Indian Labour Historians Conference: Labour History – A Return to Politics?

Call for papers, deadline 15 November
CALL FOR PAPERS:
X INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON LABOUR HISTORY organized by THE ASSOCIATION OF INDIAN LABOUR HISTORIANS and V.V. GIRI NATIONAL LABOUR INSTITUTE, 22-24 MARCH 2014 AT V.V. GIRI NATIONAL LABOUR INSTITUTE, NOIDA/New Delhi, INDIA
The Theme: Labour History – A Return to Politics?

The Association of Indian Labour Historians invites proposals for its Tenth International Conference on Labour History in March 2014. The theme for the conference is Labour History: A Return to Politics?

Why is a consideration of a political turn important today? Since the end of the 1970s there have been massive changes in the structure and form of labour. These changes were marked by the marginalization of organized industry, a shift of manufacturing industries from the West to the East; expansions in the service sector, especially in the information industry. As informalisation spread across the globe precarious employment outstripped stable standard jobs. Trajectories of working lives and careers were drastically altered. Work shifted to the home, blurring the distinction between private and working space. New forms of feminization emerged across the globe affecting the developed and developing world alike.

“ Depoliticisation” and the withdrawal of labour from the political sphere
In the past, notwithstanding the significant presence of women in the workforce and the leadership of unions, the politics of labour manifested the dominance of male factory workers led by organized trade unions. This politics became less viable in the last decades of the twentieth century. The withdrawal of labour from the political sphere accelerated with the decline of unions, and this was often bemoaned as a de-politicisation of labour. It is useful to remember that this so-called depoliticisation was effected through a massive political subordination of labor, manifested in the ruthless crushing of strikes and the blatant use of state power.

The transformations in the landscape of labor seeped into the scholarly world. The cultural turn was a sign of changed times. From a focus on strikes and unions, the historiography of labour shifted to a study of culture. The study of community, culture and everyday life enriched and deepened labour history. Did this shift imply a de-politicisation of labour history? Was it a corollary of the shrinking of organized labour’s presence in the political sphere? These questions have engaged scholars for some time. Unlike the earlier Thompsonian moment, the more recent cultural turn seemed to distance labour history from a study of working class politics. However, we believe that a return to political themes does not imply a return to old-style historiography but rather, a breaking out of the narrow confines of the focus on trade unions and their leadership.

Notions of crisis and decline in the labour movement are questioned in recent writings. These writings point to new movements and new sites of struggle that have accompanied changes in the global industrial scenario. There have been signs of a return to labour questions in political discourse. The fall-out of the prolonged economic crisis of the past five years has reinvigorated anti-globalization and anti-capitalist movements in the west and brought new form of politics into focus. The Arab uprisings and their political reverberations across the world have given a new meaning to mass politics. Alongside these churnings, strike waves have repeatedly engulfed the modern industrial conurbations in China and India.

These spatial shifts in the sites and forms of politics need to be explored. A return to politics does not mean a negligence of a study of culture. Rather, the idea is to transcend earlier boundaries in the study of labour history as well as the more recent past. We urge historians, social scientists and labor-activists to focus attention on new forms of labour politics and re-evaluate the ‘labor question’ in a new perspective.

The conference aims to discuss these themes under five broad rubrics:

1. Political practices of labor in the past and the present: What has changed and what has remained in the political practice of labor in our times? What definitions of the labor movement can encompass older as well as emergent forms of political practice? Would it be true to say that processes of informalisation that may have led to decline, also generated new kinds of politics? What relation does the labor movement bear to other social movements? How do we evaluate the significance of Transnational politics of labour and the rise of “ new Internationalism” in comparison to the earlier forms of International labour movements?

2. Informalisation and Politics of Precarity: It has become increasingly clear that the massive expansion of the informal and precarious employment is neither a natural outcome of economic crisis nor merely a change in legal status of workers but rather a result of a intense and continuing political process. How was the division between formal and informal , regular and temporary created and sustained in different historical contexts and locations? What forms of Politics is generated by these divisions and how have they been overcome?

3. The state and the regulation of labour: How has the regulation of labor changed over time? State legislation and recognition of trade unions made labour visible and gave it a powerful presence in the public sphere. What were the politics through which unions were legalized and regulated in the early decades of the twentieth century? It is important to engage with the histories of these enactments and examine the terms and implications of these laws.

4. Everyday politics The practices that shape everyday lives at home, workplaces and outside are charged with political meaning. The history of the interactions of gender, childhood and labour has always shown complex processes at work. How do state and other agencies impinge on everyday processes? Conversely, how do the micro-politics of everyday life relate to political processes at work?

5. Race, gender and caste: A key issue in labor studies has been the ambivalent relation of identity politics with the politics of class. Did identity politics always detract from the trajectory of class-based mobilization or were there complementarities that were overlooked in the past and need to be recovered in the present? Why have the subjective experiences of women, dalits and racial minorities been resistant to or not been accommodated within labor movements? We look forward to papers that focus on these rubrics. However we also seek papers that focus on international comparisons and the broad themes of labour history.

We invite papers from scholars, activists, and individuals who have engaged intimately with the world of labour and work to participate in this conference. International and comparative experiences will be especially welcome. While the conference organizers will be able to host all the selected participants for the duration of the conference we are unable to finance international travel costs.

Submission of papers: A short abstract of no more than 500 words of the proposed paper indicating the main arguments and theoretical and empirical basis of the proposed paper.
We expect abstracts to be sent to us by 15 November 2013. Selected participants will be informed by 15 December 2013. Full Papers are expected without fail by 20 February 2014.
All communications must be addressed to Chitra Joshi, Rana Behal, Prabhu Mohapatra and Sasikumar at the address: ailhconference2014 [at] gmail.com