Pandemic and Labour Relations: Then and Now

Webinar, 22 December 2020

"Pandemic and Labour Relations: Then and Now"
22nd Dec 2020 from 3-5 pm (IST - India Standard Time)

Aditya Sarkar, Department of History, Warwick University
Prabhu Mohapatra, Labour Historian, University of Delhi
Chitra Joshi, Labour Historian, Association of Indian Labour Historians (AILH)

Concept Note

In September 1896, the city of Bombay witnessed the beginning of a long-drawn-out epidemic crisis, with the outbreak of bubonic plague. It led to significant changes in the labour-capital relationships in the region. The structure of industrial relations in the textile mills of Bombay in the second half of the nineteenth century had rested upon the retention of wage arrears by mill managements, which forced workers into permanent debt, and bound them to the mill and their employers. But the demographic and industrial crisis ushered in during the plague years cracked open this structure of industrial control, and workers were able to sustain a new, albeit fleeting system of industrial ‘regulation from below’.

How do we see our present predicament in light of such past experiences with pandemic?
What long term effects that the pandemic is going to have on work and labour relations this time?
What lessons do we draw from the contemporary struggles and experiences of labour?
Even as we continue to calculate the immense destruction of lives, livelihood and economic infrastructure caused by Covid-19, it is perhaps time to look into such past experiences with pandemic, to take appropriate lessons for the present and the coming future.

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