Mechanisms of Surplus Appropriation in the Informal Sector: A Case Study of Tribal Migrants in Ahmedabad’s Construction Industry

Rahul De, Azim Premji University

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This paper is based on fieldwork I had undertaken regarding tribal migrant workers in the construction sector, in Ahmedabad in May-July 2018, coordinated by Aajevika Bureau(AB). I had undertaken this fieldwork to assess the work of AB and advise them about strategies to collectivize migrant labour groups. While interacting with a particular social group (Bhil tribals from South West Rajasthan) who work in the construction sector, I struggled to capture the specificity of their experience through the concept of informal labour. This paper is an attempt to characterize the specificity of their social experience, while also, reframing the concept of informal labour. I use the concept of labour process (Michael Burawoy: Manufacturing Consent) to argue that there is not a binary or one-dimensional power relationship between informal labour and owner/state/capital, but instead, the process of surplus appropriation occurs at multiple nodes through different agents. In this paper, I have identified multiple modes of surplus extraction which are embedded as institutions or social norms in the labour process. Further, I argue that there is a close link between the status of tribal workers as marginalized within society, and their status as displaced and marginalized in their living areas and workplace. This difference translates into identity based discrimination faced in the city, as well as, structural exclusion from the governance apparatus faced as migrants. Therefore, tribal migrant workers do not earn enough to subsist and are highly dependent on early child birth, non-remunerated services of their family and the social security net provided by their village community. This paper concludes that primitive accumulation, fragmenting land ownership and indebtedness creates a supply of tribal migrants, who have no other recourse to employment and are forced to work in the deplorable conditions found in the construction sector. Tribal migrant workers in the informal sector are an important population to target for social policies, because they are more vulnerable than other social identities. This paper hopes to contribute to the framing of interventions and policies that civil society organizations and state authorities can implement to improve the terms of employment and working conditions of informal labour.

Suggested citation:

De, Rahul. 2020. “Mechanisms of Surplus Appropriation in the Informal Sector: A Case Study of Tribal Migrants in Ahmedabad’s Construction Industry.” Centre for Sustainable Employment Working Paper #32, Azim Premji University, Bangalore.