Social policy and class relations
in Labour, state and society in rural India
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This chapter analyses the capacity of government poverty reduction programmes to modify class relations in favour of labour. It applies a class-relational approach to NREGS, and to social policy more generally, in order to better understand why, where, when and how government poverty reduction programmes contribute to pro-labouring class change, and when they serve to strengthen the position of the dominant class. It compares the implementation of NREGS over time, showing how a cohesive dominant class in one particular cluster of villages has been able to shape the scheme to its own ends, while elsewhere a small social movement of female dalit labourers has challenged the dominant class’s wholesale subversion of the scheme. In broader terms it argues in favour of state poverty reduction programmes that are i) universal and thereby lessen dominant class gatekeepers’ influence, and ii) rights-based and thereby foster collective labouring class action. More generally, by increasing the state’s role in the material reproduction of labour, the latter’s dependence on capitalists declines, their ability to act politically increases, and the balance of class forces is modified in its favour.

Labour, state and society in rural India

A class-relational approach

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