Workers, Unions and Global Capitalism: Lessons from India

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Rohini Hensman

June 2011

9.5 x 6.25 inches
xv + 182 pages
Rs 825

While it is easy to blame globalization for shrinking job opportunities, dangerous declines in labour standards and a host of related discontents, the ‘flattening’ of the world has also created unprecedented opportunities for worker organization. By expanding employment in developing countries, especially for women, globalization has formed a basis for stronger workers’ rights, even in remote sites of production.Using India’s labour movement as a model, Rohini Hensman charts the successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, of the struggle for workers’ rights and organization in a rich and varied nation. As Indian products gain wider acceptance in global markets, the disparities in employment conditions and union rights between such regions as the European Union and India’s vast informal sector are exposed, raising the issue of globalization’s implications for labour.

Hensman’s study examines the unique pattern of ‘employees’ unionism’, which emerged in Bombay in the 1950s, before considering union responses to recent developments, especially the drive to form a national federation of independent unions. A key issue is how far unions can resist protectionist impulses and press for stronger global standards, along with the mechanisms to enforce them. After thoroughly unpacking this example, Hensman zooms out to trace the parameters of a global labour agenda, calling for a revival of trade unionism, the elimination of informal labour, and reductions in military spending to favour funding for comprehensive welfare and social security systems.

Rohini Hensman is a writer and independent scholar based in Bombay. She has published extensively on issues of worker’s rights, women’s rights and the rights of minorities, and is the coauthor of Beyond Multinationalism: Management Policy and Bargaining Relationships in International Companies.


Rohini Hensman’s wide-ranging and provocative argument should be read by all those seeking to understand the lived experience of workers in a globalizing world and the most prominent and promising responses by way of ideas and actions.

— Sanjay Reddy, New School for Social Research

Workers, Unions and Global Capitalism addresses what are unquestionably important topics, with appropriately nuanced arguments. Rohini Hensman is careful to avoid the kind of blanket condemnation of globalization that appears in so much critical literature, and part of her originality is showing very clearly that the problems of the labour movement in India are not the result of globalization, but have a much longer history.

— John Harriss, Simon Fraser University