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Abstract

Workers’ rights in India were weakened since Independence by the large proportion of informal employees in the labour force. From the late 1970s, the situation deteriorated further, with attacks on unions by employers assisted by government policy. The attacks peaked during 1998-2004, after the globalization of the Indian economy from 1991 onwards, but declined thereafter. Therefore they cannot be explained by globalization alone. Neo-liberal policies resulted in assaults on labour rights and social welfare, but trade unions and social activists struggled successfully against them. They even gained ground, in the form of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which counteracted job and wage losses resulting from the global economic crisis.

Globalization could help to strengthen workers’ rights in India if unions worldwide could agree on a social clause in WTO agreements which would guarantee the basic human rights embodied in the ILO Core Conventions to all workers, including those currently in informal employment relationships, and launch campaigns for employment creation programs. Additionally, they would need to put pressure on governments to slash military expenditure and redirect public spending to the social sector, infrastructure, and civilian research and development. These steps would also help to end the economic downturn.

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