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Abstract

The paper documents substantial improvements in the living standards of labourers over the past 30 years in villages in the Tiruppur region, a dynamic centre of garment production in western Tamil Nadu. The improvements have been associated with state programmes and policies relating to education, subsidised food, transport and communications, et al., and the growth of rural industrialisation centred on knitwear production for export and domestic markets. There are still very few opportunities for the majority to move into employment other than low skilled manual labour however. This raises questions about the strategy based on ‘cheap labour’ that the Indian state has been pursuing in the recent period. Alternative strategies would almost certainly serve the interests of labour better than this.

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