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Misinterpreting Unfree Labour in Contemporary Haryana

Misinterpreting Unfree Labour in Contemporary Haryana Tom Brass IN his latest, and it has to be said more strident, contribution to a series of exchanges with me about unfree labour in Haryana, Jodhka (1996) introduces no new information or ideas. Since the points raised by him in his previous contributions [Jodhka 1994, 1995] have been answered by me in Brass (1995, 1996), there would normally be no need for me to respond to his latest one.1 However, apart from fairly innocuous points, such as attributing to me an old view (about worker agency) and a new one (the 4two class model'), neither of which I hold, questioning my point about landholder bias and making symptomatically unsustainable claims about the decline of landholder power, Jodhka's latest contribution also contains two rather obnoxious points: a baseless innuendo about intellectual appropriation, and the invocation of a nationalist discourse, the object of which is intellectually and politically exclusionary. Since these cannot be permitted to pass unchallenged, I will deal with all of these points briefly-2 Complaining once again that I attribute "no agency to workers at all", Jodhka (1996:1286) repeats what by now even he must surely know to be an untrue assertion: that my view corresponds to one of "an absolutist power structure where labourers have no space to bargain and contest". About this continuing (mis)representation of my views two things can be said. First, and as I have pointed out ad nauseam it is precisely because workers exhibit agency in the form of a growing consciousness of class that landholders in Haryana increasingly resort to the debt mechanism as a method of waging class struggle 'from above7. That the latter is effective is clear, not just from what the labourers themselves have to say on this subject but also from what Jodhka states in his thesis.1 And second, what he forgets or perhaps does not know is that even chattel slaves were able to pursue specific kinds of agency, the exercise of which did not obviate the unfree nature of their relation.4 Jodhka fails to comprehend that an important difference exists between a free labour market (a direct exchange between worker and employer) and a free market in labour (an indirect exchange involving only employers or the latter and contractors). To regard the presence of labour-power in both transactions simply as evidence of free labour, and thus worker agency, is palpably nonsensical.

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