ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Political and Institutional Foundations of Class Compromise

Mobilizing Restraint: Democracy and Industrial Conflict in Post-Reform South Asia by Emmanuel Teitelbaum (New Delhi: Cambridge University Press India under the imprint of Foundation Books), 2011; pp xxi + 220, Rs 795.

Mobilizing Restraint makes an important intervention in the context of the ongoing debates about reforming labour laws and institutions in India. Contrary to the popular perception that associates trade unionism and protection of worker rights with slower productivity and employment growth, the book argues that promotion of these institutions can be “a more successful strategy for managing industrial conflict than the political exclusion and repression of organised labour” (p 51). By doing so, Emmanuel Teitelbaum not only makes contribution to the policy debates on labour laws and trade union organisations specific to south Asia, but also to a range of general theoretical literature on union bargaining models, the economic theory of strikes, the “developmental state”, and relations between democracy and economic development.

The book consists of seven chapters. After the first chapter, in which the main argument is introduced, the book is divided into two parts. Chapters 2 and 3 make up Part I entitled “A Puzzle and an Argument”. Chapter 2 outlines the changing economic conditions and policies faced by workers in India and Sri Lanka since the late 1970s, and asks why responses by the labour movement and the degree of union militancy differed across the region. An explanation for this “puzzle” offered in Chapter 3 attributes these differences to what the author perceives as “variations in levels of democracy” (p 25) with particular focus on party-union ties and the coverage of freedom of association and collective bargaining (FACB) rights. It is argued that under “competitive democracy”, trade unions affiliated to political parties can align their interests “to support broader developmental objectives” (p 64) and restrain militancy. Also, in contrast to the assertion made by proponents of labour market flexibility, Teitelbaum argues that protection of FACB rights allows industrial conflict resolution to be institutionalised, which can enhance productivity and lead to the creation of more “decent work”.

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