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Centre for South Asian Studies: Events


Avoiding a Race to the Bottom: The Origins of India’s Social Security Regime

Avoiding a Race to the Bottom: The Origins of India’s Social Security Regime
Speaker: Louise Tillin # Kings College London
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Date and Time
28th Mar 2019 16:00 - 28th Mar 2019 17:30
Violet Laidlaw Room, 6th floor, Chrystal Macmillan Building (previously called 6th floor staff room)


In April 1948, less than a year after Independence, India passed the Employees State Insurance Act which introduced sickness insurance (paid leave and medical benefits) for industrial workers. The legislation was seen by proponents as the opening gambit in a future model of social security for independent India. In this paper, I will look at the origins of what we now know of as social security for formal sector workers, India’s small ‘labour aristocracy’. I will argue that India’s social security regime was the product of a desire on the part of capitalists and labour in some regions of India to avoid a damaging race to the bottom in worker wages and labour conditions as a result of industrial competition among provinces. The introduction of expanded, if limited, provincial autonomy under the successive Government of India Acts of 1919 and 1935 had enhanced provincial variation in labour legislation in response to strikes and labour unrest. By the eve of World War Two, leading industrialists and labour leaders, particularly within Bombay’s cotton textile industry, shared concerns about the prospect of unfair competition caused by capital flight to provinces and princely states without labour legislation. World War Two offered the critical juncture that expanded the agency of certain Indian leaders, notably Dr BR Ambedkar as Member for Labour on the Viceroy’s Executive Council, to push ahead plans for national social security legislation – especially sickness insurance - that drew inspiration and momentum from the Beveridge report recently published in Britain. The talk will draw on material from the early chapters of my current book project on welfare and capitalist development in India.

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