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Law and the Economy in Colonial India$
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Tirthankar Roy and Anand V. Swamy

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226387642

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226387789.001.0001

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Labor Law: From “Slavery” to Trade Union

Labor Law: From “Slavery” to Trade Union

(p.104) Six Labor Law: From “Slavery” to Trade Union
Law and the Economy in Colonial India

Tirthankar Roy

Anand V. Swamy

University of Chicago Press

The colonial state’s attitude towards labor varied hugely across time and space. In the early years of British rule, the East India Company drew on local practices as well as British precedent to coercively obtain the services of workers. At the same time, in deference to political changes in Britain, it legislated to abolish slavery. By the second half of the 19th century, as workers began to migrate long distances, the Raj drew on the British Master and Servant Act and passed legislation criminalizing breach of contract by migrants whose travel costs had been paid by their employers. Particularly harsh legislation was passed in relation to workers migrating to Assam’s famous tea plantations. Indentured labor contracts remained legal in India until the mid-1920’s, long after they had been jettisoned in Britain. In a quite different terrain, the factory, legislation to protect workers was gradually introduced, beginning in the late 19th century. Workers gained the right to form trade unions, and a sometimes-militant labor movement emerged. By the end of the colonial period, tension between Indian capital and labor was driving legislation.

Keywords:   slavery, indentured labor, Master and Servant Act, breach of contract, trade union, Tea

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