Cheaper than a Slave: Indentured Labor, Colonialism and Capitalism
33 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2012 Last revised: 2 Oct 2012
Date Written: 2012
The construct of free wage-labor, envisaged as consensual sale of labor-power by an autonomous and unencumbered individual in a market of juridical equals governed strictly by economic laws of supply and demand, is the bedrock of the purportedly universal category of labor under capitalism. However, this conceptual ensemble is an instance, yet again, of a particular masquerading as the universal – Europe’s autobiography passing for world history. It also underscores the divergence between mythologies and historical operations of capitalism. This article takes up the deployment of indentured labor from colonial India in plantation colonies across the globe for over a century following abolition of slavery in the British Empire. This story locates modern law within the spatial and temporal matrix of colonialism and empire. It also finds modern law unavoidably entangled with hierarchical positionings of bodies and spaces by global operations of capitalism.
Keywords: Capitalism, colonialism, slavery, indentured labor, sugar plantations, colonial India, identity, international law, empire
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