Dissertation Abstracts

National Liberation and Worker Militancy in the Third World: A World-Historical Perspective on Worker-occupied and Self-managed Workplaces

Author: Plys, Kristin V, kristin.plys@yale.edu
Department: Sociology
University: Yale University, USA
Supervisor: Julia Adams
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Labor , Development , Global South , Historical Sociology
Areas of Research: Labor Movements , Participation, Organizational Democracy and Self-Management , Historical and Comparative Sociology


The greater part of my intellectual work deals with worker-occupied and self-managed workplaces outside of Western Europe and North America from 1917-present. In my dissertation, I focus on worker self-management both as a strategy of economic delinking in the context of the national liberation movements of the mid-20th century, and as a crucial form of resistance to colonialism and empire. As the current largest worker-occupied and self-managed firm, Indian Coffee House serves as an in-depth exploration of this phenomenon. Coffee House was owned and operated by the British Coffee Board until its workers occupied it after independence, and then began to self-manage production a decade later. I am particularly interested in the politico-economic origins of the firm, and how these origins affect how it currently operates. I focus my analysis on three moments in the firm’s history: 1) The occupation of the British colonial firm by its workers in 1947 and their decision to form a worker self-managed firm, 2) The critical role that Indian Coffee House played in Delhi as a site of resistance during The Emergency, 1975-7, and 3) Indian Coffee House’s changing social role in urban north India after India’s economic liberalization starting in 1990s, along the new International Coffee Agreement of 1994. I compare branch locations of Indian Coffee House in New Delhi, Chandigarh, and Thiruvananthapuram to uncover regional differences, and I draw on secondary literatures of worker occupied and self-managed workplaces in the national liberation context across the globe in order to situate Indian Coffee House in world-historical perspective.
In this analysis, Indian Coffee House serves as a lens through which to reevaluate key political-economic developments in India over the 20th century from the perspective of the workers movement. And by situating the case of Indian Coffee House in world-historical perspective, through my analysis of the world-historical process of worker-occupied and self-managed workplaces in the national liberation context, I propose a theory of worker self-management as an unevenly successful strategy of global class struggle and a way in which some are posing an alternative to global capitalism, imperialism, and developmentalism.