Labour control and labour resistance in the plantations of colonial Malaya

By P. Ramasamy

In this essay I examine labour control and labour resistance in plantations in pre-war colonial Malaya. I argue that the nature and scope of resistance among Indian and Chinese labour was to a large extent determined by the system of control in question. Individual forms of resistance of a passive nature were dominant under the indentured system of labour control. These forms of resistance ranged from simple acts of footdragging to the more conspicous act of desertion [Scott, 1985]. Under the (Indian) kangani and the (Chinese) contract systems of labour control, collective forms of resistance of both passive and confrontational types began to emerge [Adas, 1986]. These instances of collective resistance were forcibly put down by the colonial state acting in the interests of the plantation capitalists in the belief that these were inspired by agitators and communists.

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