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ABSTRACT

There has been an erosion in the use of ‘labour’ as a key concept of critical reflection in contemporary capitalism. Parallel to this development, there has been a significant debasement of labour rights and the concomitant rise of a discourse that delegitimizes the criticality of labour and labour rights. This essay attempts to identify and critique some of these discourses in the sphere of work, labour and labour rights. In particular, it critically examines three varied perspectives — one neoliberal and two radically opposed to that — and argues that in spite of their contrasting ideologies, they resonate with each other and, overtly or covertly, carry out the task of delegimization of a labour-centred discourse and the paradigm of labour rights. These ‘radical’ discourses, the essay argues, obfuscate the essence of capitalist exploitation and alienation either by an emphasis on fragmentary peculiarities immanent in the capitalist accumulation process or by the architecture of grand false constructs, which gets enmeshed within and subsumed by certain essential tendencies of contemporary capitalism. The essay argues in favour of a return to a discourse centred on labour and labour rights, albeit in a more comprehensive manner — not merely as an approach to assessing the diverse forms of working conditions and institutionalized practices, but more crucially as constituting what Marx conceptualized as the ‘real abstract’ in the vicissitudes of the capitalist accumulation process.