What specifically constitutes police work in practice? What labor rights do, or should, police workers have? And how are police work and labor rights legally defined and regulated?
This analysis addresses these questions through a case study of government responses to attempts by police constables in post/colonial South Asia to express job-related grievances and establish employee unions.
Drawing on ethnographic observations, interviews, and archival documents collected in northern India over fifteen years, the analysis demonstrates that for more than a century, class warfare within police organizations has manifested in counterinsurgency lawfare between senior officials and subordinate personnel regarding whether and how the latter may collectively organize to transform their living and working conditions. It further shows how in this context law as a social field has worked to subjectify rank and file police as an ironically exploitable and expendable class of laborers who are always already suspect of rebelling against the state that they have sworn to serve. Through revelations of a long history of structural servitude compelling subaltern police in South Asia to do questionably legal types of labor, this study raises challenging questions about how police work as “security labor” has been conceived and practiced globally, and how, moving forward, we must work to reimagine what police work is, can be, and ought to be.