Building Alternatives

The Story of India's Oldest Construction Workers' Cooperative

T.M. Thomas Isaac, Michelle Williams


LeftWord Books, New Delhi, 2017

320 pages

5.5 x 8.5 inches

Price INR 495.00
Book Club Price INR 347.00
INR 495.00
In stock

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The Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society (ULCCS) in northern Kerala is a remarkable institution, founded as part of the early 20th century anti-caste movement. The Cooperative's raison d'être – as enshrined in its bylaws – is to 'promote the economic interests of the labourers of the Society'. Despite ups and downs over its 90-year history, the ULCCS is a highly successful cooperative, both in terms of its profitability and in its enhancing the lives of its worker-owners. This, despite the neoliberal policies that have suffocated much economic activity that lies outside of monopoly capitalism's interests.

Building Alternatives provides an honest appraisal of a heroic venture of a cooperative enterprise, demonstrating that cooperatives are not only able to survive in a small niche, but are able to grow into substantial institutions within the social life of a region. The book does not gloss over the problems that come with this history, providing a rich empirical account that helps us learn from the challenges and successes. The story of ULCCS is not merely an inspiration to the world, but a guidebook to the resilience of cooperatives as alternatives within capitalism.

T.M. Thomas Isaac

T.M. Thomas Isaac is Distinguished Honorary Fellow at the Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He served as Minister of Finance of Kerala for two terms, from 2006 to 2011, and from 2016 to 2021. Previously, during his tenure as a member of the Kerala State Planning Board, he was in charge of the People’s Plan Campaign. He is the author of numerous books in Malayalam and English.

Michelle Williams

is Associate Professor at the Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa and is the Chairperson of the Global Labour University (GLU) Programme, also at Wits. Her publications include The Roots of Participatory Democracy: Democratic Communists in South Africa and Kerala (2008), and the edited volumes The End of the Developmental State? (2014), Marxisms in the 21st Century (2013), South Africa and India: Shaping the Global South (2011), and Labour in the Global South (2012).


The book is a rigorous study, well narrated. The language used is accessible to all readers. It is a product of excellent research that makes judicious use of quantitative and qualitative research methods. Rich archival resources, in-depth interviews with workers and leaders of the ULCCS, a sample survey among existing workers, and detailed analyses of the minutes of board meetings, general body meetings, and other official documents of the ULCCS are used with proficiency to narrate the story of India's oldest construction workers' cooperative. The book is, undoubtedly, a meaningful addition to the existing literature on cooperatives.

Sampath V. Sambasivan, Review of Agrarian Studies

The authors of the volume deserve special thanks for providing a detailed account of a pioneering and successful organisation that needs to be replicated in large numbers.

C.T. Kurien, Frontline