Read this article to learn about the problems of labour commitment in Industrialisation!
During the first decade or so after India’s independence (1947), there were hardly any sociological studies on industry or labour.
Sociologist, Indian and foreign, concentrated more on studying villages. It was only in the late 1950s that a few sociologists turned their attention to studying industrial labour.
During the same time the issue of labour commitment was raised by some American sociologists. It was believed that the growth of industrialisation in developing countries was hampered by the unfamiliarity of the labour force to an industrial way of life. Two major publications, one edited by Wilbert Moore and A. S. Feldman (I960) and the other by C. Kerr et al. (1960), put forth this view.
These writers argued that non-industrialised countries, like India, had features in their social structure that impeded commitment of labour to industry. These features include a closed system of stratification, emphasis on primordial loyalties, religious values, strong attachment to land, etc.
Moore and Feldman noted, ‘Commitment involves both performance and acceptance of the behaviour appropriate to an industrial way of life’ (1960: 1). Kerr observed that a committed worker is one who stays on the job and who has severed major connections with land. These studies tried to compare the situation in developing countries with those of the developed industrialised countries, using the features of the labour force in the latter as the model.
The above propositions were general observations and were not specifically related to the labour force in India. They could apply as well to countries in Africa, South-East Asia or any other industrialising region. The implications were clear: labour in developing countries was not committed to industry because it had strong attachment to agriculture and because there existed social institutions which were particularistic and not universalistic.
A number of studies carried out in the 1960s, mainly by sociologists and social anthropologists, proved the contrary. These were all micro studies providing intensive qualitative data on the subjects studied. Richard D. Lambert (1963) studied workers in five factories in Poona (now Pune) in western India.
While studying the general situation there, he found that workers, engaged in small factories where wages were low and there was hardly any social security, were prone to change their jobs. When these workers secured stable employment in large factories with higher wages, they seldom left their jobs. For these workers, factory employment implied life-time commitment; in fact, the workers were over-committed.
At the same time they showed no signs of transforming their attitudes and social relations. They viewed their jobs in the same way as they viewed their traditional caste occupations where the specialist (the worker in this case) serves the patron (the industrialist). Lambert thus found that traditional culture was consistent with industrialisation.
A study by Sheth (1958) of a factory in the early 1950s, an important contribution to industrial sociology in India, was an anthropological work which viewed the factory as a composite (functional) unit. His findings were based on observations. Sheth found that rather than impede commitment, traditional culture could in fact promote it.
Recruitment of the labour force was based on particularistic norms of obligation to caste and kin that were bound by personal ties. Workers accepted their responsibility towards their supervisors as a religious duty. Sheth observed that the functional stability of the system was reinforced by the caste system. He concluded that there was no contradiction between traditional values and industrialism.
There were other studies which explained the problem differently. Holmstrom (1976), in his study of workers in three factories in Bangalore, argued that the attitudes of factory workers in India are not very different from workers in developed countries. Over commitment can be interpreted as a result of the general insecurity of getting permanent employment outside the formal sector rather than a carryover of traditional attitudes.
Morris (1976), in his historical study of textile workers quoted earlier, had found that the turnover in the factories was high indicating that the labour force was unstable. However, he noted that this was mainly due to better wages offered in some of the mills and other employment opportunities in the city and not due to the pull of the countryside.
Charles A. Meyers (1958) suggested that managerial policies were equally responsible for promoting or impeding labour commitment. When management adopted short-term policies of increasing profits through low wages and exploitation at work, labour turnover was high.
His study of a cotton mill in south India showed that labour turnover and absenteeism dropped sharply after the management introduced welfare measures. B. R. Sharma’s 1971 study of an automobile factory in Bombay found that workers who were engaged in monotonous, short-cycle work were less committed while skilled workers engaged in maintenance and tool making showed greater commitment to their work.
In either case, traditional culture was not a barrier to commitment. The studies dealing with the problem of labour commitment were important contributions to understanding attitudes of workers towards work. We can now turn to other issues concerning the working class in India.