Book: J. R. D. Tata Keynote

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On Modernisation
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Man and Machine

 

The Tata Iron and Steel Co. Ltd., Chairman's Statement, August 26, 1954.

 

he debate on the relationship between man and machine is not a new one. It does back to the days, centuries ago, when men who made discoveries or inventions were burnt or stoned as sorcerers. It became acute in the nineteenth century when machines were destroyed and factories burnt in Britain and elsewhere in an attempt to arrest the progress of mechanisation. Even the sewing machine, mother's good friend, of which Mahatma Gandhi spoke with affection, was smashed by enraged tailors in France when first introduced.

This age-old antagonism towards the machine is rooted in the belief that the mechanisation of industrial processes automatically leads to unemployment. The machine has, in fact, proved itself to be the greatest creator of jobs that ever existed.

In Britain, within a generation after textile workers had smashed spindles and power looms, ten times as many men were engaged in the textile industry as before these inventions.

In the USA, where mechanisation has gone further than in any other country, gainful employment increased from eighteen million to over sixty million in the last sixty years. Between 1939 and 1953 alone, employment in manufacturing industries increased by seventy-five per cent, notwithstanding the fact that it was in these very industries that mechanisation made the most spectacular advance.

A million jobs in the horse and carriage business have been replaced by six and a half million jobs in making, selling and servicing automobiles. When the motor car was largely built by hand and afforded only by the wealthy few, the automobile had little impact on employment.

When, however, the automobile industry adopted intensive mechanisation under the pioneering leadership of Henry Ford, a revolutionary change took place. The new machines and methods made it possible to produce cars in such large numbers, so quickly and cheaply, that they were bought by millions of people instead of the few thousands who could afford them before.

The revolution extended to employment. While millions were employed in factories making cars and the thousand and one things that go into cars such as tyres, batteries, furnishing, fuel and oil, more millions found jobs in selling, repairing, insuring and servicing cars, trucks and buses. Thus, though far fewer men were employed for building each car, total employment grew mightily.

Surely, we do not have to go abroad for proof of the proposition that machines create employment. Can anyone question the fact that the few modern industries established in our country in the last century have created directly or indirectly millions of jobs that just did not exist and could not exist otherwise?

India, with its alarming increase in population can afford even less than other countries to be static in its approach to this problem. Millions of additional jobs have to be found in a hurry in industry and services to relieve the mounting pressure on the land. To attempt to do so with obsolete machinery and methods is to court disaster, for inefficient industries cannot survive for long.

The inadequate use of power tools, or the use of antiquated ones, perpetuates low productivity; low productivity leads to high costs and low wages; low wages keep down purchasing power and demand, and low demand enforces low production. This vicious circle is the main cause of the poverty of industrially backward countries such as ours. The only way to break through it and to achieve a higher standard of living for all is, through the use of modern equipment and methods, to produce more and more goods more and more cheaply, and to pay those who produce them higher and higher wages.

I am not unaware of the difficulties and hardships which hasty mechanisation may cause in India if introduced without proper care and thought in each case. Fortunately, the problem here is likely to be a temporary and relatively minor one, for large schemes of mechanisation take years to be put into effect and the resources available for the purpose are limited and must therefore be spread over a period of years.

 

Management's Responsibility

 

Employers desirous of putting through measures of mechanisation and modernisation have a number of obligations to fulfil. They must first ensure that they are themselves efficient and economical; they must make every effort to absorb as many redundant men as possible in other jobs; they must help the State, wherever possible, in the re-training of those rendered surplus who cannot immediately find alternative jobs in their existing trades; they must be ready to pay generous compensation to those few whom it may not be possible to retain in employment or who may themselves prefer to be paid off. Finally, they must show an unequivocal readiness to share the benefits of cheaper production with employees and consumers.

The real problem – largely a psychological one – is to secure acceptance of the change by labour. In the United States and Europe, trade unions nowadays not only accept as necessary a continuous process of technological improvements in industry but often actually encourage it and share responsibility in carrying it out. Union executives there have fully realised the fact that the best job security to their members lies in higher productivity and low costs.

In appealing to labour leadership in India to consider this problem objectively and scientifically, and, wherever possible, in friendly cooperation with management, I would ask them to keep in mind that throughout the world, machines have brought human beings miraculous relief from the toil, sweat and drudgery they had endured for thousands of years and a phenomenal rise in wages, which have remained low only where the machine is used insufficiently or not at all.

I would, therefore, urge all those concerned to face the fact that there is no half way house between modern industry and old-fashioned industry. Either we shall build a highly productive society in which workers prosper and, thanks to the machine, regain their dignity, or we sink back into a primitive form of society, condemned by the inexorable increase in our population to continuing poverty and despair.

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