One hundred years of Tata Workers’ Union: A documentation of astute trade unionism

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The history of trade union movement in erstwhile south Bihar, spread over several areas and sectors, was closely related to the political movement In the early 1900 the trade unions had played an important role in the freedom struggle movement which had brought together the various segments of the working classes._ From their formative years, trade union movements were integral parts of politics in India. The working class in the erstwhile Bihar State was mainly concentrated in south Bihar and consisted of workers employed in steel and mining industries. Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata had been pursuing the dream of setting up a steel plant in India since at least 1882. In 1902, he even travelled to Pittsburgh to seek the help of American geologist and metallurgist Charles Page Perin. Tata Iron and Steel Company (TI SCO) was founded by Jamshetji Tata and established by Dorabji Tata on 26 August 1907. His cousin, Shapoorji Shaktahvala was also actively involved in the project. The first ingot was produced on 16 February 1912. A number of workers from different parts of the country, particularly Chhattisgarh, Shahabad and Saran districts of Bihar came to work at the plant. Around 10,000 workers were employed by the company between 1912 and 1918. TISCO as the first modern steel plant in the country, contributed a lot to the industrialization of India. Initially it was established for 0.15 million ton steel production in 1907. It expanded its capacity to 0.5 tons in 1917 to satiate the huge demand for steel during the First World War. Now it’s annual global outreach with crude steel deliveries is  approximately 28 million tonnes and in India (measured by domestic production) with an annual capacity of approximately 14 million tonnes. During the First World War (1914-1918), the company made rapid progress. A number of workers from different parts of the country, particularly Chhattisgarh, Shahabad and Saran districts of Bihar came to work at the plant. Around 10,000 workers were employed by the company between 1912 and 1918 India’s dream steel plant was established in a village called Sakchi, the place was geographically covered with forests , rivers and tribal people. The tribals  had recently conducted a freedom struggle under the leadership of Birsa Munda. As a result some of the government survey in 1907 revealed the place not suitable for labour market.

   
   

TISCO was the first steel making industry setup in an area which was a mere jungle surrounded by Adivasi tribals. This area had an illiterate population and was undeveloped. People living in that area were in the grips of poverty and debt.

The population of Jamshedpur, which was only 5,762 in 1911, rose to 57,360 in 1921. This rapid growth was due to migration from different parts of the country.

Unskilled labour recruited from local tribes were deputed in construction work. The background of the formation of TATA WORKERS’ UNION goes back to 1920.T he Madras Labour Union was formed in 1918 and International Labor Organization in 1919. At that time, workers of TISCO were growing dissatisfied with the foreign management and its way of functioning. Higher management officials and senior supervisors mostly from abroad always abused and misbehaved with the workers on the shop floor and this was a common practice.

The average earning of a worker at that time was 4 to 5 annas per day. The World War too broke out during the period. Prices of essential commodities soared. Workers faced severe hardship. American T.W. Tutwiler, was General Manager from 1916 to 1925. To him, the right to hire and fire workers was a “God-given right”.

In the 1920s the local government reported a workforce of 29,000. Contractors’ ‘coolies varied in number from 4000 to 8000. Most senior executives were Americans and their impatience with the Indian workers lay at the root of the crisis of the 1920s. In early 1920, annual production per man rose from 117 to 218 tons, and the accident rate from 3.98 per hundred workers to 7.5. The first protest at Jamshedpur plant was initiated by some of the semi-skilled worker who had been recruited from the Kharagpur railway workshop. They were familiar with organized protests.

There was a strike on the early morning of 24th February 1920 when  some workers of Blacksmith and Machine shops suddenly came out of the factory and started shouting slogans against the management. After some hours most of the workers left the shop floor and joined the protest This seems to be the first protest of the TISCO workers since plant went on operation in 1911.

Workers demanded accident compensation, increase of pay, a service code and strike-pay. Government officials were active mediators at that time . In the absence of any formal organization among them, the strike was led mainly by foremen apprentices and a few dedicated workers. At the same time India was on nationwide protest against British government.  Calcutta was a powerful centre for protest activity, The city was close to Jamshedpur.

     

The leading protesters at TISCO plant felt that some experienced and effective leadership was require to lead the protest. So they decided to seek leadership and guidance from the national leaders who were engaged in freedom struggle . They were Suren Halder, Padmaraj Jain and Nirmal Chatterjee.  These national leaders were interested to organize the Indian industrial labour  force against the British government in eastern region. By that time, a number of eminent Congress leaders of the nationalist movement had also actively associated apprentices, and a few dedicated workers. At the same time India was on national wide protest against British government. Calcutta was a powerful centre of protest.  On 25 February, a general meeting was organized in which more than 10,000 workers participated The then deputy commissioner of the district, J. E. Scott, addressed the meeting in the capacity of government representative. In view of the massive response from the workers, the middle and lower level management started paying heed to the workers’ demands, but the leaders of the striking workers were now insistent that they would only negotiate with the general manager of the plant, T. W. Tutwiler, They also started raising funds to ensure the success of the strike. The management, in turn, had managed to deploy a large number of police to protect the company’s property and maintain law and order. Despite this suppression, increasing number of workers started participating in the struggle.

On 26 February, Surendra Nath Haldar, along with his associates, reached Jamshedpur. The next day; he addressed a large meeting of workers before meeting with J E .Scott. The same day. Tutwiler reached Jamshedpur. A tripartite meeting was subsequently convened, but did not arrive at any decision. On 28 February, the administration deployed additional armed forces near the factory premises and in vulnerable areas of the town. This added to the resentment of the workers. That day, another tripartite meeting was convened, in which the management spoke about the concessions it was willing to offer However, Haldar insisted on a written statement, which the management refused. Thus, the negotiations failed again. In view of the gravity of the situation, Haldar sent a telegram to Mahatma Gandhi with a request that he intervenes in the matter. Gandhi sent Lala Lajpat Rai and Shaukat Ali to Jamshedpur but these leaders also spoke to the management without obtaining any concrete result.

   
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Meanwhile, Scott requested Haldar to prepare a fresh charter of demands. On 1 March, the new charter was presented to Tutwiler , for forwarding it to the Board of Directors at Bombay on 3 March, the management, the local administration and police officials held secret meetings to discuss the volatile situation in the city. On 5 March, a tripartite meeting was again organized, in which Byomkesh Chakravarty played the role of the mediator. The same afternoon, a general meeting of the workers was convened in which he narrated the inflexible stand of the management. He also proposed the establishment of a trade union for taking up their cause in an organized and effective manner. The Jamshedpur Labour Association was thus formed, in the presence of more than 25,000 employees in which Mr S N Halder became first President of Jamshedpur labour Association.

On 20th March chairman Sir Dorabji Tata came to Jamshedpur and the strike ended after 33 days. Sir Dorabji announced the term of settlement and recognition of the union. S N Halder was the President from 1920 to 1924. C F Andrews became the 2nd President of the Association. Between 1924 and 1925 TISCO witnessed several labour problems for which Mahatma Gandhi visited Jamshedpur on 8th Aug 1925 along with C F Andrews, Jawaharlal Nehru and C R Das and made a settlement with the management. C F Andrews was the President from 1924 to 1928. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose became the third President of the association from 1928 to 1936. Netaji wrote to the management for Indianisation of the company and to give key positions to Indians. By his suggestion TISCO got the first Indian General Manager C A Alexander . On 12 Sept 1928 Netaji signed a historic agreement to end the strike.

 It was Netaji by whome effort Maternity leave started for TISCO female worker. June 1928 was the last strike in the history of TISCO till now.

Prof Abdul Bari became the President of the Association from 1936 to 1947. Prof  Bari changed the name of the association to Tata Workers union in April 1937 and registered with trade union act on 9th December 1938.

After Prof Abdul Bari, Michal John was President from 1947 to 1977. He was the man who has laid the foundation of Joint Consultation System in 1956 in Tata Steel which resulted industrial harmony in every difficult situation.

V G Gopal was the President from 1977 to 1993 Mr S K Benjamin became the seventh President from 1993 to 2002 and R B B Singh became 8th President from 2002 to 2006. Raghunath Pandey was the President from 2006 to 2012. P N Singh was President from 2012 to 2015. R Rabi Prasad is continuing to the Post of President from 2015 to till date.

The Tata Workers’ Union has had a formal structure and organization since 1920 with a written constitution which was amended thrice i.e  in 1956, 1971 and 2015. It is legally registered and affiliated to the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC).

Hierarchically, it has three layers. At the bottom layer, the general body is constituted who are known as Primary Member All permanent workers on the Jamshedpur unit of Tata Steel are the members of the general body.

Every member of the union is required to pay as monthly subscription of three percent of basic pay divided by 12, but not more than INR 80. The middle tier of TWU constitutes executive members who democratically elected from Primary members, and are locally known as committee members. The TWU constitution has 214 executive committee members distributed among several sections and departments of the company. The top laver of the union hierarchy constitutes the 11 Eleven office bearers of the union, who are elected by the committee members. These 11 office bearers are one President one General Secretary one Deputy President, one Treasurer, three Assistant Secretaries four Vice Presidents.

Tata workers Union is also doing social services for the community in line with the

founders Vision.Tata Workers’ Union has shown great concern for their workers as well as community in around Jamshedpur. For their workers, it extends sickness benefit on humanitarian considerations. Union provides VG Gopal scholarship to a student each in engineering and medical streams who pass the exams meritoriously. The Michael John research and human resource development centre run by the union imparts skill and personality development training to the workers.

Tata Workers’ Union has a library for medical and engineering students and also for researchers. TWU conducts the Michael John Memorial lecture every year and since 1985, renowned scholars in various disciplines are invited to deliver these lectures. It allows its auditorium to be used social organisations for conducting programs. It was also publishing Ispat Mazdoor a Hindi monthly magazine for the benefit of workers and common people. Now this Union is Preparing the worker for digital revolution of the industry.

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