TISCO Workers' Struggles: 1920-1928
SEVENTY-FIVE years ago, a major event took place at Sakchi in Bihar. In recent newspaper advertisements the event has been described in the following words: "It was the culmination of a dream. And in its way an expression of the nationalist spirit. It was India's first steel mill built with Swadeshi money as Jamshedji Tata had wanted it to be. A chimney came up; a township started to grow. And men came from the cities, the towns, the villages—the first of the Tata steel was born at Jamshedpur. By the endeavour of a fraternity of people aspiring, struggling and achieving;...'51
Seventy-five years call for a celebration but at the same time 75 years are not sufficient to wash away the picture of what really happened in the history of the men and women in that jungle-bound place called Sakchi. The above mentioned advertisement carries the Tata claim that labour welfare was "one of the first cares of the TISCO employer and anticipating every need of the Tata steel man the Company introduced the 8 hour day (1912), Free medical aid (1915), leave with pay (1920) Worker's Provident Fund (1920), Accident Compensation (1920)." Contrary to this claim the workers of TISCO had to fight for almost each concession at different times and had to struggle their way towards bare survival. Their recruitment and the working conditions were akin to conditions under slavery and they were not then part of the "fraternity of people".
Since 1920 a number of strikes took place in TISCO to get an eight-hour working day, better wages and better medical facilities etc. The strikes were organised without any centralised leadership and were practically complete despite the extremely heterogeneous character of the working force which comprised different castes, religions and regional and linguistic groups. In dealing with the strike the 'swadeshi' management took full recourse to the repressive machinery of the colonial state.
The recruitment policy of the Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO) was guided by one major requirement of running a huge industry, namely, prevention of large strikes. Jamshedji Tata, the
*Teaches at Khalsa College, Delhi.