Automation : A Bane or Boon ?
THE determined bid by the Government to introduce computers and other electronic equipment in organised industry, trade and commerce under the guise of technological innovation and managerial revolution has created serious apprehension in the minds of the Indian working class. Until 1965, when only a few departments in a handful of commercial^ undertakings were computerised, the opposition by workers did not assume serious proportions. But since 1965, their opposition to computerisation became articulate. Struggles against automation became more widespread m recent years as large-scale computerisation programmes were initiated in public and private sector undertakings in complete disregard to the^ views and opinions of the trade unions and employees' associations.
The trade union leaders have argued that, in the given situation, the use of computers in offices would aggravate the existing unemployment and should therefore be banned. Despite the assurances given by the managements that there would be no retrenchment or reduction in salary and no loss of promotion opportunities, wherever computerisation has taken place, the managements have acted in a manner detrimental to the interests of the workers or employees. They have invariably been guided by the logic of profit maximisation.
The managements, drawing inspiration from the Government, have provoked the feelings of the working class by taking a blatantly undemocratic attitude towards this question. The spokesmen of big business shamelessly assert that modernisation and computerisation fall within the realms of normal managerial responsibility. Consequently, management is not obliged to consult the^ workers or to entertain their views on issues relating to computerisation and automation. On the other hand, trade union leaders have repeatedly pointed out that proposals for computerisation are not the exclusive concern of the managen^ent, but involve vital issues concerning labour, having serious repercussions on their employment prospects and working conditions. Therefore, they have been demanding that they should be taken into confidence at all stages of decision-making concerning computerisation and automation*
The arguments of the trade unions are unassailable in so far as they are based on the promises made by the Government as early as the beginning of the First Plan period. In the First Plan itself certain decisions were contemplated with regard to rationalisation and modernisa-