'The Ahmedabad experiment' – Technological change and the emergence of scientific wage categories

The 1950s and 1960s saw far-reaching changes in the Ahmedabad textile industry with shifts in production technology from two-sides to four-sides weaving looms. This threatened workers to become retrenched in large numbers. By linking technological changes in textile mills to larger processes of social transformation in Ahmedabad, the presentation looks at this historical juncture from three perspectives. First, it traces the changes in business strategies with regards to research and development as embodied in the emerging Ahmedabad Textile Industrial Research Association (ATIRA) and its transnational networks of management scholarship. As part of such research projects like the “Ahmedabad experiment”, the group systems approach became one of the dominant ideas of workplace re-organisation. This brought ATIRA in close contact of exchange with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, London as well as Harvard and the MIT in the US. Second, by looking at the impact of these changes in labour process organisation on the shopfloor, the aim is to analyse the effect on modalities of workers’ wages. Those modifications occurred with regards to (re-) definitions of payment periods, time-rated and piece rated remunerations as well as quality and quantity bonuses. As these new payment structures were linked to efficiency and productivity norms elaborated in studies by ATIRA, they became part of emerging categories of “scientific” wages. This in turn redefined the process of collective bargaining with regards to remuneration between the Ahmedabad millowners and the trade union (Textile Labour Association, TLA). Third, as these changes in wages had an impact on household consumption, such patterns will be traced in budget studies conducted by the Labour Bureau during the same period. Looking at these budgets in relation to wages will illuminate on the implications for social divisions such as caste, class and gender.