Understanding the psyche of modern industrial workmen

It does not take more than elementary common sense to understand the psyche of the modern industrial workmen. He is as normal as any other human being is. He also has his own concerns, dreams, anxieties, worries, social pressures and what have you. Decades of my interacting with a very vast number of workmen across so many industries has enabled me to get a more accurate picture of their psyche. Some dimensions are sought to be discussed in this article.


The industrial workforce is made up of men. Almost to the tune of around ninety-six percent. The women are vastly employed in the textile industries and in assembly jobs where their natural dedication to work is a big plus. As a sort of general rule, most employers do not like women to work in hazardous operations. The best example is melting and molding operations in a Foundry, where the temperatures are even upwards of more than 1800 degrees. The men who work in such places, of course, have a lot of endurance and are patient.

Be that as it may, since 1991, the sea changes in the very nature and role of the Trade Unions, is a big cause of worry for most workmen, nationwide. This is a big worry indeed. The individual workmen do get some information on the macro situation about trade unions, mostly through the grapevine and informal interactions with other workmen. The vernacular press does not carry even one-tenth the news that the English business newspapers and magazines carry. This is a major reason why the workman is at a loss. He never understands the wider implications.

This article will focus on the individual workman's psyche and the generally pronounced common psyche. It relates to a number of variables. However, the role of some variables is crucial. In this article, these roles are related to a) The role of developments around him b) The role of developments in the local industrial environment c) The role of developments related to attitudes of Managers/Management d) The role of social developments and e) The role of political developments.

The role of developments around him

This is a massive change. The individual workman of today is not dumb. Even if he has passed the school final examination or even failed in it, his awareness of the most modern technology and it's use is very good. When he sees his four year old daughter or son talk about the internet and the smartphones, he is able to relate to both. He is able to Google information that he needs in his own mother tongue and is very happy about it. He uses the smartphone in more or less the same manner in which his managers do. This is a welcome change.

However, even when his family members and even school going children would also appreciate his knowledge of and use of advanced technology, the workmen do see the adverse effects of the use of the most advanced technology related to modernization. Retirement vacancies or even vacancies arising out of death are not filled up at all. Sometimes, he sees a number of new workmen entering his factory under the essentially atrocious NEEM scheme, where after initial training, the workmen have to do far more skilled jobs but do not get even ESI of PF.

The present-day workmen are puzzled. These are confronted with two realities. Their wives and children want to live far better lives. They want to use the latest smartphones and even smart televisions. A sea change is noticed in attitudes. Women do not mind shifting to the metro environs of Bangalore or Chennai or Hyderabad, wanting their children to read in the best of arts and science colleges for the Bachelor' s degree in Commerce of Visual Communication or Economics or whatever. The worker is ready and does even borrow money for this purpose. The family exerts pressure on him, requesting him to give up any thought of even going on strikes. This makes the individual worker even more grounded to the essentially " buy peace" strategies of many employers, who happily "take care of" the internal trade union leaders. This happens all over.

The second reality pertains to the attitude of fellow workmen, who also want to do the same. Thousands of workmen with whom I have interacted with, rather emphatically want their sons and daughters to be very highly educated. Even in the worst of scenarios, with the rapid decline in birth rates, it is eminently possible for the workmen to educate their sons or daughters in the nearby polytechnics. This helps their children enter the trainee level and subsequently the juniormost supervisory positions across India. This is also seen happening across India. The next generation of workmen who might be lucky to work in regular, permanent jobs with security, will be coming from the tenth or twelfth standard pass first generation learners of landless laborers. This is happening in many parts of Tamil Nadu and of late, in AP as well.

Hence, the individual workman on regular and permanent jobs will positively not take part in any strike, even if that were to be very peaceful. The social pressures will also impact his psyche. The family pressure will be very huge indeed. Even workmen who have communist orientations are simply bowled over by the exçessive dosage of the most advanced technology they see all around them. Even workmen of all shades have servant maids, electricians or plumbers working for them. Their heart does not melt when these people demand higher wages. They tend to bargain. After all, the social fabric is always what it is.

The role of developments in the local industrial environment

This is another cause of concern. This was evident when recently I had a discussion about the rather pathetic standard of a private sector tyre manufacturer, in a factory just 25 kilometers away from the factory where all the five workmen are still employed. One workman has his brother working on contract in this factory. This brand is so famous and is a market leader. However, the standard of the industrial canteen is not even fifty percent as good as the local company 's canteen. The workmen asked me how the employer could be so callous. Even before I could reply, one workman asked all the four to thank their stars that their food is far better!!

Well, the workers concerned were somewhat docile even in very normal situations. They are somewhat angry about some anti-labor practices of some employers. But beyond expressing their concern, their psyche is such that they tend to feel happy about their own position, their families and their welfare, in that order. Their psyche is such that cross-industry strikes, the kind of which were common in Kerala and West Bengal, some three decades ago, can never ever happen again. The last attempt at such mass mobilization detailed was when the late Datta Samant, tried this mass uprising of textile workers and made some attempts to rope in workmen from other industries in Mumbai, in the seventies. The capitalists joined together and the strike fizzled out. It was said that the capitalists happily waited for the strike to go on and on, and simply locked out their factories. The costly real estate market opened up and all mill lands became prime real estate. This sort of massive mobilization, which itself was a failure, never happened again.

The reference to the rather pathetic textile strike was deliberate. It was made to highlight the fact that the workmen have come a very long way since then. They have become somewhat docile and compare themselves with the armies of educated unemployed youth. The social environment is very complex now. The negative vibrations from the local industrialized environment do not bother them much. Even the collective anger of thousands of workmen cannot deter the capitalists from using the best of legal and industrial relations experts who will bring to bear every trick to hammer long-term settlements that do not cost the employers much at all.

The workmen are caught in a " take it or leave it" situation and cannot do anything. The macro and micro situation of very dynamic markets are unlikely to change at all.

The role of developments related to attitudes of Managers/Management

This author has always seen the reciprocal attitudes at play. If the individual manager and the overall mindset of the Management are to really respect and involve the workmen and take their suggestions for improving productivity, if the HR professionals are seen as pro-active individuals always interested in engaging with workmen, many good results are always seen.

The workmen respond so well and give their voluntary co-operation. If any member of the manager's s family is sick, the workmen do all the running about and take turns in doing everything that is possible to make the family feel so good and happy. However, just the opposite happens when managers still stick to the age-old disciplinary actions and bark at workmen. The reactions range from total indifference to outright refusal to do additional work. In cases where the local trade union representatives are so powerful, the local management's tend to play safe and do not support the autocratic managers. The situation becomes very ripe for the HR Manager to jump in and play the role of a hero. Since the trade union guys always get favors from the HR Manager, they compromise and "advise" the workmen to co-operate.

This is the fertile ground for industrial conflict to flourish and grow. It must be noted that the issue is not money. It is money. The workmen feel let down and sometimes openly complain to the Trade union chief who sits in the Corporate Office. But the Managements have virtually "purchased" such officials who have business interests openly funded and aided by the Management. This situation becomes even worse when seemingly simple issues are blown up and acquire the status of big issues. For, the HR Managers always feel happy that my solving such issues, they will effectively get the opportunity to impress the Top Management. Since everyone is effectively playing so many games, frustration only increases in the minds of workers. Nevertheless, the smart managers who creatively engage the workmen in the very same factory are even appreciated by the trade union representatives for every single bit of happiness and recognition and achievement as the workmen see and perceive very often.

The workman's psyche relating to social developments

Social developments like massive corruption, the water problem, increasingly assertive wives who want the bigger things in life, permissiveness of children and influence of social media is seen to be worrying every single workman. Even those who are economically far better off.

This happens due to a variety of reasons. Even in semi-urban areas, one does not have time. So, the workmen do not get time to discuss these issues with anybody. Secondly, they already carry so many office worries or related physical problems at home. They are very tired most of the times. When the social problems add up, the workmen often loses control and takes to booze. This sometimes creates more problems. Booze is never the answer. But it does happen very often. The average workman is indeed very much worried and concerned about such social problems. If the wives are very much supportive, such social problems may not cause any big impact.

The workman's psyche relating to political developments

In Tamil Nadu, Hindi is still seen as a monster. None like the language at all. They feel that it undermines the importance of Tamil, a much older and a classical language. The local parties have really caught the imagination of the local people, through their anti- Hindi stance. However, the individual workman does understand the importance of his or her children learning Hindi as an additional language. Particularly, the spoken language. The DMK and the AIADMK have succeeded in enlarging their base on the anti-Hindi platform.

There are other aspects too. The individual workmen tend to identify himself or even collectively in big groups when the issue is seen important. For instance, industrial workmen in the whole of Karnataka are sold on the concept that the Cauvery river is meant only for Karnataka people. This stand was widely reported in the press. The workmen silently work for the political parties. For instance, even in a very prestigious company like L&T, the Shiv Sena has made deep inroads and this translates into votes. The individual workman does seem to have his or her political affiliation firmly set in place. There cannot be any doubt about this.


Only when one interacts with thousands of workmen, he or she can come to some understanding of the psyche of individual workmen. This author's interactions continue to this day. Some dimensions have been discussed above.


Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao21 Mar 2019 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 4

A very interesting and well-deliberated article from the author. As an experienced professional manager, I think the author made a good study on the psychology of a worker.

I am also having more than 30 years of experience in handling manpower up to 1000 people. I used to study the mentality of individual workers, how they behave in different conditions. When they are in a need of some help they behave in a different way and when they have to help others they behave in a different way. The modern-day trade union leaders who are in the organization will also have their own interest forget about the union top man who is sitting elsewhere. They will become hand in glove to the manager for their selfish requirements and try to get sold himself to the management. This is where the management is getting an upper hand. Trade Union is also like politics these days. The leaders who are really interested in the welfare of the other workers are very rare.

The exploitation of manpower is there but it is flourishing due to the mentality of the workmen. As explained by the author their own requirements are making them settle with their own benefit than the other problems. Slowly the labor jobs will come down and all people should get educated and make their own way of life. Another problem which makes this whole issue different is that mainly many of these workmen don't want to move away from their home town or village. They may have a house and some property there. So they feel happy about not changing the place and they will be happy with the money they are earning there.

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