Employees Rights to Strike
“India is perhaps a unique country where one witnesses a bandh or strike almost every other day.”
– A Foreign Press Reporter.
When workers as a body stop their work to compel their employers to concede to their demands, we say they have gone on strike. Strikes are a peculiar feature of the modern industrial life. They have assumed different forms and shapes such as tool down strike, lie-down strike, pen-down strike and slow-down strike. In fact, they are but a symptom of some deep-routed malady in our economic life.
Our constitution guarantees the basic rights to every citizen of the country in the chapter of Fundamental Rights. It is also a virtual fact that fundament rights of people as a whole cannot be subservient to the fundamental rights of a group or section of the people. There cannot be any right to strike which interferes in the lives of common people and also causing huge loss to national economy.
In a democracy, government employees are part and parcel of the government machinery and so owe duty and responsibility towards the society. Too many strikes and bandhs are very disastrous for the smooth functioning of government and cause lot of hardships to a common man. In our country everyone is found talking of his rights in democracy, but he forgets the fundamental duties enshrined in the same constitution.
From the workers point of view, strikes are ultimate weapons which are only resorted to by them when all other means of struggle and negotiation to meet their genuine demands have exhausted. It is experienced that the working as a whole has been relatively responsible and only used strikes in extreme cases when negotiations have failed completely or when employers have appeared to be completely insensitive to genuine demands of labour.
Modern strikes are the offspring of trade unions. Uniohism has come into existence as a tool of self-defence against the capitalistic monopoly of industry. The workers soon realized that their retaliation at the excesses was possible only when they were organized and united. Before trade unions appeared on the scene, they experienced the worst exploitation at the hands of the capitalistic. They were without education, without discipline and without unity : However, with the birth of trade unionism, the worker became aware of his strength in the teeth of opposition. Through the outcome of capital-labour dispute, it became the medium of organizing people to seek redress and fight for their rights and justice strikers as a potent weapon thus remained confined not only to industrial disputes but made their appearance in almost all walks of life.
Strikes, though originally limited to industry, now affect almost all public services. The commonest strikes are industrial strikes, strikes by Government employees, strikes by students, strikes by workers in public service and the fresh addition is strike by teachers for revision of their pay scales. The teachers have also brought about a new mode of refusal to work called “Chalk down strike”.
The most usual cause of strike by the factory workers is the question of wages. Other causes are the duration of working hours and the conditions under which the work is carried on. Besides, the labour unrest relates to bonus and the question of dismissal. The capitalist, who grows fat at the hard work of the labour, squeezes their life-blood and, at the same time, does not provide them even with living wages. Maximum work is extracted with least wages granted. The state of semi-starvation, hunger, despair, frustration, rising prices and the question of barest survival drives the working class to go on strike and raise their voice against injustice done to them.
The worst menace of strikers is grievously felt in the student community. They are as common in educational institutions as they are in other spheres of modern life. It is only for the safeguarding of their privileges that students go on strike but the slightest provocation is sufficient to indulge them in strikes. Discipline and orderly life on the campus is reduced to a mere farce. Today, the student in his heated passion caused damage to his own class rooms, furniture and even intends burning down the libraries. Thus, with the students strikes have become the agitational expression, not only of their demands but even for the issues which do not directly affect them. He is the most willing victim and the convenient weapon used for disrupting the national life and indulging in anti- social activities.
The Supreme Court observed that “strikes hold the state to ransom” and “cause heavy loss of working days”. The Supreme Court also observed that strike is the most misused weapon in the country. The Supreme Court made it quite clear that employees have no fundamental right to resort to strike. Quoting the judgement in a case relating to an All India strike by bank employees, the Bench said that the Supreme Court had specially held that even very liberal interpretation of sub clause (c) of clause (i) of Article 19, cannot lead to the conclusion that trade unions have a guaranteed rights to an effective collective bargaining or to strike either as part of collective bargaining or otherwise. There are numerous benefits of strikes. The workmen are no longer at the mercy of their employers as they were before. They cannot be tyrannized and better treatment is meted out to them and only reasonable work can be taken from them. The workers have learnt the lesson of unity, co-operation and mutual accord. They have secured enormous benefits for the working classes-higher wages, shorter working hours, better conditions of work, better housing, educational and medical facilities etc. However, the dangers of strikes are also numerous. Strikes mean stoppage of work and to bring privation and miseries to the workers. Strikes create bad blood between employers and employees, and lead to bitterness and strained relationship. The harmony and peace is disturbed and remains so to perpetually affect the work and the output.
It is true that without a radical change in the economic system the strikes will continue to occur. But even in the present state of things. Something can be done to redress the just grievances of the labour and thereby minimize the chances of strikes. It is the duty of both employees and the employer to avoid the conflicts and try to sort out the matter with open mind, keeping in view the good and welfare of the society and the nation as a whole.