The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Strikes are not a fundamental right and have no moral and legal basis. The recent judgment of the apex court underlines this axiom

The right to strike is an oxymoron. Nobody, save the loony left, ever thought that the right to strike was a fundamental one. Since the Sixties, the burgeoning of the public sector and the ascendancy of politically affiliated trade unions and officers’ associations had encouraged the belief that strikes were a perfectly legitimate, if not righteous, method of registering protest. The ordinary, unaffiliated citizen, dependent on the services from these bodies, was quite helpless before such confidence, and the consequent disruption. The paralysis wrought upon trade and industry by political parties and organizations, besides inconveniencing the citizen, also caused serious losses to the exchequer. The Supreme Court has decided to correct the balance in its ruling on the case of the two lakh government employees dismissed by the Tamil Nadu government for striking work. It has stated that the right to form unions and associations does not automatically guarantee the right to strike. In a democracy, collective bargaining cannot be conducted in a way that makes the fundamental rights of the whole people subservient to the interests of a few individuals.

The Supreme Court has left nothing to chance. No employee has a legal right to strike, and grievances can be redressed by statutory bodies set up for that purpose. Besides, and perhaps this has hit where it hurts most, there is no moral or equitable justification for a strike. If there is perceived injustice, redress must be sought by other means than holding the rest of the society to ransom. Not merely government employees, but doctors, teachers, transport operators, presumably lawyers too, have a directly damaging effect on all those dependent on their services. At no point, however, has the court prohibited strikes. It has merely stated that no one can claim a right to it. It is up to the government or the administration to decide whether or not a strike will be tolerated, and if so, how far. In other words, political organizations and the bureaucracy have the power to break strikes, as well as to talk things over with the strikers.

It is not just the citizen at the receiving end, but also the non-unionized employee, whose opinion is not heard, who is affected adversely by a strike in his own organization. If a felt grievance seems to call for a strike, perhaps it should be put to the vote of everyone in the organization, from the top boss downwards, and a decision taken on the basis of a clear majority percentage. It is a sorry comment on the work culture of India that there is today such an excitement over the Supreme Court ruling. The strike as a democratic form of protest has dwindled all over the world. It is only here that the left bristles at the suggestion that the “birthright” to strike be taken away from the “workers”, quite unaware that it is making quite a spectacle of itself. Apart from the hard facts of a changing world and global competition, there is also the growing exasperation of the people with the disruptions of everyday life. The strike was always an imposition of a minority’s will over the majority. The Supreme Court has now broken the tyranny of trade unions.

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