Strike is a temporary stoppage of work by a group of employees in order to express a grievance or to enforce a demand concerning changes in work conditions. Strike is neither an act of war against the industry nor against the employer. It is basically a weapon of self-defence against the arbitrary and unjust policy of the management. It is a social necessity for promoting or defending the just economic interest of the working class.
The right to strike has acquired an implied authorization from Articles 23, 24 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). In India the Trade Unions Act, 1926 for the first time provided limited right to strike by legalizing certain activities of a registered trade union. 1 Further, the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 recognized that the workers have the right to strike in certain circumstances other than those prohibited. 2 The Supreme Court in Chandramalai Estate v . Their Workmen 3 , recognized that strike is a legitimate and sometimes unavoidable weapon in the hands of labourers.
In the Indian Constitutional set up the right to strike is not an absolute right but it flows from the fundamental right to form union and is subject to reasonable restrictions. The question, whether the right to strike is a fundamental right came up for consideration in All India Bank Employees' Association v. National Industrial Tribunal , 4 where the Supreme Court observed:
"Even a very liberal interpretation of sub-clause (c) of clause (1) of Article 19 cannot lead to the conclusion that the trade unions have a guaranteed right to strike either as part of collective bargaining or otherwise......The right to strike or the right to declare lock-out may be controlled or restricted by appropriate industrial legislation, and the validity of such legislation would have to be tested not with reference to the criteria laid down in clause (4) of Article 19 but by totally different considerations."
The right of Government Servants to form associations, hold demonstrations and strikes has been debated since long. The position is somewhat anomalous. On the one hand, government servants like industrial workers have the guaranteed fundamental right to form association or union and to demonstrate for redressal of their grievances, on the other hand, unlike industrial workers, government servants generally are charged with onerous responsibilities for operating essential and vital services to the community. As such they are expected to behave in a responsible manner without resorting to concerted activity on the ground that strike would be tantamount to disloyalty to the nation and the public. Government has tried to regulate strikes by the government servants through the Government Servants Conduct Rules, Essential Services Maintenance Ordinances, etc. and withdrawal of recognition of union formed by government servants. Rule 4A of the Central Civil Services Conduct Rules, 1955 reads:
No Government servant shall participate in any demonstration or resort to any strike in connection with any matter pertaining to his conditions of service.
The Supreme Court in Kameshwar Prasad v. State of Bihar 5 held that a person did not lose his fundamental rights by joining government services. Article 33 of the Constitution provides that fundamental rights of the members of the Armed Forces, etc. can be abridged or abrogated by law, thus implying that fundamental rights of other government servants cannot be abridged. Rule 4A was held to be valid so far as it referred to strikes, and void in so far as it referred to demonstrations because it violated the fundamental right of speech and expression. In T.K. Rangrajan v . Government of Tamil Nadu 6 the Supreme Court held that the government employees have no fundamental, legal, moral or equitable right to go on strike even for a just cause.
Recently, in April, 2011, several members of Indian Commercial Pilots Association went on strike resulting in six pilots being sacked by State owned Air India thereby derecognizing their Association. Hon'ble Justice Geeta Mittal of the Delhi High Court asked the 800 pilots to call off their agitation, barring the pilots from resorting to any kind of demonstration and asked them to resume work in the larger public interest and declared the strike illegal, as it was against the commercial interest of the public airline as well as against the larger public interest. 7
To conclude, strike as a weapon has to be used sparingly for redressal of urgent and pressing grievances when no other means are available or when available means have failed to resolve a dispute. Every dispute between an employer and employee has to take into consideration the third dimension, viz. the interest of the society as a whole. However, the workers must have the right to strike for the redress of their grievances and they must be paid wages for the strike period when the strike is legal and justified.