Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
The Supreme Court must understand that the people of this country who have lost all
their hopes in all other sectors of the State find in it their last hope and therefore it should
not pass any such order that may make their last hope lost. The ban on strikes by public
sector employees is one such order.
From my four decades of experience in workers movement, I have seen, the employees
go for a general strike only when as a mass they are affected, otherwise not. As a mass
they are affected only when the person at the helm of affairs conspires or acts against the
whole group of employees. Snap strike is a rarity. In reality, strike is resorted to as the
last resort when all other conciliatory approaches from the employees’ side fail to fetch
any result. Hence, for a general strike, the man at the top of management or some one
somewhere in the echelon of power is responsible, not the employees. Employees do
resort to strike, but they are not the cause of strike. Unscrupulous authorities always
cause the strikes. If there is no colorable exercise of managerial power, no recalcitrant
attitude to issues affecting the mass of employees, no precipitation of strike by the
employer, there shall never be any strike of work. So what the nation needs most is not a
ban on strike, but a provision of punishment against the man in charge of management
whom the employees must point out to be the root cause of formation of a situation for
strike. The Supreme Court has not paid its attention to this side.
On the other hand, strikes are not always related to job status or job security or to show of
collective bargain power or to self-centeredness of the employees. Unfortunately the
Supreme Court has kept its perception of general strike stuck to such phenomena. But,
there are times when the employees deliberately decide to strike without caring for their
salary or security and without any purpose of any bargain with their managements. These
are strikes born out of sheer patriotism. The employees conceive such strikes as the only
weapon they can wield to safeguard their national interest, to protect their national
property, to awake their fellow citizens for foiling a conspiracy against the country. A
bright example of this is the recent strike of the employees of NALCO. The usurpers of
power in the Center had conspired to sale away the most profit fetching industry of the
State to private profiteers at throwaway prices. The NALCO employees’ patriotic strike
saved this national property. The employees’ contribution to nation building is certainly
more than that of the rulers. Hence, when rulers in a democracy conspire against the
country, it becomes the responsibility of the employees to rise in revolt against the
conspirators. When they revolt, they strike. How can such a strike be anti-nation? Should
there be a ban on such a strike?
I have every reason to be apprehensive of misuse of the Supreme Court’s direction
against strikes in future when the usurpers of power shall be facing resistance from
patriotic employees in similar instances.
I regret to note that the major trade unions and political leaders, who have preferred not
to stand with the Supreme Court judgment, have limited themselves to criticize it on the
only ground that it curtails the collective bargain power of employees. But the havoc the
judgment may play on employees who shall be addressing themselves to protect the
nation as was done by the NALCO employees is yet to be properly perceived.
Notwithstanding how who reacted, history has witnessed that the Naval strike that
shattered every stymie on our way to independence, was one of the finest instance of
patriotism. That was also a strike by the employees. So, employees also strike when their
patriotism requires them to. No curb on patriotism by any court of law can be
countenanced. So, Courts cannot ban every strike. Can we hear afresh what the Naval
Central Strike Committee had wanted us to know on February 23, 1946 as its last
message? It reads:
Our strike has been a historic event in the life of our nation. For the first time the blood
of men in the Services and men in the streets flowed together in a common cause. We, in
the Services, will never forget this. We know also that you, our brothers and sisters, will
not forget. Long live our great people, Jai Hind.
I see the reflection of this message in the NALCO employees’ strike. All future strikes of
similar nature shall also carry the same message. The message of patriotism. Therefore
banning all strikes cannot be accepted as just and proper.
If the dictum ‘to err is human’ is not incorrect, it cannot be said that no judge can never
err. The judiciary is aware of this. Therefore reviewing of their judgments by the Judges
is neither uncommon nor surprising. On this premise, one may hope that the Supreme
Court reviews its judgment and make it clear as to which sort of strike it shall apply. And,
till then it should keep its ban on strike inoperative.