"Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains."- Karl Marx
Although India is the world's largest democratic country and has the world's
longest constitution, it lacks basic democratic rights of the citizen such as
the right to effective collective bargaining and the right to strike since
they're not explicitly covered under the Indian Constitution. It is crucial to
understand the definition of strike in order to ascertain whether or not the
right to strike is a fundamental right under Article 19(1) of the Indian
The term "strike" is derived from the Greek phrase "strican to go," which means
"to quit, hit, or impress in the event of a trade dispute." It is the most
impactful and last recourse for workers to obtain economic justice. Strike has
taken on multiple definitions around the world, and most countries have granted
employees the right to strike.
A strike is a stoppage of work by employees to compel their employer to
acknowledge their demands. Strikes are the worker's last recourse when no other
productive alternative remains to ensure that their demands are fulfilled. It is
done by workers with a view of improving their wages or conditions, or giving
vent to a grievance or making a protest about something or the other, or
supporting or sympathizing with other workers in such endeavour. It places
the employer under pressure to perform according to the desires of the
employees. Strikes are essentially a tool used by workers to make sure that
their demands are met.
The Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 specifies the components of a strike as
- The employees must be hired in an industry.
- There must be a work stoppage or denial to perform tasks.
- Coordinated Action, or the stoppage of work by employees, must be done
in accordance with a shared understanding.
- The stoppage should be the outcome of a labour dispute.
- The existence of a contract of employment.
The definition of the term 'strike' has been undergoing constant transformation
around its basic concept, i.e., putting off work by workmen in their economic
struggle with capital.
The Indian economy can't manage frequent disruptions in the form of strikes. The
nation and its economic system necessitate an increase in output. Strikes will
cause conflict and aggravate tensions between both the employer and the
employees. Strikes have the ability to infringe the nation's law and order.
India cannot afford to have regular shutdowns due to strikes because it will
stifle the country's economic growth and development.
Right To Strike Under Industrial Dispute Act, 1947
In the Pre-independence era, there was no law governing industrial dispute, but
after the enactment of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the right to strike began
to gain recognition. However, the Industrial Disputes Act recognised the
situations in which a strike can be considered as illegal. The act recognizes
the right to strike only in industries, with the word "industry" being widened
to include hospitals, educational institutions, clubs, and government
Strike is defined under section 2(q) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
According to this section, strike means "cessation of task by a body of people
hired in any industry acting in pairing, or a coordinated refusal, or a refusal,
under a shared understanding of any number of individuals who were formerly so
employed to continue working or accept employment."
The right to strike is a statutory right in India guaranteed under Sections
22, 23, and 24 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
Section 24 distinguishes between "legal strikes" and "illegal strikes". Sections
22 and 23 of the Act don't prohibit strikes but put a certain limitation on
them. As per section 22, in order for a strike to be legal the workers must
follow certain conditions, i.e., a strike can't be resorted to:
- Failing to give the employer a strike notice six weeks before the strike
- Within a minimum of 14 days of giving such a notice, or
- Before the expiration of the strike date mentioned in any such notice as
- During the pendency of any conciliation proceedings before the conciliation
officer and for seven days after such proceedings have concluded.
If the workers give the employer a strike notice in accordance with the above
conditions, the notice is considered validly served, and the workers' strike is
Furthermore, whether or not a strike is justified largely depends on the facts
of each case. For instance, strikes resorted to in relation to wages, bonus,
D.A., gratuity, provident fund, leave, and a holiday are justiciable.
The court stated in Gujarat Steel Tubes v. Its Mazdoor Sabha that a strike
can be both legal and illegal, and that even an illegal strike can be
legitimised. As a result, it is the Court's responsibility to decide whether a
strike is lawful.
The right to strike and the right to collective bargaining are two sides of the
same coin. The right to strike is a weapon in the hands of workers which enables
them to bargain for a healthy workplace and higher wages, etc. Collective
bargaining would be effective only if Trade Unions were granted the right to
Right To Strike Under Indian Constitution
The Indian constitution does not recognise the right to strike as a fundamental
right. When the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 took effect, strikes were
acknowledged as a statutory right. It recognised the right of workers to strike
as well as the right to lockout.
Although a strike is an adapted form of protest, Article 19(1) does not include
the fundamental right to strike but does include the fundamental right to
protest, and the right to form associations and trade unions.
In a large democratic nation like India, with a large range of economic
transactions and a well-developed industrial sector, policies for the welfare of
its citizens involved are essential, as stated in Article 38 of the
Constitution. The people working in the Corporate sector, including private and
public companies, industries, and so on, should be prioritised, and their
rational demands, such as subsistence wages, working time, personal hygiene, and
so on, should be met. Article 19(1)(c) may grant them the right to form
associations and trade unions, but it is insufficient. In some situations, the
workers go on strike in order to compel the employer to meet their demands.
According to Article 19(1)(c) of the Indian Constitution, Indian citizens
have the right to freedom to form associations or unions[co-operative
societies]. While as per Article 19(4), reasonable restrictions can be
imposed on Article 19(1)(c) on the following grounds:
- In the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, or
- In the interests of public order or morality.
The rights guaranteed under Article 19 are not absolute rights, and are subject
to reasonable restrictions. The limitations can be procedural or substantive,
but both must pass the reasonableness test. The Court will decide whether a
restriction is reasonable or not.
It was decided in the case of All India Bank Employees Association v. National
 that "even a very liberal interpretation of Article
19(1)(c) of the Indian Constitution cannot lead to the conclusion that trade
unions have a constitutional right to collectively bargain in an effective way
or to strike as part of the collective bargain or otherwise."
In the case of B.R. Sing v. Union of India,
 it was observed that the "Right
to strike is a legal right and cannot be considered as a fundamental right."
Workers cannot go to strike assuming that it is their fundamental right to do
The right to strike is recognised as a legal right with its own set of
restrictions under the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947. The Trade Unions Act of
1926 emphasises that trade unions can also carry out their operations
peacefully. Moreover, the act recognises the right to strike and grants
trade unions protection under Section 19. However, the Industrial Disputes Act
of 1947 differentiates between legal and illegal strikes.
The International Labour Organization necessitates that employees have the right
to organise and bargain collectively. However, there are no explicit laws
regarding the right to strike. The ILO Committee of Experts has deemed this
right to be an essential component of the right to organise. Excluding the right
to strike, India has implemented and encouraged nearly all of the principles
encapsulated in these two conventions.
The Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, 1948 provides for the protection of workers' interests. They have the
right to establish trade unions and associations. The International Covenant on
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights of 1966 also recognises the right to
strike as long as it is in accordance with the laws of the member states.
Even in the United States, the National Labour Relations Act of 1935 guarantees
the right to strike in order to bargain for improved working conditions and pay,
health and hygiene, and so on. However, the aforementioned right has received no
such recognition in India where it is simply a legal right.
Judicial Interpretation On The Right To Strike
Through a sequence of court rulings, the Indian judiciary emphasised the
legality or illegality of strikes but did not enforce a ban on the right to
In Kameswar Prasad v. State of Bihar
, the Court stated, "The rule in so far
as it forbids a strike cannot be quashed because there is no fundamental right
to resort to a strike."
The Supreme Court ruled in Crompton Greaves Ltd. V. Its Workmen
 that strike
is a legal weapon available to workers. The facts and circumstances of the
particular case will determine whether or not the strike is justified. The court
has also stated that an illegal strike can be justified in some cases. The court
ruled in Indian Express Newspapers Bombay Pvt. Ltd. v TM Nagarajan
workers can undergo peaceful strikes to compel their employer to meet their
It was held in the case of B.R. Singh v Union of India that it is critical
for a trade union to have an adequate membership, which can be obtained through
agitation methods such as strike, go slow, and so on. It was also determined
that striking is an absolute right that safeguards workers' liberty. In a recent
Supreme Court decision on the subject, it was determined that the right to
strike is a legal right rather than a fundamental right.
In T.K. Rangarajan v. Government of Tamilnadu and Ors.
, the court stated
that government employees have no legally or morally right to strike. Our
judiciary recognises that a strike is a weapon used by employees against their
employers, forcing the employer to consider the employees' viewpoint and accept
their demands. The judiciary believes that a strike is legal if the scenario
is just and reasonable, and if the strike does not contravene any statutory
Workers should not abuse this right and make a nuisance of themselves because it
will lead to maladministration. When workers in the transportation industry go
on strike, the entire nation comes to a halt. Students suffer when workers in
educational institutions go on strike. Patients suffer when medical
professionals go on strike. The right to strike is absolute, not relative.
The Supreme Court has ruled that workers have the right to strike peacefully.
However, the demands they make should be legal. In a case, Justices Krishna Iyer
and PN Bhagwati ruled that a strike can be illegal or legal and that even
illegal strikes can be justified in some cases.
It is a social justice principle
that has been well-recognised by industrial jurisprudence. Employees have the
same legal right, and they can go on a peaceful strike to negotiate their
demands with their employer. The Industrial Disputes Act differentiates between
legal and illegal strikes. As a result, it can be stated that a strike is legal
and justified if all of the requirements listed in 22 and 23 are met.
Constitutional Provisions Concerning The Right To Strike:
- Even for the armed forces and police, where discipline is the most
essential criterion, the fundamental right to form an association can be
limited under Article 19(4) in the interest of public order and other
- Under Article 33 of the Constitution, Parliament has the authority to
limit or revoke the rights of members of the armed forces or forces charged
with maintaining public order in order to ensure the proper discharge of
their duties and the maintenance of discipline among them.
- The Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 established strike as a statutory
right in India.
- The right to strike is not expressly recognised in the Indian Constitution.
The Supreme Court ruled in Kameshwar Prasad v. The State of Bihar, 1958 that
striking is not a fundamental right. Employees of the government have no legal
or moral right to strike.
- In Delhi Police v. Union of India (1986), the Supreme Court upheld the
restrictions to form association by the members of the non-gazetted police force
after the Police Forces (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1966, and the Rules as
amended by Amendment Rules, 1970, came into effect.
- While the right to freedom of association is fundamental, recognition of
such association is not a fundamental right.
- Parliament can by law regulate the working of such associations by
imposing conditions and restrictions on their functions, the court held.
- In K. Rangarajan v. Government of Tamil Nadu (2003), the Supreme Court held
that the employees have no fundamental right to resort to strike.
- Further, there is a prohibition to go on strike under the Tamil Nadu
Government Servants' Conduct Rules, 1973.
- Also, there is no moral or equitable justification to go on strike. The
court said that government employees cannot hold society to ransom by going
International Law On The Right To Strike
Employees must have the right to organise and bargain collectively, according to
the International Labour Organization. However, there are no express provisions
regarding the right to strike. However, the ILO Committee of Experts has deemed
this right to be indispensable and an essential component of the right to
organise. Except for the right to strike, India has implemented and promoted
almost all of the principles embodied in these two conventions. The right to
strike is emphasised in the ILO's preamble as an essential component of
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 protects the interests of
workers. They are free to form trade unions and associations. And the right to
strike is a logical extension of their constitutional right to form
associations. The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural
Rights of 1966 also recognises the right to strike as long as it is in
accordance with the laws of the member states.
Even in the United States, the National Labour Relations Act of 1935 guarantees
the right to strike in order to bargain for better wages and working conditions,
health and hygiene, and so on. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution has
even been read by the US Supreme Court. The English judiciary has been very
supportive of the right to strike. They have recognised the aforementioned right
Lord Denning believed that a strike was the last resort and that
it had emerged as an inherent right of the worker, forming the essence of
collective bargaining. Article 253 of the Constitution empowers the Parliament
to ratify international conventions, treaties, and other agreements. Even though
India has ratified an obligation to accept international labour law, it has yet
to recognise the right to strike as a fundamental right in India.
The history of labour's struggle is a growing demand for a reasonable return on
labour conveyed in various forms, such as (a) wage increases, (b) resistance to
wage decreases, and (c) allowances and benefits, among others. If a worker tries
to achieve these gains on his own, he will fail due to his lower bargaining
power; however, management with a better economic background will be able to
dictate its terms. Strikes are an important tool in the hands of labour for
increasing bargaining power.
The right to strike has been recognised by the Indian judiciary as both a legal
and statutory right. Strikes are an essential component of wage bargaining in
the industrial economy. The Trade Union Act of 1926 granted some limited strike
rights. It was eventually made a statutory right under Section 22 of the
Industrial Disputes Act of 1947. Citizens have the right to form associations
and trade unions under Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution. However, the right
to strike is an ancillary right. The right to form associations will be feeble
and illusionary if it is not granted.
Article 51(c) of the Indian Constitution requires the state to respect
international law and treaties, and Article 253 requires such international laws
and treaties to be authorised by the Indian parliament. All international laws
and conventions, such as the International Labour Organization and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 include the right to strike in their
Despite the fact that all international labour conventions state that the right
to strike is at the heart of collective bargaining, India has paid no attention
to such conventions. Even the courts have failed to recognise the dynamic
transformation of the right to strike. The right to strike must be recognised as
a fundamental right as soon as possible. Because the right to organise
associations and trade unions is meaningless unless and until the right to
strike is recognised as a fundamental right. In today's economic transactions,
the right to strike is critical. It is the ultimate weapon in the workers'
arsenal for getting their employer's demands met.
Written By: Gaurav Sharma
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- Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, Sec. 2 (q).
- Prohibition of strikes and lock-outs
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- 1990 AIR, 1 1989 SCR Supl. (1) 257
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AIR 311; 1964 SCR (7) 403
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DRJ 212; 1988 LablC 1067; 1988 RLR 194
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