Strikes are the order of the day. They are a
symptom of the existing unrest. All kinds of vague ideas are floating in the
air. A vague hope inspires all, and great will be the disappointment if that
vague hope does not take definite shape. The labour world in India, as
elsewhere, is at the mercy of those who set up as adviser and guides. The latter
are not always scrupulous and not always wise even when they are scrupulous. The
labourers are dissatisfied with their lot. They have every reason for
dissatisfaction. They are being taught, and justly, to regard themselves as
being chiefly instrumental in enriching their employers. And so it requires
little effort to make them lay down their tools. The political situation too is
beginning to affect the labourers of India. And there are not wanting labour
leaders who consider that strikes may be engineered for political purposes.
In my opinion, it will be a most serious mistake
to make use of labour strikes for such a purpose. I don’t deny that such strikes
can serve political ends. But they do not fall within the plan of non-violent
non-co-operation. It does not require much effort of the intellect to perceive
that it is a most dangerous thing to make political use of labour until
labourers understand the political condition of the country and are prepared to
work for the common good. This is hardly to be expected of them all of a sudden
and until they have bettered their own condition so as to enable them to keep
body and soul together in a decent manner.
Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, p.1049
The greatest political contribution that labourers
can make is to improve their own condition, to become better informed, to insist
on their rights, and even to demand proper use by their employers of the
manufactures in which they have had such an important hand. The proper
evolution, therefore, would be for the labourers to raise themselves to the
status of proprietors.
Strikes, therefore, for the present should only
take place for the direct betterment of the labourers’ lot, and when they have
acquired the spirit of patriotism, for the regulation of prices of the
The conditions of a successful strike are simple.
And when they are fulfilled a strike never need fail.
1. The cause of the strike must be just.
2. There should be practical unanimity among the strikers.
3. There should be no violence used against non-strikers.
4. Strikers should be able to maintain themselves
during the strike period without falling back upon union funds and should
therefore occupy themselves in some useful and productive temporary occupation.
5. A strike is no remedy when there is enough
other labour to replace strikers. In that case in the event of unjust treatment
or inadequate wages or the like, resignation is the remedy.
6. Successful strikes have taken place even when
the above conditions have not been fulfilled, but that merely proves that the
employers were weak and had a guilty conscience.
Young India, 16-2-‘21
Obviously there should be no strike which is not
justifiable on merits. No unjust strike should succeed. All public sympathy must
be withheld from such strikes. The public has no means of judging the merits of
a strike, unless it is backed by impartial persons enjoying public confidence.
Interested men cannot judge the merits of their own case. Hence, there must be
an arbitration accepted by the parties or a judicial adjudication….
As a rule, the matter does not come before the
public when there is accepted arbitration or adjudication. Cases have, however,
happened when haughty employers have ignored awards or misguided employees,
conscious of their power to assert themselves, have done likewise and have
decided upon forcible extortion.
Strikes for economic betterment should never have
a political end as an ulterior motive. Such a mixture never advances the
political end and generally brings trouble upon strikers, even when they do not
dislocate public life, as in the case of public utility services, such as the
postal strike. The Government may suffer some inconvenience, but will not come
to a stand-still. Rich persons will put up expensive postal services but the
vast mass of the poor people will be deprived during such a strike of a
convenience of primary importance to which they have become used for
generations. Such strikes can only take place when every other legitimate means
has been adopted and failed.
It follows from the foregoing that political
strikes must be treated on their own merits and must never be mixed up with or
related to economic strikes. Political strikes have a definite place in
non-violent action. They are never taken up haphazard. They must be open, never
led by goondaism. They are calculated never to lead to violence.