Conflict Resolution and Gandhian Ethics


By : Thomas Weber

Table of Contents

About This Book

By : Thomas Weber
Published by : Gandhi Peace Foundation,
221/223, Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg,
New Delhi - 11002

Legal And Industrial Conflicts

.....the more skilful the actor in conflict, the more restricted he is in the choice of his moves (the ideal strategist has but one choice).

N. A. Bailey

The word "dispute" commonly conjures up images of either a courtroom battle or an industrial confrontation. It is proposed here to examine these two forms of conflict from the Gandhian perspective. Fortunately, there is a wealth of material left by Gandhi of his personal accounts of resolving these types of disputes – he was after all an active lawyer in his earlier years (as well as being a defendant at regular intervals throughout his life) and, in 1918, shortly after his return to India from South Africa, he became deeply involved in the Ahmedabad labour dispute out of which grew the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association "the most powerful labour union in the country".1

A. The Adversary System of Legal Dispute Settlement
In this section two areas will be examined in detail: (1) alternatives to courtroom adjudication in simple civil cases and (2) the position of the defendant facing a criminal charge. Some clues as to the conduct, along Gandhian lines, of such traditional areas of court disputes as the issue of conflicts between consumers and manufacturers, or disputes arising between individuals and large organisations can be inferred from the areas examined and from the general rules of satyagraha as outlined in Chapter Two.
Our legal system is one of the major methods of nonviolent conflict resolution between individuals where the main techniques – bilateral negotiation, intervention by an interested third party, petty squabbles or avoidance – are not, or are no longer, applicable. It is our primary institutional solution to problems of onflict.2 The Gandhian process of conflict solving sees the appearance of a civil case in court as a failure of the parties to settle the dispute and emerge as the friends the model aims at. The court stage generally precludes the Gandhian dialectic from ever coming into play between the opponents. Although it may be a truism it must be realised that individuals often see no other choice open to them than to go to the police or a lawyer owing to the mistrust of the other disputant and/or a general feeling of impotence in being able to carry out their own negotiations. Even when a civil case is in the hands of lawyers a settlement may be reached short of actual judicial adjudication but rarely will one party see the other's point of view and have undergone a process of "conversion" thereby removing the source of such future disagreements and the need for ensuing litigation.3 After all, as Chambliss and Seidman point out, once a certain point is reached our legal system is concerned with sanctions and is "no longer a device by which reconciliation and compromise [are] accomplished”.4When a conflict enters the stage of litigation there is not only the risk of total loss for one of the parties but also the possibility that they will have to pay costs – not the best method of fostering a cheerful acceptance of the outcome.
Conflicts between individuals and the state also often come before the courts. Such conflicts stem either from minor disputes between neighbours, friends and relatives that escalate out of proportion to the original cause resulting in the intervention by the police, requested or otherwise. They may also occur when individuals unilaterally perpetrate a breach of the criminal code that is detected (and the offender is prosecuted). In our adversary system of legal dispute settlement, the parties to these disputes generally do not confront each other in court. Often the defendants hire, or are allocated, counsel to conduct the dispute settling process for them by proxy. In the case of criminal matters where the defendant is unrepresented, and in our lowest courts this is in the majority of cases, the accused party often acquiesces through impotence to the prosecution's handling of the trial. Where there are two opposing lawyers (or lawyer and police prosecutor) these parties are not trying to convert each other, they have no animosity towards each other and in fact may be good friends. They are doing a job – for them the conflict is orchestrated rather than real.
Even though the conflict maybe a form of play acting on the part of the lawyers (if not their clients) there are still rules by which such procedures could be undertaken in a Gandhian spirit. To some degree our ambiguous and rather vague code of legal ethics tries to ensure this; however, the code is often acknowledged in the breaking rather than in the observance.5
The defendant in a criminal case can also undertake his own defence, or direct that his defence be undertaken, in such a way as to ensure the minimum violation of his human dignity – even though such a procedure may not be entirely free of personal cost.

Alternatives to court in civil cases
Where the disputants cannot resolve their own conflict and lawyers are hired rather than police called, this need not necessarily preclude the Gandhian dialectic from coming into play – the lawyer becoming the catalyst. With this approach there are many obvious problems. It is considered unethical, for good conflict of interest reasons, for one lawyer to be acting for both parties. If both parties have engaged counsel then the process also generally seems to have been eliminated. There can however be creative opportunities on the part of the lawyer if he/she is willing to grasp them, and is willing to take some professional risks in order to attempt a permanent settlement of the dispute where both parties emerge satisfied. Gandhi saw lawyers as mediators rather than the conductors of ordinary legal negotiations.
In reminiscing over his first major legal case, the one that initially took him to South Africa as a young unsuccessful Indian attorney, Gandhi noted:
The lawyers' fees were so rapidly mounting up that they were enough to devour all the resources of the clients, big merchants as they were. The case occupied so much of their attention that they had no time left for any other work. In the meantime mutual ill-will was steadily increasing. I became disgusted with the profession. As lawyers the counsels on both sides were bound to rake up points of law in support of their own clients. I also saw for the first time that the winning party never recovers all the costs incurred ....This was more than I could bear. I felt it was my duty to befriend both parties and bring them together.6
Instead of working towards the mere extraction of payment from the opposing party or engaging in any form of tactic which increased the distance between the protagonists, Gandhi worked to reconcile their differences in an atmosphere where each tries to see the other's point of view, where the parties ideally become friends. An independent arbitrator was arranged between the parties, a compromise was reached, a time for settling debts agreed upon, and "both parties were happy over the result" which was reached out of court. As a result of this case Gandhi claimed:

I have learnt the true practice of law. I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men's hearts. I realised that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby – not even money, certainly not my soul.7

Even if such a process cannot be undertaken in all civil cases that come to a lawyer, every practising lawyer sees many cases where a party approaches them out of sheer frustration at not being able to communicate effectively with the perceived opponent and where the legal process of resolving some petty dispute will cost the complainant in fees and time far more than they will gain as a result of the adjudication. The avoidance of such court cases by the promotion of self-help-centered dialogue could form part of the lawyer's role.
In answer to the retort, "You tell me that when two men quarrel they should not go to a law-court. This is astonishing," Gandhi could quite simply reply, "whether you call it astonishing or not, it is the truth." This he argues because in the event of two parties quarrelling, An ordinary man would ask them to forget all about it, he will tell them that both must be more or less at fault, and will advise them no longer to quarrel. But they go to lawyers. The latter's duty is to side with their clients and to find out ways and arguments in favour of clients to which they (the clients) are often strangers.8
When disputes enter the legal process the disputants lose control not only of the outcome of the process but also of their own ability to handle the situation – they become less than self-sufficient, more reliant on experts. Gandhi talks of the British courts in India being part of the machinery used to maintain imperialist political control. This was undoubtedly true; however, it must be remembered that law in all systems serves much the same function of securing adherence to certain rules designed to prevent conflicts. Courts are the means of solving those conflicts that nevertheless still occur. As important as this control may be for the smooth functioning of society, where courts can be avoided they should be, because satisfaction for both parties cannot generally come from the defeat of one of them. The denial of individual ability through the hire of third parties can be avoided, and the satisfaction of coming to grips with and solving problems that require toleration, patience and understanding retained by avoiding courts where possible. In short, only those actually involved in the conflict can be parties in the dialectic out of which justice emerges, and justice and truth can only emerge from this process. Gandhi illustrated his thinking on this issue when he argued:
Truly, men were less unmanly when they settled their disputes either by fighting or by asking their relatives to decide for them. They became more unmanly and cowardly when they resorted to the courts of law. It was certainly a sign of savagery when they settled their disputes by fighting. Is it any less so, if I ask a third party to decide between you and me? Surely, the decision of a third party is not always right. The parties alone know who is right. We, in our simplicity and ignorance, magine that a stranger, by taking our money, gives us justice.9
A further point to be made here is that courts, which are set up to deal with conflicts in our society, may not be doing their job. A study by Merry of an American inner-city housing project found that while residents often resort to courts for the management of interpersonal and crime-related disputes, the legal machinery available rarely resolves these disputes, the court functioning as a sanctioning rather than as a dispute settling forum. She concludes that in the absence of alternative effective modes of resolving disputes, either formal or informal, disputants resort to violence, avoidance and"lumping-it".10
The courtroom adjudication is intended as a final resolution of the dispute; however, the only guarantee of finality is the settling of the dispute that originally formed the public conflict. If the conflict before the court is an offshoot of an underlying conflict, a binding decision by a court may not resolve the attitudes between the parties which gave rise to the manifest conflict but may further exacerbate them.
In order for a conflict to be settled bilaterally out of court at least one of the disputants must take an approach to the dispute that sees the court as a failure of human communication (or, of course, the legal representative must place a far greater emphasis on negotiation than on appearing before court) or, as the second best, a separate alternative forum must be provided.
The first attempt at a system aimed at avoiding legal adjudication and giving the disputants a measure of control over the outcome of civil disputes in the Gandhian spirit has recently been examined in Australia with the investigation of the feasibility of the American idea of community justice centres. A background paper examining the scheme noted its difference from the traditional courtroom adjudication:
the courts are required to give a judgement with respect to the particular claim or charge before them. Their procedural rules are designed to exclude from the evidence they hear, any concerns which are not immediately relevant to the isolated issue being litigated. Adjudication is pervasively concerned with question of right and wrong, of guilt and innocence, of winner and loser.11
It has been noted that many traditional forms of dispute settlement mechanisms have disappeared from our urbanised society – gone are the respected elders, policeman on the beat, the trusted priest, etc. The establishment of community justice centres means that the court need not be the only institutional alternative.
Although it has been argued that when dealing with "off the street" (i.e. non-referred) cases these centres may be handling work that would not otherwise go to court (an argument which cannot be disproved) and thereby not keeping these types of disputes out of the court at all,12 they are, however, keeping cases that are referred to them out of court and are training disputants in the art of self-management of their conflicts and probably leading to a decrease in the number of unpleasant situations where the actual conflict has been sidestepped by avoidance.
These centres "assist the parties to compromise and to re-orient their behaviour towards each other" through the good offices of the mediator. It is the mediator's job to "assist the parties to come to their own resolution of their dispute". He has no power to compel settlement "but must rely on the mutual agreement of the disputants who must also see that it is in their interest to make settlement work".13 While the outcome sought is an accommodation between the parties, rather than the conversion aimed at by satyagraha, it comes far closer to the Gandhian ideal than the other possible outcomes offered by our legal system.
Such centres (in the American experience) are generally staffed by lawyers and are referred cases by the police, state prosecutors or magistrates, that would otherwise have resulted in far more costly, and it would seem less productive, court hearings. It appears that "the programmes are highly effective in producing both lasting resolutions of disputes and significant justice system savings".14 They also show that potential litigants can maintain relative autonomy over this very important area of human relations.

The Satyagrahi as Defendant
There may be cases, for example those arising out of a civil disobedience campaign against a law seen as immoral, where a satyagrahi may find himself or herself in court. Such court appearance in the course of satyagraha does not result from an investigation of an offence followed by the forceful arrest of the defendant. It generally results from the breaker of the law voluntarily submitting to arrest and accepting the legally laid down consequences for such a breach.
The literature on nonviolence contains many records of trials for civil disobedience – from Socrates to modern conscience objectors or anti-war protesters – where the defendants argued their own positions and accepted the penalty that such a conflict entails. Because of the general acceptance of authority of the state to make and enforce laws, and because of the basically law-abiding nature of those taking a Gandhian approach in the field of politics, civilly disobedient defendants usually plead guilty. As a general rule they also refuse bail preferring to await trial in prison, rather than becoming "class collaborationists", by denying themselves a privilege which is unavailable to the poor, or they may "refuse to post bail because they believe the commitment of money implies that their promise to appear in court may not be sincere".15 Very often, because they believe that they have nothing to hide and refuse to play what they see as a game, coupled with a preference for maintaining the greatest possible autonomy in the conducting of their lives, such defendants represent themselves.
Gandhi offers similar advice to all those who come before the courts, even those who are tried as non-political criminals:

It is much to be wished for that people would avoid litigation. "Agree with thine adversary quickly" is the soundest legal maxim ever uttered. The author knew what he was saying. But it will be asked, what when we are dragged, as we often are, to the courts? I would say "do not defend. If you are in the wrong, you will deserve the sentence whatever it may be. If you are wrongly brought to the court and yet penalized, let your innocence soothe you in your unmerited suffering. Undefended, you will in every case suffer the least and what is more you will have the satisfaction of sharing the fate of the majority of your fellow-beings who cannot get themselves defended.16

Most people do not have Gandhi's ability to view prison as a rest home17 and going to jail may not have the same political significance it had in India during agitation against British rule where the filling of prisons was employed as a conscious tactic. Self-suffering after a breach of an unjust law can, however, still serve the purpose of convincing fellow citizens and legislators of the sincerity of the action, of opening minds to the possibility of second thoughts on the issues involved, and moving them to a feeling of compassion. In response to the suggestion that the incarceration for civil disobedience means that the sacrifice of the law breaker is wasted, Gandhi replied that a consecrated resolve is more potent in its action than mere physical action can ever be. The discipline that they will be acquiring in prison will help the nonviolent organization of the people outside and instill fearlessness among them…will inspire the whole people by his example and may induce a heart change even in the opponent who, freed from fear, will the more readily appreciate his simple faith and respect it.18
The "do not defend" canon, while indicating a guilty plea, does not mean that the occasion of a trial should not be used to put the reasons for the condemned action before the public. Gandhi's most famous trial speech is a classical example of this. It was made in March 1922 when he and a co-defendant were charged under s. 124A of the Indian Penal Code with publishing four anti-British articles written by Gandhi for Young India. Characteristically they pleaded guilty. Gandhi's oral statement, in what was to become known as the "Great Trial", contained an assumption of responsibility for outbreaks of violence in Madras, Bombay and Chauri Chaura. Gandhi explained that he had the choice of either submitting to a system which he believed had done irreparable harm to his country or to risk the violence of the people when he presented them with the truth of the situation. Although he wanted to avoid violence he chose the latter course of action, and regrettably, as he explained, it had occurred and so he asked for no mercy from the court but requested the highest possible penalty:
· · · non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good... Nonviolence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-cooperation with evil. I am here, therefore, to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge, is either to resign your post and thus dissociate yourself from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil and that in reality I am innocent; or to inflict on me the severest penalty if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country and that my activity is therefore injurious to the common weal.19
Prison is the naturally occurring outcome of such a stand. Because of Gandhi's regard for laws in a democratic state and because of the basically anti-elitist character of his philosophy, although he made a distinction between "habitual criminals and persons who have committed not a moral but a merely statutory offence" and between "innocent prisoners", that is satyagrahis, and "confirmed criminals", he maintained that for civil disobedience to remain civil, breaches of laws assume "the strictest and willing obedience to the jail discipline because disobedience of a particular rule assumes a willing acceptance of the sanction provided for its breach". A person imprisoned for "political reasons", therefore,
will make no distinction between an ordinary prisoner and himself, will in no way regard himself as superior to the rest, nor will he ask for any conveniences that may not be necessary for keeping his body in good health and condition.
They may, however, in Gandhi's ethical scheme,
... civilly resist such regulations as are not only irksome or hard to bear but are humiliating or specially designed to degrade non-cooperators... self-respect demands willing obedience to gaol discipline. The same self-respect may require resistance to misbehaviour euphemistically called discipline.20

B. Industrial Conflict
In any zero-sum dispute the object is victory rather than truth. For Gandhi the reverse is always the aim. His approach to industrial conflict is, ideally, not one of zero-sum, or even of compromise, but one leading to the truth through mutual problem solving.
Conflicts within industry that often lead to strikes have been seen as having economic and/or social determinants. Gandhi in his role as a union organiser dealt particularly with the former, but as a social critic he addressed himself to the latter explanations also. These social determinants include changes in the social structure of the plant or changes in management policies, frustrations that result from a lack of communication with the management, a feeling of powerlessness resulting from the lack of opportunity in having an effective voice in the running of the industry, and basic conflicts of interests between workers and management.
These determining characteristics of industrial conflict need not, of course, lead to overt disputes between the two groups involved. They may result in an increased turnover of staff or absenteeism. Where overt conflicts do occur, they may serve to reduce tension and provide a solution to conflict-producing situations.
As workers and management depend on one another for their existence, industrial disputes must have as their outcome a continued viable modus vivendi. The likelihood of industrial conflict could be lessened by a greater involvement of employees in the affairs of their workplace. Gandhi likewise believed that if conflict between labour and capital is to be avoided "labour should have the same status and dignity as capital". For him workers were co-owners in industry and as such "their organization should have the same access to the transaction of the mills as the shareholders".21 Desai, Gandhi's secretary, in his account of the Ahmedabad Textile Labourers' struggle also put the ultimate goal of labour as securing co-ownership of the means of production "on a footing of equality with the so-called owners".22
This should only happen, according to Gandhi, after the workers had realised their own strength. The class war, in reality, he believed, was one between intelligence and unintelligence:
The conflict between monied classes and labourers is merely seeming. When labour is intelligent enough to organize itself and learns to act as one man, it will have the same weight as money if not much greater.23
Once this has come about through the nonviolent means of satyagraha, Desai continues,
the "owners" will not force (the labourers) to strike, but will of their own accord embrace them as brothers and make them partners. Nonviolence yields such extraordinary fruits. This, however, calls for patience, restraint, discipline, unity and faith in the organization.24
Until workers achieve this ideal economic and social pressures will lead to open dispute, and how this will be handled depends on the relationship between the parties. Good relationships are only necessary where one side does not have the power to dominate the other totally. For Gandhi to a large degree such domination rests on the acquiescence of the oppressed – when the workers had realised their strength they could press their claims as equals. This depends on neither side having the aim of destroying the other, and, according to Gandhi, while workers may be opposed to management they ought to endeavour to maintain friendly relations with individuals who are its members.
Diesing maintains, in agreement with Gandhi, that good relationships make genuine agreements possible whereas if the relationship is bad "chances of agreement are missed through misunderstanding, energies are absorbed in useless belligerency, and dealings are distorted by attempts to retaliate for imagined past injustices and insults”.25
The bluster and flexing of verbal muscle that generally accompanies negotiations in their early stages, is graphically described by Douglas.26 Their purpose, inter alia, is to find the "bargaining range”, within which an agreement can be found that is more advantageous to each side than a resort to force. The opportunities for maximising the likelihood of reaching such an agreement are enhanced, according to R. J. Hawke, one-time president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, by following a few simple principles, including: (1) working out in advance a full and detailed preparation of the claims and positions to be adopted in negotiations; (2) "honesty about one's own position and a sense of reality in terms of understanding the position of the other side"; and, (3) "flexibility as the negotiating procedures unfold”.27
The final two of these very reasonable sounding principles can cause some problems. Satyagrahis must fight what they see to be an injustice at all costs, with firmness and inflexibility, while being ready for reconciliation or changing their attitudes completely if the dictates of truth so require. The question of honesty is even more vexed in this context. Gandhi cuts out much of the scope of negotiations when he claims that
in Satyagraha the minimum is also the maximum, and as it is the irreducible minimum, there is no question of retreat, and the only movement possible is an advance. In other struggles, even when they are righteous, the demand is first pitched a little higher so as to admit of future reduction, and hence the law of progression does not apply to all of them without exception.28
This technique of never asking for more than is felt warranted as a bargaining measure removes much of the possibility for manoeuvre in negotiations. It means that no bargaining range, that is, "stretch of territory within which the parties propose to move around until they can reach concensus on a single settlement point", is set up. Where one side only operates on the Gandhian principle the other side may not realise that what is said is what is meant. Without the haggling, although one party has stated, in Douglas' words, that "this is it", it may mean little to the other who has not "personally experienced the futility of seeking more".29
The Gandhian technique, however, still allows for a shifting of position as perceptions of truth alter and does have the added advantage of preventing opponents from forcing concessions and then claiming a victory of sorts. It leaves only one party playing the game, the other cannot retreat, leaving the opponent little room for face saving. Mediators can be of benefit in these situations, because they may force the parties, including satyagrahis, to come to a clearer realisation of truth and thus allow for appropriate flexibility.
If all else failed in an industrial dispute Gandhi noted that "strikes are an inherent right of the working men but must be considered a crime immediately the capitalists accept the principle of arbitration".30 In other words, strikes (that is nonviolent non-cooperation with the employers), can only be resorted to after all legitimate means of settling the dispute have been tried. These means include: (a) moral appeals to the conscience of the employers to concede just demands, and (b) if these fail, a resort to voluntary arbitration, where the decision of the umpire would bind the parties.31 On the second anniversary of the Ahmedabad Mill Hands Strike, Gandhi himself made this point quite clearly: "In order to seek justice without resorting to violence, an appeal to the good sense of the employers and acceptance of arbitration principle are always desirable.”32
Gandhi also observed that as society becomes alienated "from its old basis of religion and social ethics", these being replaced by the "cash nexus", strikes can become "a universal plague". He warned that "the public has no means of judging the merits of a strike, unless it is backed by impartial persons enjoying public confidence". This means that "arbitration accepted by the parties or a judicial adjudication" should be employed, and if this is done "the matter does not come before the public". In other words, where the dispute was not over a matter of fundamental principle, because of the threat of the "strike plague" and because in mass conflicts where all the workers have not accepted nonviolence as a creed and are not considered as equals by capital the operation of the dialectic process of arriving at truth is unlikely. Gandhi in these situations, makes an exception to his rule that courts should be avoided. Where the necessary procedures cannot be agreed upon the dispute becomes a strike and goes public. If a strike is justified and if conducted absolutely peacefully it must succeed. But, "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.''33
How then does one decide what claim is fair in an industrial dispute stemming from economic considerations? During the 1918 Mill Strike Gandhi proposed that the following two questions had to be answered to decide the wage increases to be sought:
(1) What increased wages should the weavers get to enable them to lead a simple but contented life?
(2) Can the mills give the increase or not? If they cannot give it in full, how much can they afford to give?34
Gandhi laid down the following general principles35 for the conduct of the workers in instances of overt disputes with management:

  1. The workers or their leaders (among whom there must be perfect correspondence and understanding36) should not exaggerate their demands; they should study the pros and cons of the case carefully before formulating their demands. They should always be ready for correction if the opposite party is able to convince them that they are wrong.
  2. The weapon of the strike, which is really the very last weapon in the armoury of the industrial workers, should not be resorted to unless all peaceful and constitutional methods of negotiations, conciliation and arbitration are exhausted. Even during the course of a strike, workers should be prepared for any just settlement or a reference to arbitration. (This assumes “practical unanimity among the strikers”.)37
  3. Peaceful and nonviolent behaviour, even under provocation, is the sine qua non for obtaining justice through any mass struggle of this type. While on strike the workers should not damage the property or injure the person of anybody. They should bear no ill-will towards their employers or their officers, as they are fighting the evil in the employers and not the employers personally.38
  4. The workers should be self-respecting and, therefore, they should not rely on the funds raised by sympathisers for the successful conduct of the strike. A striking worker should find alternative employment during this period to maintain themself and their family, and no work should be considered below one's dignity. This is because "there is nothing more injurious to….morale and self-respect than enforced idleness”, and because labour cannot "prolong a strike indefinitely, so long as it looks to pecuniary support from public subscriptions or alms or depends on the resources of its union and no strike can absolutely succeed which cannot be indefinitely prolonged".39
  5. A strike is a form of satyagraha. Strikers, therefore, must not submit to superior force or hardship. Once they make a resolve they keep firm to it and even at the cost of privations, including starvation, they stick to the resolution.
  6. While on strike the workers should be truthful, courageous, just and free from hatred or malice towards anybody, and should be prepared for voluntary service putting their faith in God.

New methods of strike, for instance, wild-cat strikes, sit-ins and tool-down strikes, are aimed at coercion and therefore are not on the lines suggested by Gandhi. Strikes in essential services were also counselled against by Gandhi who believed that in such cases other less objectionable ways, which caused less dislocation to public life, should be employed for obtaining redress. In such strikes, where coercion is the main motive, "none of the alternatives, i.e. the demand of the resisters and the pressure they exert, appeals to the opponent's judgement and he has to choose between two evils". This is not the case in strikes undertaken as a form of satyagraha. There the demand is kept so transparently, so unquestionably, legitimate and morally conducive to the welfare of both of the parties that even when the opponent, under the stress of self-interest, resists the satyagrahi's demand he is conscious of the intrinsic moral correctness of the latter's demand and behaviour. Thus the satyagrahi wins by sapping the moral defences of the opponent, and the pressure of his resistance, though it is compelling, is persuasive. Strike and boycott [in the traditional Western sense], on the other hand, frighten the opponent by the prospect of suffering and loss and coerce him.40
A strike can nevertheless be successful in achieving its material ends through coercive means, that is, where the opponent has not come to see the justice of the strikers' demands but has simply caved in under pressure. This merely proves, suggests Gandhi, "that the employers were weak and had a guilty conscience" rather than the justice of the strikers' cause. Where a conflict cannot be won through industrial action, for example, where there is enough other surplus labour to replace strikers, a strike is no remedy. The only remaining remedy, and it is one that Gandhi believed must be taken to ensure dignity even at the cost of starvation, is resignation.41
One other aspect of industrial conflict on which Gandhi had quite a lot to say was the question of the sympathetic strike. Generally, he believed that nonviolent strikes were to be limited to those workers who were suffering the actual grievance for which redress was sought.
Thus, if the match manufacturers, say, of Timbuctoo, who were quite satisfied with their lot, strike out of sympathy for its millhands who are getting starvation wages, the match manufacturers' strike would be a species of violence. They may and should help in a most effective manner by withdrawing their custom from the mill-owner of Timbuctoo without laying themselves open to the charge of violence.42
Gandhi, however, did concede that 'it was possible to conceive of occasions when those who are not directly suffering may be under an obligation to cease work. For example, if in the above case
the masters in the match factory combine with mill owners of Timbuctoo, it will clearly be the duty of the workers in the match factory to make common cause with the mill-hands... In the last resort, every case has to be judged on its own merit. Violence is a subtle force. It is not always easy to detect its presence though you may feel it all the same.43
The strike is one of the main political weapons of non-cooperation. However, for the sake of truth political strikes and strikes for economic betterment or over work conditions should not be mixed. Therefore, to "precipitate labour strikes from a political motive so long as labour is politically ignorant is to exploit labour and to embarrass the Government and both are a species of violence".44
Although industrial relations is concerned with more than the individual in conflict, dealing with the adjustment of power within, and between, groups, here too Gandhi stresses the personal morality of the individuals making up the groups over political expediency.