Roses, IIT teachers and strikes

Roses, IIT teachers and strikes

Call it a rose by another name. Faculty members of all Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) will “strike" work on Thursday to press their demands for better pay and prospects. It is a variety of action that is sure to make the recent behaviour of the much better paid Jet Airways pilots look shameful. But is it a strike?

In the recent past, there have been protests by IIT faculty for better pay. They have been ignored by a government that hangs on the clumsy excuse of the Sixth Pay Commission award under which teachers can’t get more money than civil servants. As reported by Mint on Tuesday, the faculty ask that entry-level monthly salaries be increased from Rs26,000 to Rs38,000. This is not an unreasonable request: These professors are some of the leading minds in their fields. There is a significant opportunity cost for them to pursue teaching when they can often make multiples of their salaries in the private sector.

The question is, however, not about the legitimacy of the teachers’ demands. Strikes result in dislocations; dislocations that make managements heed the demands of employees. In the case of Jet Airways, ultimately it was the ability of the pilots to cripple air operations that made the management relent. There were other parts to the package: continuous press coverage and public outcry. All of these were important, but ultimately, it was the strike that made all the difference. This does not obtain in the case of our professors. Shorn of any coercion, it is likely that the Union ministry of human resource development will ignore these scholars.

The question goes beyond definitions, but stops well short of any philosophical arguments. In an age when free markets are being questioned again, it needs to be asked as to what can ensure a smooth working environment without the visible hand of the government mucking matters? There is no simple answer to this question. Any answer requires reasonableness and understanding on both sides: Employees need to understand that there is such a thing as a business cycle and that managements are not evil. Employers too need to figure ways in which inflamed passions can be calmed and prevent inflammation in the first place.

Is the IIT faculty action a strike? Tell us at