Shabbat Parashat Noach | 5770
P'ninat Mishpat: The Right to Strike – Part II
(based on Eit Ladun, Halacha Psuka, vol. 29)
[Last time we investigated opinions on whether one’s agreement to work precludes his right to strike and raised the question of creating regulations that make strikes possible.]
Aseh Lecha Rav (II, 64) says that a strike because of an infringement on workers’ rights is permitted within the rights of a municipality to make regulations. However, when there is a disagreement between the sides about whether there are grounds for grievances, a respected, appointed arbitrator is needed to decide. Rav Halevi reasoned that a public body, including a talmid chacham and public figures, is necessary. Rav Uziel and Rav Yisraeli also discuss the matter (in Techumin V).
The Igrot Moshe (Choshen Mishpat I, 59) says that the need for a talmid chacham’s acquiescence applies only when there is a talmid chacham who is involved in a leadership position in regard to communal affairs. He says that in our time there is no one like that and adds that this is "certainly so in our country, as they have permission from the government" for this type of commercial activity.
A strike by teachers in religious subjects is categorized as a matter of loss (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 333:5). The Shach (ad loc.:26) explains that every moment that the youngsters continue to be idle is an irretrievable loss. Based on this concept, Rav Uziel (ibid.) says that there is no power for the "trade group" to authorize a strike of religious teachers, as it is an agreement that violates the Torah law to avoid bitul Torah (time unjustifiably taken away from Torah study). Rav Feinstein has a different reason to disallow a strike of Torah teachers. They are allowed to take pay only because they are being paid to not do another job. Since during their strike they will be idle at home, they are consequently obligated to teach for free.
In summary, there are two basic halachic approaches to strikes. According to Rav Orbach and Rav Halevi [see last week], there is a prohibition to strike, which is included in the lack of permission of a worker to back out of his work obligations when that causes a loss to the employer. Regarding the rights of groups within society to come up with rules and regulations, there is a question of authority when an "important person" is not involved in the decision. However, Rav Waldenberg and Rav Feinstein say that a strike is not connected to the matter of quitting a job and that there is no need for an important person in our modern situations.
We should add that according to the first approach, even if it is possible to strike based on a group regulation with an important person's acquiescence, it is considered to be against the spirit of the Torah. It is proper that when there are grievances against an employer, one should turn to a beit din. If the employer refuses to come to beit din or if beit din rules that the workers are right, then they can authorize the workers to strike for their just rights.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
ben Yehudah Mayer
a lover of the Jewish Nation Torah and Land
R' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.