The right guaranteed to form associations or unions is more or less a charter for all working people in this country. Trade union activity was not only discouraged by most of the Western countries until comparatively recently, but in many countries it was even looked upon as an antisocial and anti-State activity.
Workers had to undergo great suffering before they could obtain even the elementary rights that vitally affected their existence as a separate group or class in society. It was only in the twentieth century, particularly after the end of the First World War, that any significant measure was undertaken to ensure the legitimate rights of workers through labour and industrial legislation.
To make these rights fundamental and embody them as such in the Constitution was indeed a much bolder step forward. Fully recognising the trend of the times, the Constitution of India has made the workers’ right to form unions a fundamental one.
The right to form associations or unions can be restricted only in the interests of public order or morality. There can be no association or union for an illegal or conspiratorial purpose. Nor can there be an association to further immorality. Interpreting the scope of the right the Supreme Court held in the case of State of Madras vs. V.G. Rao:
“The right to form associations or unions has such wide and varied scope for its exercise and its curtailment is fraught with such potential reactions in the religious, political and economic fields.
That the vesting of authority in the executive government to impose restrictions on such right, without allowing the grounds of such imposition, both in their factual and legal aspects, to be duly tested in a judicial enquiry, is a strong element which, in our opinion, must be taken into account in judging the reasonableness of the restrictions imposed on the exercise of the fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (c).”
The right to form associations or unions, however, is not available to every citizen in the same measure. A member of the public services, although he is a citizen, cannot claim the right to the extent that a private citizen can.
Being a Government servant, he is bound by his service rules and he cannot challenge his service rules on the ground that they stand in his way of fully enjoying the right to form associations. This has been made clear by the Supreme Court in Balakotiah vs. The Union of India.