The Last Forty Years of Class Struggle in Turkey
A General Overview from 1980 to 2020
The struggles that took place and the issues encountered in Turkey of the last forty years have been observed to reach similar conclusions following similar processes wherever capitalism exists. While the investment groups of various countries, together with the bosses of the state corporation continue organized exploitation, they also don’t neglect to learn from history: Taking new precautions and developing new techniques of exploitation, they on the one hand prevent workers’ organizing, and on the other create the environment for the workers to become more at peace with the system and more efficient at their jobs. All these demonstrate that an unorganized struggle is impossible. The struggles conducted by the workers acting on momentary impulses, lacking class consciousness and organizational continuity of the struggle, result in losses; nevertheless the workers can learn a great deal from these struggles. We believe that when these workers become the revolutionaries of today and leave their experiences to the revolutionaries of tomorrow, the brutality described below will cease. The primary condition of this is to avoid making the same mistakes again and again by organizing in true class unions and systematically transmitting the recollection of the struggle. The memory of the revolutionary struggle against the system of exploitation is the communist party. Masses who lack memory are bound to repeat history.
In this study, we examine the example of Turkey in two sections: the 80s and the 90s, and the 2000s. In both sections, a brief introduction to the political background of the period is followed by the main subject, the class struggles. In light of the sources available, massive resistance processes make up a large part of the study, although smaller resistances which somehow had mass appeal or specific characteristics are mentioned as well. Of course, there have been numerous struggles which had to be left out. Because the purpose of this study is to understand the current situation of the working class in Turkey, to contribute to the strengthening of tomorrow’s struggle environment, and to share the experiences of the workers of Turkey with the world working class, the struggles in the 2000s were examined in more detail. The majority of the data was based on national and international statistical and state institutes. The data of independent researches, academic articles, the findings of unions, associations and professional chambers, and news articles were used as well. Of course these sources included many distortions and inconsistencies. Accordingly, the data were systematically compared in order to obtain coherent information.
A short History of Turkey in the 80s and the 90s and the Class Struggle
Because striking was outlawed as a result of the 1980 military coup in Turkey, workers actions dropped significantly. Although workers started to be visible in the squares when the ban was lifted in 1984, the number of workers taking strike action remained lower than the rest of the world. This can be explained by the state intervening against official strike processes, the high rates of uninsured and non‑union work, the harsh reflection of political developments on social life and a lack of class unions and the revolutionary party. The legal arrangements made after the coup has been an obstacle to class struggle in Turkey from the eighties to the present: Serious limitations of the rights to strike and collective bargaining, the ban on setting up a strike tent and having more than three people on the picket line, the ban on slowdown strikes and food boycotts etc. all clearly demonstrate the efforts to prevent the class movement with legal arrangements. Subcontracting increased in this period too. Since the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, many factories had been founded and administered as institutions of the state. Turkey was a mixed economy from the start, yet the view that it was profitable to transfer the public enterprises to the private sector began to dominate Turkey in the 80s resulting in the country, like many other underdeveloped or developing countries, engaging in an effort to privatize towards a free economy. The sale of public enterprises to private companies meant the public employees would lose their acquired rights. This situation was the reason behind many strikes and struggles from the 80s onward. Additionally, the rise of the Stalinist Kurdish nationalist PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) against the tyranny conducted by the coup government, and the bloody guerrilla war between this organization and the Turkish state dominated this period. Lastly, the Islamist current which would come to dominate the coming decades begun its rise in this period, supported by the coup government.
Despite the erosion of acquired rights and the fear caused by the bloody military administration, the second half of the 80s was a period of important events for the history of the class struggle in Turkey. Following a number of small struggles, the strike at a firm co‑owned by a Canadian firm providing telecommunications services and producing switchboards called Northern Electric and the Turkish Post Telegraph and Telephone (a ‘Public Economic Enterprise’) in 1986 was to become an important experience. Founded in 1969, the union initially organized at Netaş was Tek Met‑İş (One Metal Workers Union) founded by the administration of the firm. It was a “workplace union” which existed and functioned only in this workplace. The union was headed by a retired policeman, and it made the workers sign the collective contract in line with the interests of the workers every three years. This cycle happened only twice. In 1975, the workers begun to leave the union and join Maden‑İş (Mine Workers’ Union), a member of DİSK (Revolutionary Workers’ Unions Confederation. While revolutionary is the literal translation of this Confederation’s name, they prefer to translate it as Progressive instead these days). Consequently, 17 workers were fired. A 35 day struggle took place to protest the sackings. As the workers of Northern Electric Canada supported the strike with the slogan of “24 thousand workers 24 hour solidarity strike”, the change in unions was recognized.
After the 1980 coup, DİSK was outlawed by the state and the Netaş workers joined Bağımsız Otomobil‑İş (Independent Automobile Workers Union). There was no agreement on the collective contract in 1986, so the workers went on strike again, demanding an 88 point draft contract. 3,150 people continued to strike regardless of the legal limitations for 93 days. The strike ended with a 214% pay raise as well as workers making rare social gains in Turkey. It can be said that the Netaş strike was an important experience which showed that the struggle could pay off despite repression, and triggered the Spring Actions of 1989.
Spring Actions began when over 600,000 public workers failed to obtain an agreement during collective bargaining. Simultaneously, the workers in numerous regions of Turkey launched an intense struggle which lasted for the whole season. From day one, the actions grew rapidly and as the private sector workers joined too, a struggle unseen in Turkish history in decades took place. The workers faced not only the riot police and the government, but also union administrations that opposed workers’ interests. 16 days later, the administration of Türk‑İş (Turkish Workers’ Unions Confederation), known for being close to the center right bourgeoisie, afraid of further growth of the actions, declared passive resistance in the name of 22 unions and 478,000 workers. The workers rejected the decision and demonstrated their insistence on continuing to resist by forming committees and assemblies in their workplaces and creating a structure for collaboration. A total of 1.5 million public and private sector workers, including those from military sewing factories, alcohol factories, shipyards and many other workplaces participated in the spring actions.
Failing to stop the actions, the government was forced to negotiate. At 140%, the government’s offer after the actions exceeded not only its previous offer of 40% made during the collective bargaining, but also Türk‑İş’ offer which varied between 70‑80%. The spring actions caused a significant decrease in votes for ANAP (Motherland Party) which was in power at the time. 900 Türk‑İş were replaced. The ban on public sector workers’ unions was lifted; thus unions began to emerge in this sector. After the workers’ spring came the bosses’ offensive. In petrol-chemical and tire sectors alone, 6 thousand workers were fired for participating in workers’ demonstrations. Nevertheless, the workers, taking courage as they struggled and won, continued their actions with some pauses until the 1992 Gulf War when nationalist sentiments were triggered once again. Consequently, workers’ actions were outlawed again and the area of struggle became relatively quiet again in the public sector.
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The 90s in Turkey were years when the relationship between the mafia and the state was becoming apparent, the military was intervening in politics under the pretense of stopping Islamist groups and the economic embargoes put in place for the duration of the Gulf War were starting cause economic crisis. These were also years when the conditions that would eventually bring Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) to power began to ripen as the tension between Islamist nationalists and Kemalist nationalists deepened. The ban on headscarves for women in universities, introduced and withdrawn a few times after the 1980 coup, was put into practice more widely in these years. As records revealed that a cult leader called Fetullah Gülen was attempting to infiltrate the state, the Kemalists, who held the most military power, fired many for being connected to cults or having reactionary leanings. These events helped the eventual appearance and rise to power of Erdoğan and his party.
Another theme of the 90s in Turkey was the naval border dispute with Greece. Moreover, the massacres conducted by the state in Kurdish regions, the deadly attacks of the PKK against civilians (especially hundreds of teachers), and the capture in 1999 of its leader Abdullah Öcalan dominated these years. According to the European Court of Human Rights, nearly a thousand people were murdered by unknown assailants. Despite all the religious and nationalist appeals used to prevent the working class from participating in the class struggle – in fact tools of mass control the bourgeoisie uses regularly in different forms – the 90s were not completely dim for the working class.
During the 90s, aside from public workers union struggles following the spring actions and the Public Economic Enterprise workers struggles against privatization and subcontracting, young workers in an increasing number of industrial sites and organized industrial zones struggled against layoffs and for union, insurance and eight hour workday rights. The first half of the 90s is the most intense period in the history of class struggle in Turkey in terms of workdays spent on strike. While an average of 160,000 participated in legal strikes in 1990‑91, by 1995 this number had reached 200,000. Although a number of these strikes were stopped for national security multiple times, some of the strikes managed to go on. Public workers’ unionization struggles continued as public trade unions were shut down one after another. As a result of these struggles, the Confederation of Public Employees Unions, or KESK was founded in 1995. The workers renewed the demands of the spring actions and took action for the collective contract to be put into practice; the state, however, refrained from signing it.
The Great Miners’ March
The march that took place between 4‑8 January 1991 was one of the most important events of the 90s for the working class of Turkey. A mining area since 1848, there had been struggles in Zonguldak since the beginning but never one so massive. The tendency to privatize state enterprises which had appeared in the 80ies and had been put in practice in the mines since the second half of the same decade had lead to a lot of mine closures by statesmen in the region who considered them unprofitable. For the workers, this was a baseless excuse for privatization.
In 1990, the mining sector, like many other public sectors, was represented by a union belonging to Türk‑İş, Genel Maden‑İş at collective bargaining. The government rejected the demands, however, ending the process. Though the head of the confederation didn’t wish it, a strike was decided on November 30 1991 and near 50 thousand workers in Zonguldak and surrounding cities remained on strike until the beginning of the march on January 4th. As negotiations proved futile, Türk‑İş had to decide on a one day general strike on January 3 due to pressure from the base. 48 thousand workers and their loved ones who wanted to join them (most of them being their relatives who joined despite union leader Şemsi Denizer’s orders against women’s participation) started their march on January 4th. With the supporters who joined the march on the way, they numbered 100 thousand, and had to move stopping every now and then under the harsh conditions of winter. Though workers had to face police and gendarme interventions often on the way, in some regions they were met with free food and drinks. Meanwhile, the chairman of Genel Maden‑İş (General Mine Workers’ Union) had been making speeches which attributed the whole struggle to himself on the one hand, and tried to convince the workers to to cease their march and go back. (This person, who later acquired influential friends and a small fortune, was remembered as a great strike leader by one group, and the murderer of the miners’ resistance by another, and would end up killed by his former bodyguard).
The process which lead to the end of the miners’ march took place as follows: On the second day of the march, Denizer went to Bolu to meet with state representatives without telling the workers in advance, and later sent them a message to wait for them. The government demanded the end of the demonstration as a condition to continue negotiations. On the third day, the union bureaucrats gathered and afterward Denizer explained the state’s condition to the workers. The workers were determined to continue the march. The state, on the other hand, had decided to do with brute force what it couldn’t with Türk‑İş: work machines, panzers, riot police and barricades were used to stop the march. The police attacked while the workers were still asleep and arrested 201 workers. Though the workers who learned what happened wanted to take action, Türk‑İş bureaucracy and its supporters stopped them. On January 8th, Denizer told the workers: “the strike is over and you have to go back”. Some of the workers who refused responded shouting: “We may die, but we won’t go back!” Denizer in turn answered them saying: “Provocateurs shut their mouths!”
The workers ended the march with the condition that the negotiations would continue however Denizer’s negotiations did not yield any results. Using the gulf war as an excuse, the government postponed the strikes of 120 thousand workers, including the miners, for 60 days. The long awaited collective contract was signed on February 6th. The government and the union agreed on a figure which was below the initial government offer. The working conditions were not improved. Moreover, hundreds of workers who had participated in the strike and the march, who wanted to continue the struggle, were sacked. As a result of the defeat, a great explosion occurred in Zonguldak in 1992 and 263 workers were killed. The consequent fire could not be extinguished for days and caused environmental damage.
Demonstrations of 1994‑95
1994‑95 were years the crisis deepened for Turkey. The inflation approached 150%, price hikes had extremely worsened the living standards of the workers. The government of the time, led by Tansu Çiller of DYP (True Path Party), put forward the legislation known as the April 5th Decisions which aimed to protect the interests of capital. Increasing privatization, additional taxes and increases in Public Economic Enterprise product prices were a part of the package. As a result, a series of demonstrations were held in Ankara, called by Türk‑İş. After the demonstrations of ‘94, the public workers and the boss government faced each other once again during collective bargaining. The government proposal included serious loss of rights and a raise well below inflation rates. All these were the last straw for the workers and on August 5th 1995, the workers organized a ‘Respect for Labor’ march. Though the state had closed the Kızılay Square in Ankara, 200,000 people kept marching and filled the square, leading to workplace actions. On August 8, in many workplaces, workers went to work but didn’t start their shifts, and stayed in the workplaces at night. After the actions taken, negotiations continued but yielded no result. As a result, on September 8th, agricultural workers began their strike. On October 15, another march took place. Despite the obstacles, tens of thousands of people filled the squares. The demonstrations played a part in the fall of Çiller government. Yet, workers did not make gains regarding collective bargaining conditions and other demands.
The noteworthy struggle of 20,000 non‑union workers suffering from bad conditions in the Ünaldı textile site in the city of Gaziantep is a good example of what can be gained if the workers are decisive. It would be in order to look at the workers conditions before moving on to the struggle. According to the poll made by the Textile Workers’ Association, only 1019 of the 20,000 workers in 543 workplaces were insured. This insurance was limited to the bosses registering certain veteran and elderly workers and head‑workers for 5‑10 days. 40% of the workers in these workplaces were child laborers, most of 9‑10 years old. The child laborers performed tasks such as carrying sacks as heavy as 50 kilos, cleaning the toilets, and rolling thread for up to 16 hours a day. In these businesses which paid their workers by the number of carpets they produced, the workers worked day and night, almost without sleep. There were no bathrooms in some of the workplaces, so the workers had to walk to a nearby mosque. Besides there wasn’t even a medical clinic in the area. Workers lost their fingers, eyes and even lives to the machines, and these were seen as normal incidents. Lacking annual or weekly days off, the workers had to sleep on the workbenches. 20 thousand workers in Ünaldı in deep poverty, working for the sake of a living standard at the starvation line... This hurtful picture could be observed in many industrial sites and workshop type businesses in the 90s throughout the country.
First of all, it would be beneficial to look at the process of the struggle in 1996. Restlessness had emerged among the textile workers of Gaziantep since ‘92, under the influence of the spring actions. In 1993, textile workers in 8‑10 factories went on strike demanding a pay raise and soon the strike expanded to Ünaldı as a whole. After two days of struggle, head‑workers who negotiated with the bosses demanded and were given a 52% raise, yet the workers considered it insufficient and continued their strike. For the first time, they chose their own representatives, sent them to negotiate with the bosses, and won a raise of 96%. This being said, because some of the workers were held in police custody following police attacks, the workers refused to start work before their coworkers were let go. The workers who participated in the strike began attempts to create an association which was officially founded in 95. The Textile Workers Association started signing collective contracts on behalf of all the Ünaldı workers. By ‘96, the bosses were already acting against the collective contract in order to extort acquired rights. As a result, the workers started discussing going on strike again.
The struggle in 540 of 600 workplaces in 13 neighborhoods of Gaziantep lasted for 30 days. In June, the employer signed a contract which included insurance rights, a nearly 100% raise, double pay for Saturdays after 23:00 and Sundays spent at work, annual holidays and Eid bonuses. The number of insured workers rose from 5% before the strike to almost 70% after. Despite these gains, however, the problems weren’t over. The workers felt the need to organize in order to ensure the continuity of the struggle. They applied to DİSK but did not receive a positive response. As a result, they decided to join TEKSİF (Turkish Textile, Sewing, Clothing and Leather Industry Workers’ Union), which was a part of Türk‑İş. Because TEKSİF demanded its closure as a condition for the workers to join it, and due to the difficulty of maintaining contact between workplaces as the workplaces at the Ünaldı site were moved to the organized industrial zone one by one, the Textile Workers Association was closed. TEKSİF opened a communication bureau in Ünaldı but never managed to sign a collective contract. The workers lost faith in the union and the organization dispersed.
In the following years, the bosses made sure the situation got worse day by day as they withheld raises and violated rights. During the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s, a process of increased mechanization started in organized industrial zones and textile areas. In turn firms opted for layoffs, longer working hours and higher production rates. Workplace accidents and workers deaths continued to occur. The workers say that every month they hear of a few workplace accidents, even deaths. Ünaldı left a positive legacy in the workers of the region, inspiring strikes in Gaziantep’s textile sector such as Sanko in ‘98, Çemen Tekstil in 2010 and Başpınar in 2012. That workers have insurance, annual days off and relatively shorter working hours are the enduring gains of the Ünaldı struggle.
A Short History of Turkey in the 2000s and the Class Struggle
At the beginning of the 2000s, Islamic and nationalist narratives were strengthened in Turkey, where the economic crisis was felt harshly. The conservative AKP government that came to power following the 2002 election has managed to remain in power ever since, becoming the most long‑lived government in the history of the Turkish Republic since the one party period. Erdoğan and his team, who owed their rise to their promise of solving the economic crisis, managed to decrease the effects of the crisis for the bourgeoisie for a while, yet this was also a period in which the working class continued to lose its rights and was subjected to repression. Though the economy grew in the first decade of the 2000s, it has since been seen that this growth was due to short term interventions, such as postponing the crisis with the development of the construction sector, as Turkey sank into crisis once again in the second decade with the deflation of the construction bubble. As for the situation of the working class of Turkey in the last twenty years, we witness a rise in unemployment, a decrease in class struggles, a significant retreat in buying power, loss of acquired rights, blacklisting and layoffs. Moreover, the last two decades in Turkey featured aggressive foreign and domestic political incidents such as the war in Syria, a coup attempt by Fetullah Gülen’s supporters, the State of Emergency, repression against opposition groups, record breaking number of arrests for thought crimes, the purge of dissidents from all state institutions and a record breaking increase in appointments by nepotism. Additionally, AKP government started negotiations with the PKK, yet despite all of Öcalan’s efforts, the relationship wasn’t long lived, and was soon replaced by a policy of war similar to that of previous governments in Turkish and Syrian Kurdistan.
The chart below shows that the class struggle slowed down in the second half of the 90s, and this continued in the 2000s. Of course this chart only includes strikes by unionized workers where the legal procedure was followed. Hence it should be kept in mind that 90% of the workers in Turkey are not unionized (based on the 2013‑17 data). Moreover, as always, struggles that are not strikes also take place, however reaching their statistical data is quite hard and it is known that these actions number much fewer than 50,000.
Number of workers on strike in Turkey
If we take a general look at the struggles of the last twenty years, we see a significant drop in public workers participation in strikes. The main reason for this is the fact that the sections that try to struggle are labeled terrorists due to the military coup attempt and the state of emergency, fired, blacklisted, dismissed from the profession and even arrested. These situations created great fear among the workers who are directly employed by the state. Among other factors explaining the withdrawal of public workers from the struggle is the difficulty in finding new jobs due to increased unemployment, and state jobs being preferable to the private sector despite immense loss of rights. Moreover, privatizations have significantly decreased the number of public employees.
Many strikes were postponed in the 2000s due to national security. Between 2003‑18, the strikes of 192,000 workers were outlawed this way. A list of these strikes can be seen in the chart below.
Reactions to Bag Bills and the Changes in Education Law
Among the most important issues that dominated the first twenty years of the 2000s were radical legal changes. With omnibus bills, known colloquially as bag bills, the rights of workers who didn’t have very good working conditions to begin with were intensely usurped. These laws, which presented unrelated topics as a package, caused confusion among many workers and none one, other than unionized workers, put forward a significant resistance to the laws. One of the biggest bag bill demonstrations took place in the year 2011, organized by leftist union confederations and professional associations. The demonstrations were held in many cities despite harsh police intervention, but they did not succeed in making gains.
Another legal regulation of the government that caused criticism was regarding education. With the presentation of the proposed changes in 2012, protests led by Eğitim Sen (Education and Science Workers’ Union), belonging to KESK, began. Primary school would last four years instead of five, the age to start school was decreased and the importance of certain lessons were changed along with many other changes in the education system with the system formulated as 4+4+4 by the AKP government. This change had negative results due to problems of infrastructure. While children older than 72 months started school under the previous system, now children between 60‑83 months would be admitted, increasing the number of students more than 50%. As there weren’t enough classrooms to host that many students, unhealthy classroom conditions emerged for teachers and students alike. The number of Imam Oratory high schools increased drastically and the agenda of raising a religious generation was crammed into the whole legal change. The rate of girls who discontinued their education after primary school more than doubled. Distance education was made available. Especially for girls, this meant being locked in the domestic sphere and being married off at an early age.
As primary education was decreased to 4 years, many primary school teachers became unemployed and the number of teachers recruited dropped significantly in the following years. Due to the incentives given, private schools became more and more common. These schools tended to charge high prices and delay paying teachers salaries for months. This situation caused the teachers of the prestigious Doğa Private School to go on strike. Getting paid is not the only problem of teachers: working in flexible conditions for long hours, they are vulnerable to crime as well. Moreover, a strict performance system was launched in both public and private schools. Especially for contracted and substitute teachers, this system was used as an excuse for arbitrary layoffs. The workers were subject to all sorts of pressure and coercion from their employers. Many teachers were fired after being blacklisted by the school administration for their political views. According to data from July 2018, there were many teachers among the 18,632 public workers laid off by laws made under the guise of fighting the Gulenist coup attempt. Over a million teachers take the KPSS (Public Personnel Selection Examination), a difficult exam, every year, hoping to get appointed. Many, however, can’t get appointed. It’s estimated that the number of unemployed workers will reach 1 million by 2022. Every year, newspapers feature the stories of teachers who couldn’t get appointed and commit suicide.
SEKA and Paşabahçe Strikes
The strike that took place in the SEKA paper factory in 2005 lasted for 51 days. What caused the strike was the closure of the SEKA Izmit factory. The 750 Türk‑İş member workers took action, locking themselves up in the factory. They received mass support outside too, however listening to the union leadership, the workers stopped allowing supporters in the factory. Especially an attitude against all who used the terms communism or socialism could be observed among the workers. The workers sang songs such as the Mehter March, important to the far right, although they changed the lyrics. After 51 days, it was decided that the workers who wanted it would be employed by the municipality of Kocaeli with a one year contract, while those who didn’t would work for eight more months before eventually being laid off. The workers accepted the offer with a massive majority, and the strike came to an end.
The reason the SEKA strike is worth mentioning lies in the history of the factory. Founded in 1936, SEKA is the only enterprise where cellulose, from which paper is made, is produced in Turkey. The factory eventually closed down due to the open corruption of even high ranking administrators of the state, along with cronyism and bad management. Since 2016, the building has been used as a museum.
The 2005 struggle was not a first for SEKA: In 1988, SEKA workers went on strike for 133 days and finally got their raise. This strike was used as an excuse by the state to import paper, and cellulose production stopped in the following years and workers were laid off in large groups from time to time. Before the SEKA strike of 2005, a strike by the 875 members of Kristal İş (Glass, Cement, Ceramic and Soil Industries Workers’ Union), which belongs to Türk İş, took place in Paşabahçe glass and porcelain factory. Since Paşabahçe’s foundation in 1935, the workers have engaged in numerous struggles, some of them large, some of them small, and they had a tradition considered important in the history of the working class in Turkey. What all these struggles like the ones mentioned above had in common were the following: the managers of the regime unions directing the workers against the class struggle and solidarity, nationalist rhetoric being pushed among the workers or strikes being outlawed because of national interests, the struggles being stuck in a firm or sector and usually resulting in defeat.
Türk Telekom Strike
On October 16 2007, 26,000 communication workers went on strike over the disagreement between TT management and Haber‑İş (Telecommunications, Post, Telegraph, Communication, Informatics, Call Center, Radio, Television Workers Union), a part of Türk‑İş. The workers, who went to strike for the first time in Türk Telekom’s history, continued their struggle for 44 days. Türk Telekom claimed that over 400 sabotages took place during the strike. It was claimed that the attacks were mostly cutting telephone lines and disrupting field lockers, although the workers and the union rejected the accusations. The workers were attacked by the police and the strikebreakers, accused of being traitors to the nation by bourgeois politicians because of the ongoing clashes in Kurdistan, but even when the union leaders told them they preferred it if the strike was concluded so that the country wouldn’t be put in jeopardy in these difficult days, they continued their struggle and went back to work only after the union and the boss reached an agreement.
Throughout the strike, Türk Telekom used subcontracted workers as strikebreakers. Because hiring strikebreakers is illegal during a strike, the union sued TT management. Haber Sen (Press, Publication, Communication and Post Workers’ Union), a part of KESK, and EMO (Chamber of Electrical Engineers) and MMA (Chamber of Mechanical Engineers), both part of TMMOB (Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects), distributed leaflets to strikebreaking subcontracted or non‑unionized workers and asked for solidarity. Workers and their families from all corners of the country, in sectors such as mining, health, shipbuilding, and textile took solidarity actions such as press announcements, support visits and organizing campaigns to collect money to meet the workers’ needs. Students, academics and politicians from dissident bourgeois parties made statements in support of the strike. Throughout the process, 7 workers were sacked and many workers and supporters were taken into custody. The orders of the government in favor of employing strikebreakers, and the media’s demonizing attitude against the workers were among the most discussed issues. Throughout the process the workers tried to prevent strikebreakers, and in some cases customers too, from coming in. TT managers responded with threats and by calling the police. TT management went so far as to offer to get a worker’s child who had leukemia treated if the worker broke the strike, but would cut the funding that paid for the child’s transportation to the hospital if the workers continued to strike.
The following were the collective contract conditions demanded by the union: 19% for the first year, 5% plus inflation for the first and second six months of the second year. As for Türk Telekom’s offer rejected by the workers: 4% raise and 4% increase in social aid for the first year, and 4% raise for the first and second halves of the second year. The deal that was reached was a compromise: 10% raise for the first year, 6.5% raise plus inflation for the second year, 200 TL bonus for the time spent in strike to be paid before the Eid al Adha, as much increase in social aid as the raise, fired workers to return to work. With a total of over 1.1 million worker days, the Türk Telekom strike made history by causing the largest loss of work days in Turkey since ‘91. Throughout the strike, the workers struggled for the rights to join a union and to strike, along with fighting for a raise. That the workers went on strike ignoring the accusations of treason to the nation in a period when strikes were continually outlawed; and that it was shown to Türk Telekom that offering a somewhat larger salary to non‑unionized workers would be enough to cleanse the workplace of the union are among the important points of the struggle. Of course in the end, the deal reached, and the conciliatory statements of the union and the boss that they were happy with the result shows that the result was a compromise rather than a victory as the TT management reached an agreement with the union even if it didn’t manage to get it out of the picture.
Lastly let us look at how the national discourse, which ended many struggles of this period before they began, took shape in this strike: 60% of TT’s shares had been privatized and sold to a foreign group of capital whose CEO, Paul Doany, was the person who confronted the workers as the representative of the Türk Telekom enterprise. In some of the interviews given by the workers, they opposed having to deal with foreign bosses instead of the state. Along with living standards, this too may have been a motivation that led the workers to take action in this example. Türk İş and its member unions, regime unions that they are, have defended a nationalist line throughout their history, and when we look at the past we see that the working class of Turkey has seriously fallen for nationalist discourse. One of the main reasons this question is discussed over TT is that in those days when calls for national unity were being made, there was no struggle against Turkish bosses in other enterprises with the same conditions. The union leaders used elements of xenophobia and nationalism even more than ever in their speeches to avoid being called traitors to the motherland, and these speeches found support among the workers. This situation is a great weakness of the working class of Turkey as well as an important reason for the weakness of class struggle in Turkey.
On December 14, 2009, around 10,000 workers from Tekel tobacco factories around the country gathered in Ankara. What caused the struggle was a law that affected workers in most state enterprises which were due to be privatized. The law in question was a trick devised so that the reaction to the rising number of workers laid off as the privatizations increased could be avoided. The 4‑C status caused significant loss of rights, including a decrease in workers’ wages, workers being transferred to jobs unrelated to their expertise and previous work, working hours being arbitrarily determined by managers, arbitrary layoffs becoming easier and workers losing their access to health services because their social security subsidies weren’t paid anymore. Moreover, the workers would work for 3‑10 months of the year and wouldn’t be paid for the months they weren’t working. Nor would the workers be allowed to work at different jobs while they were employed in this status. In other words, the workers sent to an enterprise were supposed to work for a much lower pay, for hours and in conditions determined by the boss, and wouldn’t have the right to work in a different job after they were worked for three months and then sent to wait.
Of course Tekel workers were not the only group affected by this legal regulation, and the Tekel resistance was not the only struggle of the period. In the days Tekel workers took action, two other struggles were taking place. On November 25 2009, KESK, DISK and Kamu‑Sen (Confederation of Public Employees Unions of Turkey), a regime union close to the fascist MHP (Nationalist Union Party) participated in a one day strike. After this strike started the strike of the firemen who would be sacked at the beginning of the next year. Then, railroad workers went on a one day strike to support coworkers who were fired for participating in the strike of November 25. The police brutally attacked the firemen and the railroad workers as they would later attack the Tekel workers. Moreover the number of railroad workers who were sacked increased to fifty and many workers were arrested. The railroad workers stopped their struggle because of the attacks.
The seeds of the resistance of December 14 were sown on December 5 at an opening attended by Erdoğan. A group of workers had gone to the opening to tell Erdoğan of their situation. Erdoğan’s response was not what the workers had hoped for. In his speech, Erdoğan said that ‘the Tekel workers tried to make money without working, they were an “element” who tried to exploit the resources of the state and cost the state 40 trillion’ along with other hostile remarks. Consequently, the workers left the hall in anger. Many workers who belonged to the AKP resigned from this party. The workers took the road to Ankara, following the call made by their union Tek Gıda İş (Tobacco, Distillery, Food and Supporting Workers Union of Turkey), member of Türk‑İş. Through the journey they were stopped and attacked. When they arrived, the police said the mostly Turkish workers coming from the West could enter the city, while the mostly Kurdish workers coming from the East were not allowed. Thankfully, this attitude which showed the real face of the Turkish state in days when the Kurdish reform and the discourse of peace were on the agenda was not accepted by the workers. Led by the workers from Tokat, the police were resisted and the workers coming from the Kurdish cities were not left behind.
The workers started to protest in front of the AKP general headquarters. They lit fires and waited until 10 in the cold of Ankara. The next day, the police directed the workers to Abdi İpekçi Park. A group of workers remained in front of the AKP headquarters. When some of the workers arrived in the park, the police surrounded them, preventing the workers from leaving and entering. When the workers tried to get together, the police responded with tear gas. Finally the rest of the workers arrived in the park after marching for four hours. Tekel workers spent the night in the park under rain. The harshest attack made to disperse the workers took place on December 17. The workers indeed had to disperse from the park after the hateful attack. The fleeing workers gathered in front of the Türk‑İş headquarters. Having nowhere to sleep, Tekel workers occupied the Türk‑İş headquarters and spent the night there. Now the center of action was Sakarya Square, and above all the street on which the Türk‑İş headquarters was located.
The government and union administrators who thought lack of a place to stay, the cold weather and the police attacks would disperse the protesters in a few days soon saw that they were wrong. Afterward, the confederation closed its door to the workers. The workers had to struggle against the union management over the use of bathrooms and women workers being allowed to rest in the building from time to time, and eventually were given partial approval to use the building. Tension with Türk‑İş dated earlier: the union had already started negotiating with the state and accepted its demands. For this reason, the workers refused to allow the union management to negotiate alone and demanded two workers to accompany the union leaders.
In the following days, the workers discussed how to continue their struggle. They observed that being stuck on only one street wouldn’t lead to a good result and it was necessary to expand the struggle. In the following days, the workers attended the activities of student or leftist groups as well as those in working class neighborhoods as speakers, and afterward they visited sugar factory workers who would soon share the same fate, calling them to the struggle. But before anything, they needed tents in the harsh conditions of winter. A committee was founded, which made a number of demands from the union including tents and new year’s day celebrations on the street. Türk‑İş was quite unhappy about the workers having formed their own committee and asked them to abolish it. Thus the workers ended their one area of support, their committee, in fear of losing their union.
In the coming days, the clash between the Tekel workers and Türk‑İş continued. Tekel workers were at the doors during the meeting of Türk‑İş’ board of directors. Chairman of Türk‑İş, Mustafa Kumlu had to be smuggled out of the building by the police. He couldn’t face the workers until he eventually made a statement accepting their demands. This statement didn’t improve the relations between the workers and the confederation. The workers protested Türk‑İş and attempted to occupy its headquarters regularly. To better understand the state of workers relations with Türk‑İş we can consult the words of a Tekel worker from an interview: “If the union managers decide to end our action/resistance and go back, we will not follow this decision. In fact if they decide to end the resistance without a gain like last time, we’re planning to empty the Türk‑İş headquarters and then burn it.” Despite all these, there was a section of the workers who were inclined to do as Türk‑İş said. They saw their chairman as a leader in a way and wanted to pull him to a line that defended their rights more.
After the festive new years celebration and the one hour general strike Türk‑İş called for as a result of the pressure coming from the workers, the workers were voting whether to continue the struggle or not. The one hour strike was joined by 30% of Türk‑İş member workers, indicating to the government the struggle’s potential to expand. 99% of the workers voted to continue the struggle. After January 15, on the union’s suggestion, the workers and the union managers made an action plan: three days of sit‑ins, followed by three days of hunger strike and three days of death fasting. The workers had thought their hunger strike would help them stay on the agenda and bring Türk‑İş to its knees.
On January 14 tents were set up. The workers who had to light fires in barrels previously were given stoves, which were set up inside the tents. Sakarya square had turned into a tent town. The tents were arranged according to cities workers came from. This was so that possible undercover police or provocateur manipulation could be prevented. By sleeping with their coworkers, the workers avoided the danger of being attacked or manipulated.
On January 15, the remaining Tekel workers and some of the families came to Ankara and started a sit‑in. A demonstration with wide participation was planned for January 16. The forces of order insisted that the demonstration be postponed to Sunday. The workers thus postponed the demonstration to the next day. Behind this insistence was the thought that the workers who’d been sitting outside in cold winter days couldn’t fight against them. Struggling workers from multiple sectors, students and groups of supporters marched on Sıhhiye Square from the train station. A Tekel worker, a fireman and a sugar worker took the platform there and made speeches. They were followed by the chairman of Türk‑İş. The chairman was extremely conciliatory in his speech which angered the Tekel workers. Despite efforts to stop them, the workers took over the platform. Some of these workers shouted slogans calling for a general strike. Soon, the workers got off the platform. When the union administrators claimed the supporters were provocateurs, the workers marched on the Türk‑İş headquarters to occupy it. By the end of the day, the workers were talking about setting up a committee again. Having formed a committee, the workers began to plan the coming process. Most of the workers didn’t agree with the idea of going on a hunger strike. It was decided that only 140 workers would go on a hunger strike on January 19. On the same day, hundreds of Tekel workers went to show solidarity with the health workers who went on a one day strike. Throughout the struggle, 9‑10 committees were formed. These committees weren’t functional for a long time. The workers thought this was due to a lack of communication. According to some workers, committees didn’t last because the tents couldn’t send their delegates and a communication tent wasn’t set up.
On January 20, KESK, DISK and Türk‑İş announced their joint action plan. The confederations had resolved to organize support demonstrations and visits, and start work an hour late on the 22nd. Moreover, they announced that if there wasn’t a new development by January 26, they would gather for a solidarity strike. Erdoğan summoned the chairman of Türk‑İş. Declaring he had misunderstood the Tekel workers, Erdoğan delegated two ministers for the negotiations. At the end of five days, 4‑C wasn’t shelved but certain improvements were reached: Better wages, severance pay, 22 day paid leave and working period of 11 months. The workers rejected the agreement. The workers who had followed the advice of the doctors and stopped their hunger strike when the news of a deal came restarted it on February 2. Because of the negative result Türk‑İş, DİSK, KESK, Kamu‑Sen and even Islamist Hak‑İş (Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions) and Memur‑Sen (Confederation of Public Servants’ Trade Unions) came together and decided to go on a general strike on February 4. As for the government, it made threatening statements and portrayed the workers continuation of the struggle, despite being given their salaries and promised severance pay, as due to the leadership ideological groups. In fact paying salaries was the state’s legal obligation, and no mention was made of the fact that 4‑C wasn’t shelved. The workers were given a month to register with 4‑C. Those who didn’t would be unemployed.
Hak‑İş and Memur‑Sen, who were included in the general strike decision due to pressure from the base, withdrew at the last minute. Some unions within Turk‑Is withdrew because they supported the state position. Türk‑İş also prevented the gathering of the union base from many cities by announcing that only union executives and representatives would participate in the demonstration to be held in Ankara. 30‑40 thousand people attended the demonstration in Ankara. Other than that, support demonstrations were held in some cities. As for the general strike, the picture was not very pleasant. As the strike did not spread to many workplaces, a serious effect was not seen. The greatest hope of the workers from the beginning was to spread the struggle by forcing the unions. Not being able to grow the resistance despite their intense efforts increased the tendency among the workers to reach an agreement. Moreover, they only had one month left and not accepting it meant being unemployed. These discourses even created occasional disagreements among the workers. The hunger strike that started on February 2 ended on February 5. On the day it ended, 100 Tekel workers went on an indefinite hunger strike. Although the hunger strike ended on February 11 with the announcement of the union, 16 workers stated that they did not recognize the decision and continued their hunger strike and one worker was hospitalized. Then 5 more workers joined the hunger strike and the strike ended on February 17th. Another Tekel worker, known to be pro‑union management, physically attacked one of the hunger strikers for continuing his hunger strike.
While talks with Erdoğan were continuing, KESK, DİSK, Kamu‑Sen and Türk‑İş announced their action plans: On February 18, banners and posters about Tekel workers would be hung on all branches of their unions, press release and sit‑ins would be held in the provinces on February 19, a solidarity rally would be held in Ankara on 20 February. After the program, which attracted attention mostly in the union environment, the rally took place and gave morale to the workers; but what happened afterwards broke morale again. The four unions met again and agreed that they would hold a general action if results were not achieved by 26 May. This decision was not announced to the workers who learned about it because the decision leaked online. They protested with slogans urging the union leadership, which was planning an action months later, to resign. The head of Tek Gıda‑İş, which the workers were the main members, stated that he resigned from the General Secretariat of Türk‑İş, but that he would announce the reason for his resignation on March 2 – the last day of the period that the state had granted the workers. The workers were dealing with two possibilities about the resignation: either he resigned to react to the workers and give the image that he did not support this resistance, as the media stated, or he resigned to be with the workers because he was uncomfortable with the decisions taken by Türk‑Is. The second possibility seemed unlikely; because he disappeared without any explanation to the workers.
As the strike continued, workers kept getting bitter news. On February 23, news came from Balıkesir mines that 13 workers lost their lives due to a grizu explosion. On the 25th of the month, a militant Tekel worker named Hamdullah Uysal died after being hit by an expensive vehicle near the resistance area. Since the workers started the struggle, many relatives of their fellow insurgents had died; but the workplace murder and the loss of their fellow insurgents massively affected all of them. Workers remembered their brothers-in-arms by performing torch demonstrations in the evenings. These events caused further class anger. The workers got permission to talk to the family of their deceased friend and hold the funeral on the strike ground. Consequently, 400‑500 workers went to the Forensic Medicine Institute building and demanded the body. Hamdullah had a relative with them, and his family was on the way for the funeral. The institution did not give the funeral and stalled the workers. Later, a person claiming to be Hamdullah’s brother-in-law and confessing to being a plainclothes police officer when the workers did not believe him, tried to take Hamdullah and was prevented by the intervention of the workers. While the workers were waiting for hours, the family was detained by the security forces, and they were forced to take the body to their hometown without having a funeral in Ankara. Thus, the relatives of the deceased worker could not resist the pressure of the police and went to the Forensic Medicine Institute to retrieve the body. At the same time, the police informed the workers that they could take the body. The workers got into the vehicles, but realized that Hamdullah was being taken in a different direction and blocked the vehicle. The police intervened and started spraying tear gas on the demonstrators. A group of workers laid down in front of the vehicle. The police intervened harshly and abducted the vehicle from the road it opened.
While the conflict was continuing in Forensic Medicine, the workers in front of Türk‑İş were struggling to lay flowers where their friend was killed. The workers were prevented from entering the area and leaving flowers by the police. When the workers returning from Forensic Medicine came together with other protesters, they crossed the barricade and closed the street to traffic and held a sit‑in for 20‑25 minutes for their lost friends. They bid farewell to Hamdullah by decorating the place where he died with flowers and chanting slogans. When a group of workers went to the AKP building and hung up banners the next day, they were attacked by private security and police. Many workers were injured, 19 workers were detained. While the workers were detained for 40 hours, many Tekel workers and supporters were also waiting outside. While 4 of the workers were sent to the court for damage to public property and resistance to the civil servant, the rest were released. The union, on the other hand, did not want to be involved in this work because it was done without permission, but sent its lawyers due to pressure from the workers.
On March 1, it was announced that the decision of the Council of State on the obligation to move to 4‑C within a month was suspended. This created great joy among the workers. Tek Gıda‑İş chairman told the workers that the demonstration was over and they started to dismantle the tents. Although some of the workers objected, the majority were in favor of removing the tents. Thereupon, fighters of the Tekel struggle took a break to meet again in Ankara on April 1. The resistance had actually ended with this step. When the workers returned to Ankara in April, they saw that the area was under police blockade and were not allowed inside. They waited one day and tried to enter the area again, but they encountered police intervention. They left Ankara to prepare a press release and prepare for the general action on May 26th. Tekel Istanbul workers organized an action on May 1. Five days before the general action, the union made a statement which tried to find an excuse to cancel the general protest, and on 24 May, the workers raided the Istanbul branch of Türk‑İş and started a two‑day sit‑in and hunger strike. Occupations of Türk‑İş were attempted in other cities where there were Tekel workers. After all, statements came from the unions making suggestions such as a one‑hour work stoppage and a press release instead of general action. These statements angered the workers who called on workers in other sectors to go on strike.
On May 26, a total of 70,000 workers from many sectors offered solidarity to Tekel workers with marches, strikes and support actions. 15,000 workers went to work an hour late in Zonguldak. Many press releases or one‑hour actions were done in the health sector. Masses of public employees, in general, marched especially in big cities. The support action of the railway workers in Izmir was attacked by the police. There were demonstrations all over Turkey throughout the day. As a result, the legal process continued for the following years. As a result of the Tekel strike, some improvements were made in the 4‑C. The workers failed to achieve their goal of removing 4‑C. 9 years after the events, 19 of the workers who took action in front of the AKP Provincial Directorate building were sued. Some of the Tekel workers say that this was done to intimidate and prevent further strikes due to the crisis, and that it is absurd to reopen the case that was already closed. The resistance, which left an unforgettable mark on the young workers of the 2000s, even if it resulted in loss, was an important class struggle experience.
Diyarbakır Brick Strike
More than 2 thousand workers work in 12 brick factories in Bağıvar, Diyarbakır. Brick-workers worked for up to 12‑16 hours a day for very low wages. In the factories, no security measures were taken to protect the health of the workers, and the workers had no insurance or union rights. Wages were regularly delayed for months, and many workers survived on debt. The workers, who were working in areas where it was impossible to see because of brick dust, were trying to protect themselves by wrapping the keffiyehs they brought from their homes around their faces. The shoes of the workers working in high heat would shatter and they would need new work shoes every month. Workers who were deprived of insurance, food and service facilities were also fighting for their rights to milk and yogurt (Products such as milk, yoghurt and yoghurt drink are regularly consumed by workers who contact hazardous, health-damaging, toxic substances. There is a common belief among the working class that the mentioned products reduce the harmful effects on the body). As the workers were uninsured, they had great difficulty in solving health problems, and as they mostly had many children, they could not provide a healthy life and education for their children. A substantial part of the workforce were child workers. Many accidents occurred in the workplace due to failure to take safety precautions, especially with chronic diseases caused by breathing dust or heavy lifting, workers were doomed to suffer their whole lives. Workers injured as a result of work accidents were pushed out the door, in need of care, and the boss did not pay them anything. As if all this was not enough, they were regularly exposed to insults and humiliations. The inspection process in these workplaces occurred like it did elsewhere in Turkey: with the inspection team and the legal officers taking their bribes and writing false reports.
800 workers from 10 factories began to struggle in June 2006, due to all the listed problems and rejection of raise requests. The struggle was concluded in a short time, but the only gain the workers were able to get was a 35% raise: at the beginning of the 3‑day resistance, the rate of raise demanded by the workers was 40%, and the boss had strictly rejected an agreement above 20%. At the end of the strike, the workers started discussing how to become union members. There were still many problems to be resolved. Three years passed after these gains. Throughout these three years, the problems continued and the annual cost-of-living increases were not made. Workers went on strike in 2010, this time with 1500 people. During the strike, the workers gathered in the coffeehouses and talked about their struggles. They tried to establish unity and joint decision between themselves. Speaking about both the gains of 2006 and the Tekel resistance, the workers reminded each other that they would achieve success if they could continue the struggle without being divided. The workers mainly hoped to increase their salaries, but they also struggled to resolve other difficulties. The bosses united and made a joint statement saying they could give a 7.5% raise. Thereupon, the workers stated that they would not return from the strike until the three‑year lack of wages was compensated and other problems were taken seriously and resolved. By the second day of the strike, all factories stopped. Throughout the process, the bosses called the gendarmes, as well as tried to divide the workers by specifying a separate raise rate for each factory. When they saw that the resistance was continuing without division, they offered a 28% increase and the strike ended with a 30% increase. This meant an increase in salaries of around 100‑200 lira. Other demands of the workers remained unresolved. Indeed, many workers were not in favor of ending the strike without gaining rights such as insurance and union rights. However, the resistance was terminated considering the possibility of not being able to bear the financial burden of continuing and a division due to some of the workers being reluctant to continue. The workers reported their situation to the Diyarbakır Governorship and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. There was no intervention in favor of the workers who were sent away claiming that their problems would be dealt with. The same problems came up again in 2013 with a strike.
Insurance and union rights were more prominent among the demands of the workers who started to resist again on May 1, 2013. Other than that, they wanted a 50% raise. All brick factory workers in the area joined the struggle. The workers first formed a strike committee and elected representatives for negotiations. The primary decision made by the workers was to report their workplaces to the ministry with petitions stating that they were employed informally. In addition, the bosses fraudulently registered their relatives as employees in order to claim the insurance of real employees. Though they had established workers’ assemblies or committees earlier, partially due to distrust of unions, apparently they did not get the result they wanted. After a call to join by the head of Cam Keramik İş (Porcelain, Cement, Glass, Brick and Soil Workers Union), affiliated with DISK, in 2012, the workers decided to meet with this union. Five days later, the strike ended with a written agreement rather than a verbal acceptance from the boss like in previous strikes. Following the meetings with the brick bosses, the insurance demands of the majority of the workers were met. According to the agreement made, 30 workers working as loaders in each factory would be insured, and loaders working on a lump‑sum basis would receive a 5 percent increase. The base workers, with high rates of child labor, would be entitled to a 10 percent increase, and those who regularly worked among them would be entitled to insurance. Thus, it was possible to work insured for the first time in the brick factories in Bağıvar, although it did not cover all of the workers. The workers would continue to work without giving up; They stated that they would not stop without achieving important gains such as union organization, improvement in conditions and insurance for all. One year later, Cam Keramik İş opened a branch in Bağıvar and the workers continued their communication through this branch. However, as far as it is known, Diyarbakır brick-workers did not go on another strike in the following period.
Gaziantep (Başpınar Organized Industrial Zone) Strike
In 2012, 11 days of resistance resulted in a partial gain in Gaziantep, where textile workers, whose number reached 5‑7 thousand people over time, went on strike. Başpınar Organized Industrial Zone was an area where 100 thousand workers worked in 2012, mostly in the textile business. There were also a small number of unionized workers in the industrial zone, where most of the workers were not unionized. Most of these workers belonged to Öz-İplik-İş (All Weaving, Yarn, Knitwear, Ready Wear, Garment and Leather Workers Union) affiliated to the Islamist Hak‑İş. Unionized workers received similar wages and worked under similar conditions as non‑union workers. In fact, in the last collective agreement, these unions signed a zero raise rate and cut bonuses. “If you really want these workers to trust you and organize, you have a thousand members in Sanko. bring two hundred of them here and we will believe you", one worker said to an administrator of TEKSİF (Textile, Knitting and Clothing Workers’ Union of Turkey), part of Türk‑İş, but did not even get an answer. Thus the workers had to resist on their own without union support.
The workers, who started to organize against bad working conditions, went on strike demanding a net wage of 1,000 lira and four bonuses per year. One of the workers expressed the working conditions and his feelings about the strike as follows: "We work 12 hours a day. It’s the same practice on Sundays. If we do not go back to work on Sunday, they make us work in other areas. They want us to come to the service stops early. We even go to the toilet by asking permission. We are not allowed to drink tea during the half‑hour lunch break. We will resist until the end."
So how did the workers coordinate this strike? Workers who set up committees at their workplaces formed another higher committee that linked the factories. Committees of 3‑5 people were selected from workers who were found to be reliable and known to have a militant attitude. After the strike, according to the workers’ assessment of the committee; even though the committee was able to direct workers in the field of resistance, it could not do much when there were demoralizations and breakups. Another problem of the committees was police repression. Representatives had to change frequently because of almost daily police repression, and workers had to constantly elect new representatives. One of the threats from the police was that if they did not end the strike, they would never find a job anywhere again. Undoubtedly, the biggest reason why the strike could not be continued in order to achieve full victory was financial problems. Many of the workers went on strike without pay. The strike, which they thought would last for 3 days, was getting longer, and there was no serious help from the unions. Considering the conditions of the period, it was a miracle that the workers were able to reach the end of the month with their previous salary, and they had to endure the strike process without any money, making it all the more difficult for them. Ultimately, although they did not achieve what they wanted completely, they managed to end the resistance with a victory in 11 days.
At the end of the strike, the wages in most factories increased from 780 lira to 875 lira. As a bonus, an extra 10 days wages was agreed upon. The leveling system was abolished only in the Motif factory and equal wages of 905 lira were started to be paid to everyone. The most important gains of the strike were the Başpınar workers’ resistance to reach numbers that could not be achieved for many years in the textile business with 11 days of resistance, and moreover, that the gains were spread to the enterprises of the whole industrial zone. There has also been a dynamism in the workers of the surrounding businesses, who saw that the workers on strike won. In many workplaces, they were able to get the wages won by striking workers with 1‑2 hour stoppages. Some factory managers even increased the wages without the workers without taking any action, fearing that the workers would go on strike. Some negative events also took place after the strike. Workers participating in the resistance encountered some problems when the agreement was concluded and they returned to work: At the Şireci factory, the boss tried to get the workers to sign documents saying "I regret participating in the strike". Unwilling to sign this, the workers decided to continue their resistance for a while. At the Gürteks factory, the pressure continued on the workers to give up compensation. In the Güriplik factory, the management stated that it would not hire 50 of the 300 workers, and did not guarantee that the compensation of the workers it will recruit will not be withdrawn. The Başpınar Workers’ Committee continued its meetings and efforts to spread the struggle for the next two years.
Turkish Airlines Strike
Although strikes in the airports were not prohibited until the year 2012 in Turkey, there hadn’t been any strikes in this sector; which is the main reason why we included this strike. Atatürk Airport workers organized an action after the ban began. This action caused Turkish Airlines to cancel 104 flights. In 2013, the strike, which started as a result of the dismissal of 305 workers, lasted for nine months and ended with the rehiring of the workers by court decision. The demands such as shortening the work days, which lasted 16‑18 hours, humane conditions in the sleeping areas, and the failure to lose a few grams of weight or flaws in their make‑up being the reasons for dismissal, remained unmet. While the strike continued, the airport continued to operate at full capacity. While the workers were continuing their protests, the start of the Gezi protests caused the workers to move the area of resistance to Gezi Park where the protests were held. Turkish Airlines workers did not neglect to show solidarity by visiting other strike areas throughout the strike. The event that ended the strike was the conclusion of the legal process rather than the progress of the strike. It was the first of its kind in the sector, which was what put this strike on the agenda rather than its success and massiveness.
Workers who were dismissed a while before the Gezi protests started striking in front of the workplace for 61 days because they could not get their wages for five months. Meanwhile, the boss managed to hijack most of the machines from his workplace without the workers noticing and destroyed the remaining machines. The workers, who started to speak in Gezi forums decided to implement the ideas produced there. The most important of these ideas was workplace occupation. The workers who occupied the factory, under the influence of the discussion in the forums, tried to repair a small number of machines and carry out their own production. They began to sell their products through forums and Gezi protesters. In fact, famous Gezi protesters organized a fashion show to support the sweater sales. After these, the work of Kazova workers grew and they even opened a small shop. Although this situation seemed to compensate the workers who were not entitled to their rights, they did not stay there. Workers continued to move on the path of patronage and to use the market of leftist and Gezi protester circles.
With the support and influence of the Stalinist left organizations, the reputation of the Kazova sweaters spread to other countries. The jerseys to be worn by the Cuban Youth National Team in a match were ordered from Kazova workers. Kazova workers, on the other hand, sent anti‑imperialist and solidarity messages to Cuba through the Cuban Young National Team. At the end of 10 months, the courts were concluded. The boss left the workers the machines they seized for unpaid wages. The workers established a cooperative and continued production. They even started to produce combed cotton clothes and socks in 2015. They also continued to receive design assistance from Gezi protesters.
This was a movement that started with the reaction to a group of environmentalist activists being subjected to police violence while protesting a construction in Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul, as the construction machines started to enter the park and remove the trees on May 27, 2013, and this was made public knowledge on the internet. The police violence that caused the protests to start made its effects felt during the protests. 8 people died and more than 8,000 people were injured in the protests, in which between 3.5 million and 7.5 million people actually participated in street protests in Istanbul alone, and many more supported online or from their balconies. The protests took place in the form of occupations of the area, street clashes, marches, forum discussions, art shows, market and product boycotts, beating pots and pans as drums from windows and balconies. Throughout the process, the activists also found names for themselves: The protesters adopted the word "çapulcu” (marauder), which Erdogan used to insult them, and preferred to call themselves Gezists and çapulcus.
Since the Gezi movement was an interclass mass movement and was under the political weight of the axis of democracy, we will not discuss all its processes in this article. The reason why we commemorate Gezi here is that it included the participation of many sections of the working class, shook their trust in the media and the state to some extent, enabled the development of practices and speeches about the possibility of another life in the forums and occupation areas, and the working class could come together and speak without fear. It was a movement that created spaces. The ground created by Gezi enabled some workers to realize their class position while at the same time helping them to shift from competitive to the solidarity form in the relationship they established with their own class. In addition, thanks to the discussions and encounters that developed in the process, more sensitive and conscious attitudes towards racism, homophobia and sexism started to form among the participants. Particularly, some of the activists who saw how the mass demonstrations were reflected on television realized that they had watched the events in Kurdistan for decades on the same screens. Medeni Yıldırım, who was killed by a soldier’s bullet while protesting against militarism in Diyarbakır, was claimed by a significant segment of the protestors, along with others killed by police bullets in the west of the country at the same time. Gezi and similar actions also revealed the different functions of social media, which is a relatively new phenomenon. The ability of people to act together and initiate actions through the network that connects people from all over the world has changed the way many people view social media. Of course, this situation has brought serious social media bans in Turkey, as in many other countries.
The class background of the participants of the Gezi movement, which is remembered for being the biggest mass movement of the Republic period, was as follows: The majority of the urban, young white-collar workers and students who will work in similar fields in the future (a segment that describes themselves as mostly middle class), the unemployed and the lumpen-proletarian youth of the urban suburbs, and to a lesser extent blue‑collar workers and petty-bourgeois AKP opponents made up the regular mass of Gezi. Along with a number of anti‑AKP parliamentary politicians, bourgeois artists did not neglect to pose in these protests and to participate in demonstrations, albeit rarely.
As much as the protesting took place against increasing police violence in the most general sense, they were also against the authoritarian laws enacted by the AKP government, which restricted social life and caused serious loss of rights in workplaces, as well as imposing very high taxes on products such as alcohol and cigarettes, etc. When looking at the slogans shouted by the people who participated in Gezi and some of the topics discussed in the forums, it was observed that the movement mostly focused on demanding Prime Minister Erdogan’s ouster, especially at the beginning. It was also observed that discussions were held on class issues such as precarious working conditions, unemployment despite diplomas, flexible working hours, and strict performance measurement. At the forums, workers took the floor and shared their conditions with each other, sent messages of support to the resistances, were exposed to speeches on the class struggle and engaged in debates. That is why the Gezi protests were considered by many to be an unforgettable experience and created a generation that still call themselves çapulcus and Gezists.
For the çapulcu movement, the process continued through the forums with the evacuation of Taksim square on June 15th. The debates initiated by speakers at forums with a class perspective gave new perspectives to white-collar workers who previously did not perceive themselves as part of the working class. Decisions were made in many local forums to establish links with workers’ struggles. The forums that were initially established near the resistance areas later continued as neighborhood forums. Eventually, forums organized in some workplaces or in parks by workers in the resistance also began to form. A number of hospital workers, white-collar workers in the private sector and university workers organized forums at workplaces. In some of the forums ’worker and unemployed’ working groups and ’precarious’ working groups have been established. To give an example from the speeches: A participant who spoke at Abbasağa Park in Istanbul said, "Do those who do not work in the factories think that they are noy workers? If you are selling your labor to survive, raise your hands!” he called to the crowd. In response, everyone in the forum raised their hand. Then the speaker continued as follows: “So you are a worker! We must turn our workplace into a place of resistance, if the çapulcus are not going to do it, who will? " Of course, the negative effects of the discussions in the forums were also observed, as in the case of Kazova and Turkish Airlines. Throughout the process, it has been witnessed over and over again that the Gezi movement took the resistances that had begun earlier inside and directed them towards a shallow activism.
As mentioned above, there was a tendency towards democratic rhetoric in the Gezi movement. This tendency was embraced by a large mass who had not encountered class struggle, did not even see itself as a member of the working class, was exposed to the propaganda of a European type of democracy and, by comparing the democracy in their country with the European countries, concluded that the problem was the lack of democracy. Although certain changes took place in some groups in the process, democracy was emphasized until the end of the protests due to the intense intervention of bourgeois politicians and non‑governmental organizations opposing AKP. Turkey’s largely Stalinist left organizations could not participate in the movement at the beginning, and tried to become a part of the process only after a while. Some, in an exaggerated way, saw it as a path to revolution, while others chose to read it as a movement of the apolitical masses that would lead to nowhere. The maneuvers they tried to dominate the forums with were met with reaction from the protestors.
The Gezi movement came to an end due to the popular discourse of defeating the AKP at the ballot box due to the upcoming elections, the fear of the increase in injuries and deaths due to the harshness of the police violence, its inability to turn into a class-based and conscious movement rather than a reflexive movement, turning the movement into workplace actions and strikes and the effort to channel the resistance to the elections by the action management unit, which was later formed under the name of Taksim Solidarity – made up of DİSK, KESK and representatives of some professional organizations, non‑governmental organizations and large and small leftist bourgeois parties. The discussions and lawsuits that started after Gezi lasted for years. The state vengefully continued its ugly and aggressive rhetoric about the dead protestors and the movement as a whole. Many people were sued. Instead of the police, who were the perpetrators of the murders and violence, many activists were fined. The reasons given were either events that took place during the movement or their social media posts. Those who caused injuries and deaths were openly taken under protection. A businessman named Osman Kavala was meaninglessly pointed out as the organizer of the movement. Behind this approach was the effort to ignore the discomfort of society and to devalue the whole movement by portraying it as due to one individual’s ambition.
Soma Massacre and Resistance
The coal mine fire that occurred on 13 May 2014 in Soma, Manisa went down in history as the mining disaster that claimed most lives in Turkey. According to official records, the massacre, in which 301 people lost their lives, caused more deaths than the Kozlu coal mine disaster in which 263 workers lost their lives in 1992. In the period from 1941 to 2014, more than 3000 workers died in mining accidents. What creates this terrible picture is the ambition of the bourgeoisie to increase their capital and the willful neglect of any inspections and security measures. Factors contributing to the Soma massacre include the fact that the union organized in Soma, Maden‑İş (Turkish Mine Workers Union) affiliated to Türk‑İş, did not fulfill its function as a union despite knowing the problems; that these mines, which are a state-owned business area, are leased for a short time with the royalty method, that is with the guarantee of purchase no matter how much coal is extracted; and the pressure from the boss, who wants to get the highest rate of efficiency in a short time and leave... These factors cause the deaths and injuries of many workers in the mines outside of Soma too.
The Soma mine where the explosion took place was a lignite mine known for catching fire rapidly. In the region of the mine where slow progress is vital, the boss, who wanted to double his earnings in a short time, accelerated the progress and increased the working hours. Moreover, there was another fire in Soma before the fire that caused the disaster. The boss’s order was to pour concrete on the fire and keep the workers working. The workers did what they were told. Nine occupational safety experts allegedly working in the workplace did not attempt to report these situations. Inspected over and over again, inspectors at the mine did not see a problem either. In fact, this kind of inspection weaknesses are typical situations in Turkey. Job security professionals receive their salaries directly from the boss. They have to write whatever the boss says on their report, and if they do not comply, they are likely to be sacked. Inspectors, on the other hand, are often famous for having tea with bosses, sometimes squeezing their share of the cake into the notebook and giving a clean report. we do not know if that happened here. But it is certain that although there were many problems in this mine, nobody noticed (!) and sufficient precautions could not be taken. Precisely at the shift change, an explosion occurred, which is predicted to be due to electrical equipment malfunctions when 787 workers were underground. Electricity was cut, so the elevator could not be used. A group of workers close to the exit barely managed to get out. As the news of deaths came, Turkey was forced to watch the false news from the screens. Although the authorities insisted on keeping the number low, the facts could not be kept secret for too long. Finally, Tayyip Erdogan, who did not want to react, went to the region. With the arrival of Erdogan, the families and colleagues of the workers reacted to the events with a spontaneous mass action. One of Erdogan’s bodyguards kicked a worker’s relative who was protesting, and this drew a lot of reaction from the masses of workers who were still experiencing the shock of the painful incident.
The working class did not remain silent to the Soma disaster: When the Yatağan workers, who were already gathering in Ankara, learned about what was happening, they kept watch in Güvenpark square all night. After the massacre demonstrations and work stoppages in mining in many parts of Turkey took place. Police attacked some of the actions. KESK, DİSK, TMMOB and TTB (Turkish Doctors’ Association) decided to stop work for a day. Türk‑iş, organized in Soma, managed to attract the anger of the workers with its decision to organize three-minute strikes. On May 26, Soma workers marched towards the Maden‑İş union to draw attention to workplace safety problems and protest the union’s stance after the massacre. The workers wanted to leave the union en masse. The speech that denied the union’s share in the events increased the anger of the workers and, enraged, they occupied Maden‑Is. Upon the intervention of the police, the workers left the union and marched to the district governorship. Unable to control their anger with the pain of their lost friends, the workers turned to Maden‑İş again. They demanded the resignation of the management. Of course, this demand was not fulfilled, and after a while, some of the unionists who were in the union administration of the region where the Soma disaster took place even got promoted within Türk‑İş. The marches on the Soma disaster continued in the following years.
They hired workers who would work in a dangerous line of business with a 3‑day training that did not even teach them what to do in case of an accident or by signing a document without even receiving training. The workers’ union and union representatives were determined by the managers, and the workers were obliged to choose these people. The management of the workers in the field in Soma was carried out by a type of foreman called dayıbaşı (head uncle). These people could slap workers, regularly to put pressure on the workers, forcing them to work harder. Due to damage that occurred 4‑5 months ago, the amount of carbon monoxide, which should have been 50 PPM, was regularly measured higher. Even in the measurements, the figures reached up to 500 PPM in places. The temperature that should have been around 30 degrees has been hovering close to 46 degrees for a while, and the temperature was 46 degrees on the day of the massacre. Gas masks, which should have protected from poisonous gas, turned out to be moldy. Survivors said they had to puncture the tube of the mask in order to breathe. Apart from these, many more negligent and inappropriate practices were encountered. The company officials, who continued production despite the complaints of the workers, knowingly dragged the workers to death.
High level bosses completely got off the hook from the massacre. When the Soma case, which revealed terrible facts, was concluded in 2018, mine boss Can Gürkan was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 3 years ban from the profession. After an appeal, he was released without serving his sentence, and his penalty from profession was also lifted. The general manager and some other managers and officials were given penalties ranging from 7‑22 years; Other partners of the company were acquitted. Throughout the trial, only 5 of the 51 defendants were arrested. Workers ’lawyers were detained, and even attacks were made against people and workers’ relatives who commemorated the dead workers. During the court process, it was revealed that the operating rights of the mines in the region belonging to the state had been given to a company named Park Teknik before Soma Inc. In 2009, Park Teknik had withdrawn from the mines by returning its operating rights "against the possibility of unrecoverable events and the possibility of fire" as a result of its investigations. So the mine was known to be dangerous by both the state and the company. In a statement made after the events, Soma Anonymous Corporation’s boss shamelessly explained that while the mines were under the state administration, the coal cost $ 140 per ton and that this rate was reduced to $ 23.8 by "private sector techniques" in his own administration, revealing how the private sector sacrificed worker life to reduce costs. As a result of the lawsuit, there was no obstacle left for the company and its bosses to continue their exploitation and massacres. When the work resumed, workers started to work for very low wages, taking life risks as before, and demanded a raise. Thereupon, the partner state even helped the killer bosses to pay the raise that was to be given to the workers.
In the factories of Greif, a packaging company in Istanbul where 1500 workers work, DİSK Tekstil became the authorized union on 8 November 2013 and one worker was fired on the same day. The dismissal was thought to be related to DISK being the authorized union. After eight hours of striking, the worker was reinstated to work. On February 10, 2014, the table was set for collective bargaining and about 500 workers started to come together after the boss did not accept the demands of the workers. Among the demands were the abolition of the subcontracting system, bonuses, increasing salaries and improving working conditions. Only 250 of the workers in Greif were permanent staff. The rest were working for 44 subcontractors. Those working for subcontractors had to endure serious rights extortion.
The workers, who were informed that there would be no collective contract, started to occupy the factory in Hadımköy the same day. Workers from the Dudullu factory were also preparing to occupy, but this occupation could not take place. A notice sent by the boss to the union stated that if the Hadımköy workers did not end the occupation, the factory would be closed. The union explained that the company had a legal right to do this. This situation prevented the other three factories outside of Hadımköy, which belonged to the same firm and made up approximately 70% of the production, from joining the strike. As the struggle continued, on April 10, the police attacked the factory and detained 104 workers. They were released after giving statements. The strike lasted 60 days and ended before reaching its goal. In May 2014, the police completed the investigation and filed a criminal complaint to the prosecutor’s office. This period’s case was dropped, but the file was not closed. In 2017, the court wanted to hear the case again. Subcontractors that complained in 2014 did not complain in 2017; but Greif complained. Thereupon, 191 workers, including people who did not participate in the occupation, were sued for "resisting the police’’ and "violating the freedom of work". The lawsuit has not been concluded and has been postponed to 2020.
Yatağan Thermal Power Plant resistance is a struggle that lasted for 447 days between 2013 and 2014 and ended in failure. In the 90s, the number of people working in power plants and mines in Yatağan, a small town, had reached tens of thousands, and this situation had turned the region into a workers’ town. By 2013, this number had dropped to 1200‑1300 people. Demonstrations against privatizations were held in Yatağan for 18 years until 2013. Although these actions led to postponement of privatizations, the government continued to routinely make efforts to carry out privatizations in this region. As a result of demonstrations, large and small, factory occupations and stopping those who wanted to buy the power plant, privatization was prevented in the 90s.
In 2000, despite the resistance of the workers, the plant was sold to Ciner Holding. The new management, who wanted to visit and a gendarme team of 800‑900 people approached the company building, and the workers closed the door of the building with a welding machine and formed a barricade. 10‑15 thousand people, including residents, supporters and workers’ families, participated in this struggle that took place in 2000, which the workers call the "great resistance". As a result of the military attack, a clash took place and 18 people were detained. The workers who didn’t let the new boss in that day eventually ended up with the boss not wanting to take the company from the state bosses.
A lot had changed in Yatağan by 2013. As a result of both urbanization and regular layoffs, the population of the region and the number of employees of the factory had decreased dramatically. The peasants involved in agriculture were also fighting another struggle here. The villagers whose natural resources were polluted due to the power plant became unable to farm. The foods they produced contained chemical waste. When the villager, who regularly complained about this issue, could not get a result, he gradually quit agriculture and ended up having to buy the food he used to produce. Workers and peasants’ good relations began to fall apart. The peasants felt that they did not get enough support from the workers for their struggles. In addition, they felt that the workers earned more than they did and therefore despised them and they no longer wanted to support the workers’ struggle. In short, there was a problem of continuing the struggle against both toxic wastes and loss of rights due to privatization and lack of solidarity in the region.
During the 447 days of struggle that
started in 2013, although the number of people changed regularly, there were
around 100‑400 workers in the resistance area. The workers who came to Ankara
and talked about their resistance in parks and rallies continued their
resistance in front of the workplace. They set up a tent in Ankara for 70 days.
During the protracted strike, many workers quit the struggle and returned to
work or got another job. The workplace was not completely closed. It was not
possible for the mine workers and plant workers to struggle together strongly.
It can be said that the Tekel resistance and Gezi protests influenced the
workers: For example, they learned how to set up tents from Tekel; and Gezi
provided them with a platform to talk about their struggles, but it also caused
them to spend their potential to expand the resistance on the wrong ground. Gezi
gave the workers the courage to continue, but this was not the area where they
would go on strike and resist with them and enable them to win. For the workers,
this process was a waste of time even if the Gezi protestors learned a lot from
the workers. Yet this group, which was mostly made up of students and white
collar workers, did not have the opportunity to go on a serious solidarity
strike. Moreover, they recommended dysfunctional activism tools such as
organizing petitions and square speeches to workers. In this process, the
workers visited tens, maybe hundreds of businesses that lived or will live under
the same conditions, to communicate with the workers there, to force the union
to bring them together with other workers in similar situations, to find support
for the resistance at the local level, in their villages and branches of their
workplaces that did not participate in the resistance. If they had managed to
keep the workplace closed, they would have had a chance to win. Also, as the
workers emphasized, not knowing what to do caused them to try every idea they
heard or obey what the union leaders were saying. Especially the fact that the
workers, who were at the forefront of the struggle in the past, were not present
at the workplace anymore prevented the transfer of struggle experiences.
As a result, the workers ended their resistance with minor improvements, succumbing to union insistence and the frustration that had overtaken most of them. Union executives had been against the factory occupation and the harsh rhetoric of the workers in the process. “We are doing an act of not leaving the workplace, and this is an occupation! Its sentence is 8 years. The state treated us tolerantly. After all, they have patience. If someone is fired, they will call me to account. How can we handle it if those who come to the plant do something? Some will say I’ve won, some will say I’ve sold out. The extension of the transition to 4‑C was thanks to the Yatağan resistance (...)”. The words we’ve quoted belong to Fatih Erçelik, Head of Tes‑İş (Turkish Energy, Water and Gas Workers Union) Yatağan Branch affiliated to Türk‑İş. As a result, the workers were not able to get rid of 4‑C, nor could their other demands be fully met. Union leaders and bosses signed a ten‑point protocol, which they hid from the press, and privatization took place. There were serious losses of rights for the workers. Many workers were laid off.
According to 2017 data, 273.000 of the 1,623,194 unionized workers in Turkey are metal workers. The iron and steel industry is one of the sectors with the highest number of occupational accidents and heavy working conditions. In this sector, Turkey has been experiencing the struggle since the 50s from time to time, numbering tens of thousands since the mass resistances of the 70s: the 1973‑75 strikes, the 77‑80 MESS (Metal Industrialists Union of Turkey) strikes and 98 of the Türk Metal (Turkish Metal Workers Union) strike were attended by tens of thousands of people, going down in history as mass events that conveyed the culture of struggle of the iron and steel worker and became a memory for the workers. Failure to meet the demands of workers in terms of collective bargaining or attacks on the right to collective bargaining, injuries and deaths caused by insufficient safety precautions, the imposition of long‑term unhealthy conditions, interference with union and insurance rights were among the factors that mobilized the workers.
Metal workers began to struggle in a more powerful way with the start of the growth of the iron and steel industry in Turkey. This struggle caused the bosses to form MESS in 1959, to fight against workers in an organized way. After this date, collective agreements were concluded with MESS. The usual practice was as follows: union executives sitting at the table with MESS would sign their contracts if there is no serious pressure from below; If there was reaction from below, they would retreat a little. MESS usually first sat at the table with the Türk Metal union affiliated to Türk‑İş. Türk Metal would sign the contract without even giving a proper explanation to the workers. Reactions from the union base sometimes rose, sometimes didn’t. This agreement would be imposed on other unions that were thinking of resisting, and they would also sign the same agreement or a slightly improved version. The lesson the metalworkers can learn from this whole process is that if they do not strike, they will have submitted to the bosses’ standards.
In 2013, working hours increased in the sector while the wages were generally stagnant, and occupational accidents and related deaths were frequent. Following the strikes that started in large iron and steel companies such as Asil Çelik and Koroman Çelik, 5,700 workers in İSDEMİR and around 1,600 workers in MMK went on strike. The events that triggered the start of the strikes were the unacceptable conditions of collective bargaining and unfair dismissals. In many cities, resistance tents were set up and factories stopped. Collective agreements were signed after 22 days of resistance. The strike process went as follows: Erdogan, who was the prime minister at the time, instructed his men to end the strike before Eid. The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Labor and Social Security of the period who received the order brought the parties together for collective agreement as mediators. Representing the workers’ side, Çelik‑İş (Steel, Iron, Metal and Auto Industry Workers’ Union) General President Cengiz Gül, affiliated with Hak‑İş was among the ones on the table. On the 22nd day of the strike, the union president signed the agreement without asking the workers, stating that "it would not be right to break the hearts of the ministers who were sitting at the same table". “One or two workers were fired every day. We talked about this issue in the presence of the two ministers and reached an agreement. Dismissals will not be possible. Dismissals will be prevented. The guarantee will be the government. The two ministers will follow it. We achieved a three-point low rate, but we achieved job security," he said. Hundreds of workers who stood out in the struggle were laid off shortly after the contract. Due to the fact that foremen could communicate more easily with many workers and have an effect on them, changes have also been made regarding their positions: Foremen were brought to the status of white-collar civil servants. By de‑unionizing the foremen and cutting off their communication with workers, they were prevented from taking an active role in future strikes.
The metal industry is a sector where, in addition to the heavy working conditions, workers are kept under constant control and pressure and a hierarchy among workers prevails. The union bureaucracy is the biggest tool for the "smooth" operation of this hierarchy and the multiplication of exploitation. In an environment where workers who do not have the right to speak in the union, who cannot get the real value of their labor in return for the heavy working conditions, who attempt to express their objection to the operation of the union and to the decisions taken, were put in front of the door, the last straw for metal workers was the group agreement signed between Türk Metal and MESS in 2014. With the signed contract, wages were increased by 3.78 percent for the first six months, plus 6 percent of the average hourly wage, while the duration of the contract was increased to 3 years.
In 2015, the struggle started this time in Bursa. Bosch factory workers were not satisfied with the collective agreement and wanted to go on strike. Even this threat created an improvement in the collective agreement. In May, 16 workers working at the Bursa Renault factory resigned from the union due to Türk Metal’s attitude of not protecting the rights of the workers and the workers who resigned were dismissed due to the complaint of the union. Other workers who heard of this immediately stopped work, and the 16 fired workers were reinstated within hours. On May 5, Renault workers begun the struggle and they went on strike on May 14; this time they left Türk Metal altogether. In a short time, the struggle started to spread to other automotive and metal factories in Bursa. First, the workers at TOFAŞ and Coşkunöz went on strike. Then the Mako factory, then the Valeo, Otorim and Delphi factories joined the great resistance in Bursa. Meanwhile, on May 20, Ford Otosan and Hyundai workers in Izmit and Turkish Tractor workers in Ankara joined the strike wave. Wives and children of workers also took part in strikes in some factories.
The resistance was directed by the committees that the workers formed among themselves, and clear demands emerged from these committees. The main lines of the demands of the workers were as follows: Türk Metal was to leave the factories and the right to choose a union, no one who participated in the struggle would be dismissed and a new contract with improvements in wages on the basis of the contract made with Bosch would be signed. There was a serious difference between the agreement signed with Bosch and the agreement that Türk Metal made with MESS that bound all members of Türk Metal: According to the collective bargaining agreement, the hourly wage to be received by the workers was two lira less than the agreement won by Bosch workers. This corresponded to a difference of around 500‑600 lira in monthly wages.
The Renault workers, who managed to act together during the 16‑day resistance, made their demands largely accepted by the boss. The bosses managed to break the resistance in factories that could not maintain their unity and had a weak internal organization. Due to the fractures in TOFAŞ, Ford Otosan and Türk Traktör, the resistance was ended by the workers. Many workers who led the resistance were subsequently laid off. After the strike, while workers in Renault were organized in Birleşik Metal‑İş (United Metal Workers Union) affiliated to DİSK, TOFAŞ workers became members of Çelik‑İş union. At other factories besides Renault, the workers’ unity suffered serious injuries, while Renault workers maintained their unity for a long time. After the rise in the minimum wage, Renault workers started to protest again with the demand for an "additional increase", and discussions on "reuniting" in the entire metal business, especially in the factories where the resistance took place, started. Renault workers, who had resisted for 16 days without a union on May 5, could not resist even one day against the layoffs due to the actions taken with the demand for an additional raise, although they were members of Birleşik Metal‑İş. Renault workers who took the initiative in their hands on May 5 and implemented every decision together, left the initiative to the union bureaucrats after becoming members of Birleşik Metal‑İş, and the bureaucrats opposed the demand to fight the dismissals by saying it would be "illegal". While Renault workers, who were left alone against the Renault boss, MESS, law enforcement and union bureaucracy and could not get support from other factories, could not repel this latest attack, 80 workers were fired.
Towards the end of 2017, collective bargaining negotiations resumed. Group contracts covering 130 thousand metalworkers were knotted with the statement of MESS that "the demands of the workers are unacceptable". The bosses’ union, MESS, explained that there were "three red lines" that they can never compromise: making a 3‑year contract (workers wanted a 2‑year contract), not paying bonuses for absentee days, and not giving workers the 40% rise they wanted. (By stating that the civil servants received a 4% increase for 6 months, they suggested a 3% increase and when it was not accepted, they offered a 13.2% increase as the second offer). Moreover, they were against the seniority raise.
MESS’s statement was met with anger by the workers. MESS was not the only thing against workers who tried to come together and act. The Türk Metal management had already started working on preparing the workers for the agreement to be made. It was spreading rumors to bring down the expectations of the workers. This situation made the workers think that Türk Metal, which had got its act together a little after the 2015 strike, had returned to its former state. For this reason, many workers were also reacting to the unions. The irreconcilable articles of the contract, which would be valid until September 2019, brought with it the usurpation of many rights that the workers had won by struggling for years.
Immediately after Birleşik Metal‑İş, Türk Metal and Çelik İş announced that they had decided to go on strike on February 2, the state announced on January 26 that they postponed the strike for 60 days on the grounds of "national security", using the state of emergency. Workers’ response was stern; They would definitely go on strike without heeding the pressures. The decision was protested in many provinces on the day of the announcement and was followed by an hour of work stoppage. Calling for an agreement after the protests, MESS had to agree to a 24.63% increase in the meeting and to sign a contract every 2 years. The debate continued over the terms common to the workers, and the contract was brought closer to the workers’ criteria in many ways. Although an agreement was reached, the workers initially did not get everything they wanted.
The metal industry in Turkey is a sector where the number of unionized workers is higher than in others, and mass action occurs in periods of collective bargaining. In fact, in January 2020, another strike was attempted. MESS sat on the table bestowing a 6.05% increase. Türk Metal and Çelik İş asked for a 26% increase and Birleşik Metal‑İş demanded a 34% increase. When there was no consensus, actions such as slowing down and stopping work followed. Additionally, two large demonstrations were held in Bursa and Gebze. In response to the unions planning to strike, MESS announced its decision to lockout. After all these, Türk Metal ve Çelik İş signed for 17%. Birleşik Metal İş board of representatives voted to go on strike on February 5th. The Ministry put the parties on the table again, assuming the task of mediation, which is considered as an intervention in the collective agreement necessitated by the ILO convention. Birleşik Metal İş signed the same agreement with other unions without discussing it with the workers.
Some of the workers of the Flormar cosmetics company in the Gebze Organized Industrial Zone became a member of the Petrol‑İş (Turkish Petrol, Chemical, Tire Workers’ Union) affiliated to Türk‑İş in 2018 in order to achieve better conditions. When the union achieved the majority and became the authorized union, 115 workers who were members of the union were laid off. The colleagues of the workers who started to resist in front of the factory offered their support with applause. Seeing this, the company management sent layoff notices to applauding workers in the style of accusations such as "supporting people who committed illegal acts during break hours and at various times, disturbing the peace in the working environment, acting incompatible with honesty and loyalty" or forced them to resign. Thus, the number of people fired reached 132.
Workers’ demands included being able to return to their jobs, receiving severance and notice pay, and removing the objection made by the employer against the union authority. Flormar resistance found a lot of media coverage. The fact that the majority of the workers are women and the factory produces products for women enabled passive support from women’s and LGBT non‑governmental organizations in the form of a boycott call. The workers’ resistance lasted 297 days. Flormar offered the workers 12 salaries union compensation and 4 salaries for idle time. It was the first written proposal sent by the company lawyers after 297 days. The terms of the agreement included the payment of workers’ compensation but did not include returning to work. The workers held a meeting of 73 insurgents. Here, 53 of the workers accepted the agreement while 20 rejected.
The prolonged and widely spoken resistance thus ended with a large loss, like many others. Anti‑union business management is an attitude encountered often, especially in the private sector in Turkey. As with many of these types of struggles, months of resistance while the business continued made the workers settle for less. Thus, the resistance ended before reaching full gain. The unionization process of other workers working in Flormar was also interrupted.
Istanbul Airport Massacre and Resistance
In 2013, IGA company (Kalyon - Cengiz - Mapa - Limak Joint Venture Group) won the tender for the 3rd Airport with a bid of 22.152 billion euros. Although the construction was stopped due to some objections that followed by court, the decision was reversed and the foundation of the construction was laid on June 7, 2014. In order to examine the environmental impacts of the construction, the 3rd Airport project site, the quarries opened due to the airport construction and the trees cut for the Northern Marmara Motorway providing access to the airport need to be taken into account. The Northern Forests Defense (KOS) announced that it was stated in the Istanbul Airport Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report that 2.5 million trees would be cut, but 13 million trees were cut as a result of the calculation made through satellite images. “All wildlife, trees, animals, plant species living in an area of 6500 hectares have been displaced or lost their lives”. More than 70 animal species and numerous endemic plant species have been damaged. In addition, this area was within the wetland area. The airport area, which also had pastures where the villagers grazed their animals, was a region where creeks and streams passed and small ponds were located. In fact, this situation also created an unsuitable ground for construction. As a matter of fact, even dents appeared on the ground two months before the opening.
Subcontractor firms varying in number between 500 and 1500 took part in the construction of the airport. While the number of workers was 16,500 when the construction started, it was around 30,000 in the other years. The number of people who entered the company as construction workers, together with those who started and quit for different reasons, is more than 200 thousand from 2015 to February 2018. Infirmary workers, engineers, and many other workers are not included in these figures. In short, the construction site, which resembled a small city with thousands of people in a very large area, was a regular living space for almost all the workers; or a great prison or concentration camp as workers put it.
The 3rd Airport, which was one of the most remarkable examples of the “mega projects” trend that started when the construction sector that can boast the highest worker death rates in the country was booming, became the tomb of up to 400 workers according to information that was attempted to be buried but was leaked by some employees. A truck driver who was interviewed anonymously stated that 400 workers died, the workers’ families were paid to keep them silent, and that the families who were already very poor had to accept this money. The issue of the deaths of 400 workers was voiced in parliament by an opposition party representative and he prepared a report on the issue, which began to be discussed in opposition media and was discussed more widely. The government then had to make a statement: According to the official statement, 27 workers had died on the construction site. These mentioned data belong to the period until February 2018. The partial opening was held on October 29, 2018, and the third track opened on summer 2020. It is thought that the completion of the construction may be as late as 2025 or 2027. Istanbul Airport, the fifth largest airport in the world, will have an annual passenger capacity of 200 million when completed.
The first actions against the construction came from environmentalists and residents of the area in 2014. Although these actions were covered by the media, they had no effect on the progress of construction. When the construction process began, the vast lands that the workers called "heavenly" were covered with mud. In secret interviews, the workers expressed their regret that they had to be on the side that carried out this destruction to earn a living. Although they found this destruction horrible, the workers who had no option to leave their jobs and soon began to take their place among the murdered. The first case reflected in the media came in 2016. Some workers started speaking to the media after a worker died in an accident that took place due to lack of safety measures. Until that day, many occupational accidents, many more deaths and inhuman conditions on the construction site came to light with secret interviews by the workers. While all these were happening, the CEO of IGA stated that they aimed to increase the number of workers from 20 thousand to 80 thousand and that the employees were employed without slowing down for 24 hours to complete the airport. Indeed, the employees worked 24 hours a day in two shifts. Most of the workers worked in 16‑hour shifts. In the words of the workers, “No tea time, no break. No breathing. No holiday." Among the main causes of death of workers working in slime; falling from heights due to lack of precautions, being crushed as a result of overturning of overloaded trucks or being damaged by the effect of the accident, being a victim of traffic accidents due to lack of traffic control and warning signs, falling into pits or dangerous areas due to lack of warning signs and lighting, damage by work tools due to lack of adequate training and not using correct stimuli. As can be seen, working long hours and not taking security measures were the main causes of deaths. In addition, the fact that the struggle was not carried out in a mass, continuous and organized manner and the workers of different subcontractors could not communicate with each other prevented a stronger struggle to stop the murders. There were many other factors besides the ones listed, of the kind that would cause workers to fall victim to occupational accidents. These data began to be revealed more in the following years and eventually became more visible in 2018.
The workers struggled many times over the years. Sometimes the actions took place among workers of only one or a few subcontractors, sometimes they spread over the whole construction site. But these actions remained limited to a day or two, and did not result in any serious gain. Six people stayed in the container, which normally should have two people. Although this was reduced to four for a while with the resistance of the workers, it increased to six again. Workers had bedbugs in their containers. Toilets and bathrooms were inadequate and not cleaned regularly. Workers were regularly humiliated by foremen and managers. The service buses were insufficient, there were queues for meters. Transportation problems caused many workers to miss meal time and starve. Workers who worked 14‑16 hours had to wait for hours in the rain and cold. This situation stands out as a factor that regularly triggers riot. The workers got outraged during these waiting times, marched to the administration building many times and stopped work. Moreover, there was no adequate amount of food for the number of workers: Morning and lunch meals were passed on with a few pieces of vegetables, and adequate meals were not regularly offered to the workers. Compulsory training was not provided. Work clothes were not renewed and suitable clothes were not provided for those working in dangerous areas. Wages could not be as they were advertised when they started work, and salaries were delayed for months. Since many workers were not even given entry and exit cards, they could not find the opportunity to go out and go to the city. Of course, they could not find the necessary physical strength and free time to go to the city due to inhumane working conditions.
There were also constant injuries and deaths. The corpses of coworkers who died in the accidents were transported somewhere by private cars, and no information about their fate was available. When they searched the newspapers, they could not find the news of the death of their coworkers and they became afraid of their own lives. Workers from other countries were also working on the construction site. We do not have the slightest data on their fate. The administration, frightened by the workers’ revolts, now prohibited ambulances from even sounding sirens so that the workers could not count how many people died and how many were injured. Workers were afraid to project these problems out; Because IGA had an outside social media team and workers’ social media accounts and interviews were carefully followed. Workers who were found to cause a problem were put in front of the door without even getting their salary for so long, and those with union connections could even be beaten and detained. Even workers who recorded with cameras or wrote on social media about the persecution inside could be detained. Of course, there was no guarantee that there would be no murder in a place where many deaths were experienced and covered. It is not possible to know how and why these deaths occurred, as the worker deaths were not examined and the causes of death were not investigated. We know the deaths that took place during the work thanks to the statements of the workers who were around at that time. According to the workers’ reports, news of a death or an occupational accident were heard every day. When workers were fired, they were unable to find jobs in other workplaces, due to the bourgeois class solidarity established by the construction bosses. The difficulties for the workers living in the mud rains in this area, which resembles a concentration camp, did not stop there.
By 2018, the number of workers working on the construction site had reached 36 thousand. Throughout this year, workers continued their revolt and again faced police and gendarme violence. As the airport’s opening date approached, the pressure on the workers increased. The slightest uprising brought with it a harsher police and gendarme attack. Trade unions were regularly tried to be eliminated, representatives were often excluded from the construction site. A lot of information was leaked through Dev-Yapı-İş (Revolutionary Building Workers Union) affiliated with DİSK and base unions, İyi‑Sen (Construction and Building Workers Union) and İnşaat İş (Construction Workers Union), which tried to organize at the airport. Inside, workers formed committees. The request lists that were conveyed to the authorities after the actions – if the authorized person agreed to examine it – consisted of concrete items for the improvement of the following situations: extermination of the bedbugs, taking security measures, increasing the service buses... The fact that occupational safety experts, witnesses of these events, received their salaries from the bosses of the company, and wrote their reports according to the wishes of the bosses; the direct involvement of the state in workers’ exploitation and massacre through law enforcement and local governments (the district governors and other local government officials who sat in front of the workers in post‑action negotiations and gave speeches supporting them before the managers of the company) made it clear that the workers could not trust anyone. One of the parties that awarded the tender and made a profit was the state itself. Under these circumstances, the occupational safety specialist workers, who saw that their reporting would have no meaning other than blacklisting them and who would face the possibility of being fired and not finding a job again, condoned the massacre. In short, the illusion that there were institutions that workers would resort to to seek their rights had disappeared from the beginning.
Support actions over the deaths consisted of press releases and small demonstrations. But the police attacked even these demonstrations very hard and detained dozens of supporters. Mass protests at other construction sites, unfortunately, did not take place. It did not even jump to or reflect on other "mega-project" constructions, which are known to operate under very similar conditions. A group of workers stated in an interview that they were exhausted from the terrible conditions in airport construction and started to work on another big project, but the conditions there were the same as at the airport, and the salaries were much lower. The construction bubble in Turkey swelled and exploded, massacring the working class, plants and many other species.
September 2018 was the month when workers were able to make their voices loudest. Workers who had learned to act more organized now managed to coordinate with each other, build demand lists and strike much more massively. The September 14 Rebellion took place with the full participation of the workers. The leading incidents that triggered the rebellion were 17 people being injured in the service bus accident two days ago and other accidents that occured during this period. It was later learned by the workers that 4 people died at the scene and 3 at the hospital in this accident; it was reported in the media that 1 person died. The situation that instantly triggered the resistance was the anger of having to wait for hours in the rain, in a queue of meters long, for service buses. Some of the workers called to revolt that morning, and because everyone shared the same feeling, they joined the revolt. They gathered and marched towards the camp chief. With the spread of news, workers from all over the construction site began to join the march. Ultimately, even those who did not have a shift got involved in this action. The demands they had submitted time and time again had been ignored, all their actions had been suppressed very violently, and their anger accumulated against the administration, which made threats during the negotiations, became uncontrollable. The bosses were terrified and piled up police and military in front of the workers in numbers unseen in previous struggles on the site. Moreover, when they attempted to step onto the truck and threaten that it would be better for the workers to stop the action immediately, the managers were showered with hard hats and had to sneak off with ambulances. Preparations were made for the intervention at the gendarme station inside the construction camp, and reinforcement intervention vehicles were transferred. Police and soldiers attacked with tear gas, water cannons and batons. Thousands of workers were injured. The workers managed to push back the gendarme and started waiting. The gendarme also waited for the workers to disperse by themselves. They did not get a reaction from the administration to listen to their demands and to make a deal. In the afternoon, the workers slowly began to disperse. The few workers who had union affiliations notified the union executives, and remained in contact with the union in the coming process. As the action faded, union managers came to the construction site but were not let in. Several unionized workers offered to select representatives for possible meetings, and workers elected 19 among them as representatives. The demands were clarified. Union members gathered 50‑60 people and organized a march. The workers who saw the march started to come together again. Although the gendarme commander tried to provoke the workers against the union representatives, it did not get any results as the workers knew the representatives and defended them.
In the meantime, upon receipt of the news that the action started again, a delegation from the district governors of Arnavutköy and Eyüp, as well as the gendarme commander and the sub‑managers of IGA, requested a meeting as "mediators" with the union executive inside. A list of requests consisting of 17 items (later to be 27 items) was submitted. The team that said they were "mediators" left to convey these requests to the IGA management. The management called the union executives and the representatives determined by the workers who were waiting at the door for a meeting half an hour later. As usual, a bourgeois class-conscious delegation of 6‑7 people, composed of the IGA boss and so‑called mediators, started to apply the tactics probably written in the "secret handbook of labor exploitation". The mediation game is also among these tactics. Later, the big boss stated briefly that he was not aware of the seriousness of the problems of the workers from Samsun, and apologized. When the workers’ representatives asked what the solution would be, he avoided saying anything about the solution, muttering the remarks stating that even meeting with him was a blessing. After making veiled threats, he left the hall disrespectfully saying "This is what I have to say". The representatives returned with the vague promise that "the situation will be dealt with".
At night, the workers woke up with the kicks of the gendarme and the police. Nearly 600 workers were put in vehicles and detained. Other workers were also beaten by law enforcement. The trade unionists were also detained that night. Workers were detained for 6 days, statements were taken 6 times, and they were prevented from meeting with their lawyers. 37 workers and trade unionists were arrested; While 6 of them were released with the judicial control application, it was decided to continue the detention of the others. Lawyers pointed out that there was no difference in evidence between those who were arrested and those who were released. Trade unionists announced that the arrests were to intimidate other workers. Many of the workers returning from detention were dismissed without any compensation or payment of the time they worked. This method applied by the company to its detained workers has also become a general policy. In fact, right after the demonstrations, the gendarme started to check identity cards and search people’s bodies. They were detaining people on their list and those who did not have an identity. Some of the workers could not stand these martial law conditions and left their jobs. Many of them could not afford to be unemployed and continued to work in conditions where unemployment rates were very high despite the conditions in their workplace.
Following the rebellion, the managers took small, dysfunctional measures: They made 20 to 25 meters of waiting tents for service bus queues that ran for a kilometer, ensuring that a minority of the workers were protected from the rain. Other than that, there was no change for the better. On the contrary, many changes took place in the opposite direction. The queues of search points, the detentions, the regular presence of the gendarmes and the police, whose number had increased many times, and their occupation of the areas previously used by the workers ... The service buses that were not sufficient for the workers were provided to the law enforcement forces, the tea‑houses where the workers were breathing after work were occupied by the police and soldiers, meals that were not even sufficient for the workers were given the police and soldiers. All this then brought about further deaths, other riots, and other teargas attacks and beatings. While the construction was continuing, the workers continued to show their reactions, sometimes in groups of 100‑200 people, sometimes more. After all these experiences, the workers who showed their reactions to the managers easily surprised the new workers. All these responses did not provide an improvement in terms of construction site conditions. While the trials continued, both the commanders, the company executives and the local administrators continued the denial and kept listing their lies.
When we look at the last forty years of class struggle in Turkey, we see a need for a reliable and powerful class union organization. While the working class opposes union organization because of the careerist union bureaucrats who make secret agreements with the bosses, it also fails to establish an organization that can provide continuity in its place. Of course, union bureaucrats are not the only reason workers avoid union membership; There is a working class that is suspicious of all kinds of class struggles due to the anti‑communist propaganda that has been carried out for many years and sees those who have political consciousness as "traitors, enemies of religion" and regards them as adversaries. The fact that most of the workers take such attitudes prepares the ground for the bourgeoisie to influence them more easily and prevent them from engaging in an organized struggle.
Number of workers on strike in various countries
Table: The following table where the number of workers coming out on strike in Turkey and the world will be descriptive enough about the situation. In Turkey, the population was around 56 and a half million in 1990 and increased to 82 million in 2018. Numbers in the table are expressed in thousands. For example, in 1990, 166 thousand people in Turkey have been on strike. In Italy, the population in 1990 was around 57 million, but the number of workers on strike was 1 million 634 thousand.
90% of workers in Turkey are not unionized, while 95% work without collective bargaining. Working off the books is quite common in Turkey, and while the official unemployment rate is 13.3%, the real unemployment rate is thought to be over 30%. Workers who have to settle for poor working conditions out of fear of being unemployed display an attitude that also avoids class solidarity. In recent years, temporary / non‑staff status has become widespread in the business lines where the state recruits workers. Employees who are hired with titles such as "contract clerks" and "substitute teachers" both receive much less wages than permanent workers and cannot benefit from their personal rights, and live face to face with the possibility of being put in front of the door at any moment. While the number of public employees in areas other than local governments was 488 thousand 218 in 2002, by 2010 this figure almost halved and was recorded as 241 thousand 972 people. While the number of permanent civil servants recruited to public institutions excluding local governments increased by 1.8% between 2007 and 2010, the number of contracted civil servants increased by 73.6%. In short, it becomes impossible for new applicants to benefit from the rights that workers in civil servant status have gained by struggling for years, many of the workers employed in public institutions are employed in other statuses and are employed much cheaper and without security. Even workers who benefit from the aforementioned gains often lose their status through privatization and either become unemployed or consent to worse conditions.
Labor exploitation is not at the same degree for workers of all races: Kurdish workers constitute a large part of Turkey’s cheap labor source. Unemployment in Turkish Kurdistan is at least twice that of the rest of the country. Kurdish peasants, whose villages were burnt by the Turkish state, and whose children were conscripted by the PKK as soldiers go wherever they find work as seasonal workers. Kurds make up almost all of the seasonal workers in the agricultural sector all over Turkey. In agricultural areas where even the youngest member of the family has to work and all family members have to live in makeshift tents, struggling with bad weather, the salary is paid to the “head of the family”. The salary paid is well below market standards. Due to the working conditions and regular migration, children cannot continue their school life and as they grow up, they take their parents’ place as workers. Sick workers are not taken to the hospital. There are people who are permanently disabled or lose their lives at an early age due to malnutrition and lack of access to health services. Moreover, workers are regularly subjected to racist attacks that endanger their lives and even get them killed. Racist attackers, on the other hand, receive very low penalties or even no punishment. Many Kurdish workers are forced to work in dangerous industries, for low wages, without security. Construction, which has one of the highest mortality rates, is at the top of the business lines where Kurds work in cities. Both urban Kurds and seasonal workers living on construction sites work in this field. Workers try to hide their Kurdish identity in working life, if they can. Many Kurdish workers cannot hide themselves because they do not speak Turkish or speak with an accent. They are banned from speaking their mother tongue and those who speak it are attacked. There are also difficult conditions for educated Kurdish workers. Especially the first generation of educated people are greatly adversely affected by the torpedo recruitment prevailing in the public sector. Those who can get a job are fired with the slightest excuse.
Turkey is one of the countries where the majority of women are trapped on unpaid household labor and subjected to patriarchal oppression and violence regularly. In recent years, as a result of the legalization of headscarved women’s entrance to universities and the opening of new universities in provincial provinces, women who have started to receive university education at least more than before, continue to work under much more disadvantageous conditions compared to male workers in business life. Often women are still the only people involved in housework and raising children, and women who cannot even dare to look for work continue to be squeezed into traditional living spaces. According to official figures, 33% of women joined the workforce in 2016. Some of this rate, of course, includes small business owners. Apart from this, a parallelism can be observed in the increase in violence against women with the strengthening of Islamist discourse. Religious approaches suggesting that women are inferior to men, that women are obliged to cover their heads and obey the rules of the head of the family, and that women can be punished by men when necessary, have a terrible impact on the daily lives of countless women. Women are regularly subjected to sexual abuse, humiliation and oppression at home or on the street, and some of them are murdered. While these murders have increased by 1400% in the last seven years, 474 women were killed by men in 2019 alone. Moreover, this rate does not include suspicious female deaths. Women in workplaces are regularly subjected to harassment and mobbing not only from bosses and managers, but also from colleagues. The most painful situation is experienced by immigrant women who have fled the war: In a country where they do not speak the language, they cannot ask anyone for help. It is known that there are thousands of women among them who are regularly subjected to violence, sold to someone, raped and forcibly detained. The data of the disgusting situations they experience seem far from reality.
There is not much data available on the conditions of LGBT workers, and even this data issue says enough. The vast majority of homosexual workers are forced to take part in workplaces by hiding their sexual orientation. The disclosure of their sexual orientation results in their dismissal or violence. The areas where they can work without hiding their identity are quite limited: non‑governmental organizations, universities, sex work and some organizations that claim to be LGBT‑friendly. Even the majority of these are clearly not workable areas for LGBT workers. In addition, areas such as interior architecture, advertising, cinema sector and fashion, where it’s not found socially strange to find homosexuals workers, remain among the fields where gays are able to work. Most trans people who apply for a job are not even invited for an interview. Homophobic behavior of heterosexual workers is dragging LGBT workers out of their struggle. Such approaches prevent them from building solidarity with heterosexual workers, and LGBT workers tend to work with non‑governmental organizations that make no class promises to them. Hiding your sexual orientation during the job application process also does not prevent discrimination during the screening process: Appearing to be or being considered homosexual may be enough to be eliminated. Workers who have received disability report for mandatory military service for homosexuality are forced to share this information as all biological males are normally expected to serve in the army before starting work. Thus, they get labeled as gay and are not accepted to work. Private life control is made for those who apply for a job in the public sector. Questions are asked to neighborhood tradesmen and neighbors; If it turns out that the worker is gay, they are either not hired or they are fired. In addition, the status of being in compliance with general morality for two years during the candidate civil service period is examined. Those who have done academic research on LGBT issues find it difficult to find work at the university. Those who write in LGBT magazines do not include this information in their CVs. Suspicion of homosexuality prevents being promoted and even causes exiles. Workers who are revealed to be homosexuals are forced to resign by being intimidated, especially in the public sector, so that they do not receive compensation. Homosexuals can never use the sickness, job changing and maternity leave that married heterosexual couples can use. Gay workers, who are prohibited from marrying, have to suffer lifelong from the situation where business travel duties, which are common in workplaces, are given to single people.
Another painful reality of Turkey is migrant labor: According to data from the International Organization for Migration, 133 thousand 632 Iraqis, 128 thousand 931 Afghans, 32 thousand 80 Iranians, three thousand 598 Somalis and has a total of 306 thousand 791 people from 8 thousand 550 other countries reside in Turkey. The number of Syrian immigrants under the temporary protection are 3 million 168 thousand 757, bringing the total number of refugees in Turkey to over 3.5 million. These workers are employed for far below average wages, in inhumane conditions. Due to conditions of war, the situation of Syrian workers with refugee status in Turkey is much worse: 87 thousand 100 work permits were granted to foreigners working in Turkey in 2017, only 20 thousand 970 being Syrians. Hence, many Syrians have settled for even worse conditions as illegal workers. Immigrants are regularly subjected to racist insults and attacks. Sometimes they are fired without being paid, sometimes they are put to work for long hours, subjected to pressure, insults and harassment. Due to the economic crisis and unemployment, the Turkish workers, many of whom are already in a very difficult situation blame the immigrant workers for their woes rather than those who are truly responsible. Millions of people who have suffered major catastrophes are deprived of real solidarity and doomed to experience traumatic events.
Of the total population of Turkey, passing 82 million according to 2018 census, 23 million are children. The number of children working in Turkey in 2019 according to official data is around 2 million. Given one out of every three children in Turkey, that is more than 7 million children, live in households suffering severe material deprivation, the number of child laborers could be much higher. Of course, in many countries, especially those that are not economically strong, child workers are heavily exploited in business life. According to the report of the International Labor Organization (ILO), there are still 152 million child workers worldwide, 73 million of whom are in "dangerous" jobs.
The conditions of child labor in Turkey are no better than those of adult labor; in fact, children are exposed to worse conditions in many areas. Children who work as long as adults are paid ridiculous wages that can be considered as an allowance. In general, children whose families are extremely poor, whose parents are sick and who have lost their parents are exposed to beatings, harassment and rape in their workplaces. Children, whose wages are often stolen, fall victim to occupational accidents. According to official figures, 426 children have died in occupational accidents in the last seven years; thousands of children were injured. Registered working children are mostly employed in internship programs, which are mandatory for vocational high school students, and in the traditional shop apprenticeship field. In internship programs, children are drowned in drudgery, being threatened by grades. They have to do the jobs of permanent employees. Children who work in small shops and workshops as apprentices and journeymen run errands for long hours and earn very low wages.
Rate of workplace deaths
in various countries
Workers’ workplaces are not only difficult, but seriously threatening their health; it even causes their death. According to the data of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security; the number of people approved by the chief physician who received an incapacity report was 15 million 519 thousand 496 between 2002 and 2014. Every year millions of workers get occupational diseases and given according to Turkish Statistical Institute, one out of every five workers is uninsured (not including immigrant workers over 90% of whom work uninsured), workers are forced to make their own means of treatment. Many workers continue to work under the same unhealthy conditions, suffering from serious occupational diseases throughout their lives. Many workers commit suicide, unable to bear the harsh conditions. Mortality rates can be clearly seen in the tables below. This data, obtained from different sources, reflects the numerical comparisons of workers deaths in Turkey and other countries:
Number of workplace
deaths in Turkey according
to different sources
To sum up the issue in general; workers in Turkey, like all workers of the world being grounded in the cruel exploitation of the wheel of capitalism suffer the wrath of the hated system. Unable to organize a strong organization because of the factors that hinder organized struggle, workers are dragged into despair. Many workers, who are also influenced by the capitalist culture, create a corrupt culture by dreaming of becoming a boss one day or envy the wealthy sections and develop a gritty relationship. As conditions get tougher and unemployment increases, it is observed that workers abandon solidarity and become aggressive towards each other. While the vast majority of unions cannot establish trust in workers, workers thrown in the vacuum desire to move towards democratic or legal rights. It can even be said that in recent years, they have begun to lose this desire as the injustice in the legal system has become more visible. Only by taking their struggle into their own hands, forming their assemblies and committees, and ultimately, class unions, can the workers leave this negative picture behind. The only structure that will enable the struggle to win in the long run is the true communist party, which carries the historical memory and revolutionary vision of the class struggle. The International Communist Party does not only aim to save the day with momentary gains, but also to save the future by destroying exploitative relations.
To engage in the struggle shoulder to shoulder to blow away the cobwebs carries great urgency for the working class of Turkey like that of all other countries We have no choice but to struggle using our power from production to end capitalism, the exploiter and murderer of not only billions of people, but all living life!