Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Turkey's Wildcat Strikes Pre-Elections

With all the attention here in Turkey being focused on the upcoming June 7th parliamentary elections, the strike by thousands of workers in Turkey's automobile production sector, concentrated in the northwest provinces of Bursa and Kocaeli, caught everyone by surprise. For those of our readers who did not know, Turkey has a significant vehicle manufacturing industry. In 2014, 1.17 million cars and commercial vehicles were produced. In fact, it is the backbone of Turkey's export sector with a yearly value of nearly 23 billion dollars. So when auto production is virtually shut down, as it was for the past week or two, this is big news.

We spent most of our working lives in the U.S. working union jobs, as steelworkers and railroad workers, although we did our time in non-union workplaces as well. We are well aware of the sorry plight of unions in the U.S. but, believe us when we say that we were privileged to work under union contracts. In spite of how bad our union leadership might have been, and it was about as bad as it could be, workplace safety, wages, benefits and job security was better than for the overwhelming majority of workers without union representation.

Previously, we have written about the long hours, low pay and dismal working conditions of the Turkish working class. The deaths of workers in the mines and on construction sites are some of the highest in the world. The 301 coal miners who died in a mining disaster in the town of Soma a year ago have become a national symbol of the life-and-death issues that workers here face every day they go to work. The unexpected downing of tools by thousands of autoworkers here in the midst of the election campaign has again brought the issue of workers' wages and working conditions forcefully back onto the national agenda. More than that, it has highlighted the demand of the workers to be represented by unions of their choice, free from company or government control.

The strikes in auto here have been wildcat strikes, organized by the rank-and-file without notice and without the approval of their union leaders. Workers at Oyak Renault (a joint venture with the Turkish military's pension fund) and Tofaş (a joint Fiat/Koç Holding venture), Ford Otosan as well as major parts suppliers and Türk Traktör stopped production for more than a week. Oyak Renault and Tofaş produce some 40% of Turkey's export vehicles. While most have now gone back to work having negotiated concessions from the companies in wages and working conditions, Renault workers at Turkey's biggest car factory have rejected the company's offer and remain on strike. Thousands of workers have resigned from their company 'union', frustrated and angry that it did not represent their interests. Forty-seven strike leaders have been summoned to court by a prosecutor, accused of organizing an illegal work-stoppage. To be able to understand these developments, readers should be aware that most unions in Turkey were effectively smashed in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup. The unions that were allowed to exist were company and military-approved 'unions'. Their purpose was to ride herd on the workers, put a damper on militancy, keep production running and ensure that company profits were protected. In addition to these company unions, the military-written constitution of 1982 severely curtailed workers' rights. The result is that today only 8% of Turkey's workers are union members, only about 4.5% are covered by union contracts, and most of the major unions defend the company's interests more than they do the workers'. It is in this context that the wildcat strike of autoworkers can best be understood.

These wildcat strikes have been a wake-up call to both workers and their bosses. The speed with which the strike spread and the resolve shown by the workers shows an incredible courage that has been an inspiration to the downtrodden Turkish working class and a message to Turkey's powerful business class. No matter the results of the June 7th election, we can expect that those who work to create Turkey's wealth will be flexing their muscles and demanding that their voices be heard.

from here

Solidarity with workers worldwide!

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