In the metal industry, a collective bargaining process took place between the MESS (‘Turkish Metal Producers Union’ - the bosses’ organisation) and three metal-workers’ unions: Birleşik Metal-Iş, Turk Metal and Celik-Iş.
Both Turk Metal and Celik-Iş, which are yellow unions, made an agreement with the MESS despite the very poor terms offered. The MESS wants to increase collective bargaining deals from two years to three years, and plans to increase workers’ hourly wages by an amount that is below the projected inflation rates. Birlesik Metal-Is (part of the DISK, Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey) and the MESS couldn’t reach an agreement, and Birleşik Metal-Is took the decision to go on strike. The first wave of the strike was due to start on January 29 in 22 factories.
The bosses had demanded strike votes in all striking factories. In the 22 factories, the average support for the strike was 85%, despite all workers in the factories being involved in the voting process, including non-unionised workers, and both white and blue-collar workers. In three of the factories, the management then reached an individual agreement with Birleşik Metal-Iş by dropping their MESS membership, fearing a well-organised strike.
On January 30, the Turkish government issued a Cabinet Decree to “suspend” the strike which had been started the day before by Birleşik Metal-Iş in 19 of the factories. (In total, 15,000 metal workers had planned to go on strike before this ban; on January 29, only half of them had laid down tools, because the strike was organised in two waves. However the government’s decree also covers the 18 other factoriess where the strike was supposed to start on February 19).
The Turkish Law on Trade Unions and Collective Labour Agreements has a provision which rules that “a lawful strike or lock-out that has been called or commenced may be suspended by the Council of Ministers for 60 days with a decree if it is prejudicial to public health or national security. The suspension shall come into force on the date of publication of the decree.”
The government decree, signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the entire cabinet, considers the metalworkers’ strike as “prejudicial to national security”. This is evidently a baseless pretext for the government to take action, at the request of the bosses, against a strike which they fear would bring the whole industry to a standstill.
The law also reads, “If an agreement is not reached before the expiry date of the suspension period, the High Board of Arbitration settles the dispute upon the application of either party within six working days. Otherwise, the competence of the workers’ trade union shall be void”.
This clearly means that the so-called “postponement” is actually a ban in real terms, as there is no chance to continue to strike after the 60-day period. Birleşik Metal-Iş will certainly apply to the State Council for nullification of the Government’s Decree with a demand of suspension of its execution, to be able to continue to strike. However, the last experience in the glass industry in 2014 was not positive as the State Council ruled in favor of the government.
This is a lesson workers have not forgotten. Indeed, after the government’s banning decree, in 16 out of the 19 factories the workers refused to recognise the cabinet’s decision, declaring they would ignore it and resume the strike. Three of these factories were occupied by the workers. The Birleşik Metal-Iş issued a statement saying that the striking metal workers would not start working again until Monday.
On January 2 (Monday), the occupations in the three factories ceased, and in the 16 factories, workers returned back to their workplaces. All shifts are being done as usual, but the workers have continued their struggle within the factories: they have started to carry out passive resistance, and have not switched on any of the machines. At the time of writing, production has not restarted. The DISK and KESK (Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions) also organised protest marches in front of the ruling AKP’s offices on Monday and on Tuesday in most Turkish cities.