Turkey: Tekel – union leaders must match the militancy of the workers!

Attempts by the government to divide the struggle must be answered by the entire workers’ movement

As reported on this website, Turkey’s trade union confederations will meet on Friday, 12 February, to decide the next steps to defend the jobs and working conditions of the Tekel workers. This is more than one week after two million went on strike in solidarity with the tobacco and alcohol workers in almost all industries, which could not be called general strike officially, because such an all-out strike is against Turkish law. This generalisation of the struggle is an indication of the widespread solidarity that exists.

The delay of the union leaderships in taking the next measures is a result of their fear of speeding up the movement on the one side, and their continued hopes that the government will act to solve the problem on the other. The union leaders again offered to enter talks with the government. Yesterday, Prime Minister, Erdogan, announced that he is only prepared to speak to Mustaf Kumlu, the leader of Turk Is. Erdogan has called the strike illegal and is threatening to use the police to stop the protest.

All Tekel workers present in Ankara demand an intensification of the struggle: a general strike. They insist that this time, more industries have to be involved and more demands which affect the working class in Turkey in general have to be raised.

Again and again, Tekel workers emphasise how their outlook has changed through this struggle. ‘Before, we had no consciousness but through this struggle our eyes were opened’, said one worker, and another: ‘We’ve been sleeping for so long. Now we are awake. We don’t have a home any more. Our home is this struggle’.

As reported, there was a strong reaction to the attempt of the AKP government to divide the movement, by accusing it of being linked with the PKK. Many slogans on the demonstrations referred to this and insisted: All together or no one!

This put the government under pressure. The labour minister had to appologise to the public.

Another attempt of the government to demoralise the movement is their claim that many workers have accepted the compensation/severance pay. But it has been revealed that the government just paid out this money to several workers without their consent!

However, the danger of demoralisation is there. Not only resulting from the actions of the government. Moreover, the actions of the union leadership are the problem. The determination of the Tekel workers is strong. However, if the solidarity they get is not built upon in struggle, their fight will not be won. This is the task for the union leadership!

The planned meeting of the union confederations on 12 February could prove a decisive moment in the struggle. The expectations of the workers in this meeting are very high. If the union leaders fail to fulfil these expectations, of another, larger general strike, taking up the demands of the wider working class, not only those of the Tekel workers, the existing scepticism with which some workers view the union leaders could develop further.


The ‘Tekel Kondus’, (tents with thousands of workers in Ankara) are scenes of intensive debate, social life and solidarity, where everyone helps one another. Visitors are invited to stay, eat or find a place to sleep a thousand times. International visitors are questioned about their countries, political views and experiences and immediately the discussions start.

That’s why an increasing number of people stay there. ‘After we came here we couldn’t leave’, one student said.

There are no strike committees. The main impression one gets is that the union of the Tekel workers, Tekgida Is (member union of the confederation Turk Is), decides, in its structures, about the next steps and only afterwards tells the workers what is going to happen. There is a certain turnover at the site, with some workers going back to their regions and others coming again for the first time. This leads to a certain chaos, which enables the trade union to act in this way.

However, in general, these tent cottages, and how they are run, with such solidarity despite the crowding, are an example of successful self-organisation in struggle

This struggle is an inspiration for all Tekel workers, visitors and the workers’ movement in general!

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February 2010