Turkey: Tekel struggle – “a school of brotherhood”

Interview with Diyarbakir Tekel workers

How many workers from Diyarbakir have been affected by the Tekel closures. How many of you are here in Ankara?

1,000 workers have been affected and 400 are here.

How did your struggle start?

In a way, it all started in 2002 when the government started to give part the production of alcohol (over which Tekel previously had a monopoly) to their capitalist friends. Those capitalists sold it to more capitalists for a profit. In 2006, the tobacco production wing of Tekel was sold for $1.7 billion to British American Tobacco (BAT). During all this time there were conflicts. But when we received letters with the company’s pitiful offers, we began to struggle. This was also the beginning of a new awakening of the working class.

What is your balance sheet of the 4 February general strike?

2 million went on strike. 5 of the 6 trade union confederations were involved. Even before 4 February, there had been solidarity strikes, increasing day by day.

On 12 February the trade union confederations will come together to discuss the next steps. What are your expectations of this meeting?

There should be another general strike. As a general strike is illegal in Turkey, we often use the term ‘general action’. This ‘general action’ should be held for one day, then extended to two, three or more days.

How has your attitude towards the AKP changed?

70% of us workers have voted for the AKP. The AKP members in parliament gave us their word of honour and then broke it. [Tekel workers were promised that they would retain the same working conditions after privatisation]. The anger over this is huge. We will not allow the AKP to treat us like a ‘vote bank’ anymore.

One feature of your struggle has been the unity of Turkish and Kurdish workers. What does this mean for you?

When we came here, we were workers with different origins. Here, we are all together. Lazen, Turks, Kurds, Cerkess and others…. We taught each other our dances and danced together. This has developed for us as a school of brotherhood. The AKP promised us “a democratic opening”. [The government announced in late summer last year reforms relating to the Kurdish national question, which were quickly exposed as hot air] Nothing happened. The “democratic opening” is now happening here in Ankara.

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February 2010