Turkey: 63rd day of Tekel struggle – “the weather is changing”

The tireless struggle of the Tekel workers in Ankara continues but time is growing short.

In Ankara, the shouting of slogans and demonstrations have become almost like a routine. The workers’ “tent villages” are becoming more and more like a festival of resistance. It is a meeting point for poets, artists, school and university students, politicians and people from all sections of society, who have come to show their solidarity.

This is a struggle for work, bread, freedom and solidarity. On 14 February there was a solidarity demonstration called by left-wing organisations, supported by the TKP, ODP and the “people’s houses”. Several thousand people came there but the representatives of those organisations did not express any class sentiments in their speeches. Their phrases lagged behind the level of the discussions taking place in the wokers’ tents.

Despite the unbelievably determined struggle of the workers, the pressure on the workers grows as time passes. They have until the end of the month to decide whether or not they will accept ‘C/4’ status. They are threatened with unemployment if they refuse. This pressure is being used by the trade union leaders. As one worker from Diyarbakir put it, “we are like a ball being kicked between the government and the trade union leadership”. The government had not changed its position and is threatening to use the police to break up the workers’ “tent village” at the end of the month. At the same time, the trade union leaders have not taken any decisive measures, and merely try to stop 4/C status through “legal” measures. Instead of motivating the workers to struggle, the Tekgida-Is President, Turkel, emphasises that those workers who have accepted and requested C/4 status are not “traitors” and should not be denounced, weakening the resolve of the workers.

They have announced a “plan of action” for next week, stating that banner should be hung from all trade union offices to raise awareness, and have said that they would put out press releases calling for local demonstrations. The highlight of this “action plan” is the mobilisation of workers from all cities to Ankara. They have made this call instead organising a second, bigger general strike, as the workers have demanded. They have only said that a new plan of action would be announced the following week.

In response to the threat of police repression, the workers were forced to give their word not to use violence and merely watch, as their tents were torn down by the police and re-build hem afterwards.

The problem for the government and in a way for the union bureaucracy is the massive solidarity that exists for the Tekel workers. One worker said, “without the solidarity of the workers and left organisations from the beginning, we would not have been able to develop such a struggle”. This is exactly why the government, from the first day onwards, have tried to discredit the fightback. Their attempts to denounce the struggle as PKK drives failed completely (the labour minister was forced to apologise for the Prime Minister, Erdogan’s slanders). But now, also the trade union leadership is acting against the left organisations. Today, all material of left organisations (leaflets, banners, pictures etc) were removed. They argued that from today on, this was a “purely union” struggle. They have also warned, with particular emphasis, against the formation of independent action committees of union members. Turkel, chair of Tekgida-Is, said, that whoever tried to initiate such a thing “is not one of us”.

As is all this was not enough, now even the weather is turning against the workers. It has begun to rain and the wind is shaking the plastic tents. But the striking workers keep shouting their slogans, as if trying to convince the growing storm. “Long live class solidarity!”, “The struggle is not over, it is just beginning!”.

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February 2010