On 1 April, TEKEL workers will gather again in Ankara to rebuild their “tent city” – an opportunity to rebuild the movement
With the return of the TEKEL workers to Ankara, the struggle will enter a new round. A court ruling at the beginning of March, which decided in favour of the TEKEL workers, provoked widespread celebration. This presented a new chance to turn the tables on the government and win the struggle. If the right steps are now taken, this chance can be capitalised upon.
The “Administration Court”’s decision to reject the government the government’s proposals to impose C4 status on the workers was a boost for the workers’ morale. No wonder. With this decision, the time period in which TEKEL workers were obliged to accept C4 status was extended by 8 months. C4 status means the continuation of employment under much worse conditions (for example, losing the guarantee against being sacked). The essence of the court’s decision means for the workers 8 more months on 75% of their previous wage, and also a window of time in which to fight for a better outcome. It also means that the AKP government suffered a defeat. After the court’s decision, in celebrations and spontaneous demonstrations the huge support for the TEKEL workers was shown once again. Not only TEKEL workers, but supporters, trade unionists, left activists etc gathered immediately after the decision, numbering around 2,000, who gathered cheering around the court. The union, Tekgida Is, and the confederation, Turk Is, tried to use these celebrations to rebuild their authority in the eyes of the workers. Tekgida Is wants now ”carry the struggle into different areas” and calls for a national day of action on 26 May.
The tent city lasted for 77 days. It was built without the support of big organisations of trade unions. Organising the “city” and supplying it with food, medical supplies and legal aid was a tremendous task undertaken by the workers. Many protests and demonstrations underlined the workers’ solidarity and willingness to struggle.
These strengths are needed again now to rebuild the movement. Therefore, it is not sufficient to merely rest on the trade unions and existing left organisations. The idea of workers’ committees, to co-ordinate the struggle from below and control the union, was raised many times in the tent city. Also, it is necessary to extend the struggle, incorporating other workers under attack in Turkey. These measures are necessary to use effectively the opportunities opened up by the court ruling.
Which way forward?
There is an urgent need to build solidarity with workers under attack in the Taris company, where 600 workers in a thread-making factory in Izmir are in struggle against the closure of their factory. As soon as possible, joint meetings, discussions and actions should be organised. These actions should include workers, youth and the unemployed as widely as possible.
During the 77 days of the tent city, the need for the workers to push their trade union leaders was visible. This was shown on 17 February, when at a demonstration of over 100,000, workers entered the stage to confront their union leaders, demanding that they extend and take the struggle forward. With resolutions, campaigns and actions in the different areas, the pressure on the leaders of Tekgida Is and other unions should be re-built.
The TEKEL workers should decide on the way forward for their struggle. “We have pushed the union, we don’t trust them. They didn’t want it. We had to build and organise the infrastructure ourselves”, a worker from Hatai said on 27 february, in reference to the tent city. In the tents of the different regions, committees were formed which co-ordinated with eachother. For a short period, there was even a co-ordinating committee of tent committees.
A string trade union leadership, which decisively represents the interests of the working class would have used these first steps to build the movement instead of using its authority to dissolve these committees. One conclusion to be taken from the struggle so far is therefore, that a fighting trade union leadership is necessary. The CWI struggles for trade unions with the election of officials with the right of recall at any time. All elected bodies should be accountable to the workers. Trade union leaders should receive the wage of an average worker they represent. These measures are tools with which the trade unions could be transformed and play the role they were intended to play, as instruments to fight for the interests of the working class
The workers’ return to Ankara on 1 April is an important step. It offers the opportunity to hold a national conference to debate the next step. Such a conference, with delegates representing different areas would be a clear sign to the government that the struggle will continue. It would also offer the opportunity to clarify the situation and discuss and organise the next steps. A national day of action with strikes and demonstration involving as many cities and factories as possible should be the first step. This years Mayday celebrations should take place under the banner of the TEKEL workers and those fighting the same attacks.
The Tekgida Is union has called for a national day of action on 26 May. This is an important step in the right direction. But the lessons of the 4 February general strike should also be drawn. Far too many workers were not informed about this strike. The union leaders had called for a “general action” but did not take the necessary stepd to really organise it. In many factories there were no attempts to implement the strike despite the wide solidarity with the TEKEL workers.
It is now necessary to begin to prepare for 26 May throughout Turkey. Left activists and militant workers must make sure that a strong general strike takes place. The Turk Is, KESK and DISK unions must be forced by their members to actively mobilise for this day of action and take up the struggle.
For a workers’ alternative to the Erdogan government and Kemalist “opposition”
The AKP received much support in recent years by making social promises. But, after implementing numerous privatisations and faced with the TEKEL struggle, theu showed their real faces. The Kemalist CHP tried to be opportunistic towards the TEKEL struggle to win support, but they have no alternatives to capitalist policies of cuts and privatisation. A return to the situation of the late 1980s and early 90s would be a nightmare for workers. It is decisive that a left socialist alternative to the government is built out of the TEKEL and other struggles. The social situation and growing number of struggles shows that the time is right for this.
That there is no string mass party which fights for their interests is a big problem for the TEKEL and other workers. Such a party must be built in Turkey. Such a party would have to defend the interests of the working class in Turkey. It should be organised in factories, universities and communities and be democratically built from the bottom up. Such a party would havethe task of, together with union and left activists, of organising the struggle from below. It would need an anti-capitalist and socialist perspective capable of uniting workers in Turkey from different nationalities in struggle.