North Cyprus: General strike forces government concessions

Workers need a strong Left alternative, for internationalism and solidarity

On Monday 5 July, a general strike took place throughout Northern Cyprus. Thirty five unions called a 24-hour general strike against the cuts policies of the National Unity Party (UBP). Hundreds of workers also participated in a protest demonstration and almost 50% of the workforce was on strike.

We spoke after the strike with Cemre, a member of YKP youth (New Cyprus Party). She told us:

“The demonstration on Monday was relatively good, as a matter of participation – even though, in the actual strike, it is said that less than half of workers participated – the unions were happy with the participation and the turn-out. The main slogan was for the government to resign.”

The general strike had as its main slogan: ‘This government no longer represents Turkish Cypriots!’

The reason for this is the policies that the National Unity Party (UBP), the right wing nationalist party in power, wants to carry out. After fourteen months in government, the UBP presented, for the second time, severe attacks against the Turkish Cypriot workers’ living standards.

Sale of Turkish Cypriot airlines

Negotiations for the sale of the Turkish Cypriot Airlines have been going on for two months . The company went bankrupt and the government decided to ‘rent’ it for 5 years to ‘Atlas Jet’, a Turkish company. In return, Atlas Jet has to pay off the airline’s depts. However, at the same time, they will control the airline’s investments, and manage working conditions, which essentially means that Turkish Cypriot Airlines was sold.

The Airline workers are fighting back, with continuous strikes against the privatisation, since Atlas Jet has already announced that 250 workers would be made redundant. The government’s response to the workers’ protests was a lock-out. The company was closed, and so were its offices around Europe, flights were cancelled and none of its worker were paid for two months!

The newly introduced economic policies of the Eroglu government includes cut-backs in education. Fifty teachers at the East Meditteranean University (EMU) were made redundant and protesters say this is only the beginning. All the EMU staff are in constant protests against the redundancies.

The attacks on public sector workers are non-stop. After the initial cuts in allowances and salaries, decided in October and November 2009, the government is now introducing a new 10% salary reduction and a tax increase of 3% for pensioners.

Union power

But the workers’ protest actions had a impact. In the Yeni Düzen newspaper (3 July 2010), the Minister of Economics announced that on the following Monday the Turkish Cypriot Airline workers would get their May and June salaries, and that from Wednesday onwards, they will reinstate the staff sacked! On Wednesday, 7 July, these promises were fullfilled. The salaries of all workers at Turkish Cypriot Airlines, for the last two months, were paid, and re-hiring started.

At the same time, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security met with the 35 unions that participated in the recent strike and started negotiations. The unions say that they will negotiate together, in common meetings, with the ministry and the government.

The UBP won 26 parliamentary (seats) in elections last year. After the presidential elections, it maintained 24 of them. Eroglu became president and his independent rival in the presidential elections, Tahsin Ertugruloglu, was no longer in the parliamentary group.

This situation allowed the UBP to seek to form a coalition government to impose its policies. After the last wave of government measures, however, it seems highly unlikely a new coalition can be agreed. The Democratic Party (DP) announced that they will withdraw any support to the UBP, and similar declarations were also made by the Social Democrat Party (TDP).

After its defeats in the parliamentary and presidential elections, the Turkish Republican Party (CTP) made a U-Turn and now opportunistically puts itself on the side of the Turkish Cypriot Airlines workers and the protests against cuts in university, as do the Social Democrats (TDP).

But these workers should not forget (and the Left should ensure this is the case) that these two parties were in power in previous years and workers were forced to mobilise and fight the cuts policies they tried to apply.

“However what was missing in the strike was the answer to the question: What will change after the government resign? There was no alternative promoted.

“On that point, the unions were disappointing. They could use the anger of the people in order to make something more than react to the economic policies but they do not do it,” Cemre told us.

The lack of a strong Left in Northern Cyprus leads to no other result but the recycling of governments. It is either through populism or by using ‘left’ rhetoric that these parties will gain power again, in which case they will carry out neo-liberal policies.

The cycle needs to be broken. As the recent general strike indicated, the power of workers is in their hands. The building of a new strong and viable left is urgently needed, including by trade union activists, utilising genuine workers’ committees, with the support of smaller left wing organisations. A strong Left, democratically controlled by a working class base, and with a socialist programme and policies, will be a huge step forward for the entire Turkish- Cypriot working class. And for for real internationalism and solidarity, which is such a life or death matter in Cyprus!

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July 2010