The fire that Renault workers set alight at Bursa is unlikely to extinguish soon
Below, we publish the translation of a statement by Sosyalist Alternatif (CWI in Turkey), in relation to the powerful strike wave which has shaken Turkey’s metal industry in the last weeks. This statement was published in Turkish on 21 May, as the strike was still unfolding.
The strike began on Thursday 14 May in Bursa, a gigantic industrial heartland in the North West of the country, where a concentration of big factories is home to hundreds of thousands of workers. There, Oyak Renault (a joint venture between France’s car company Renault and the Turkish army pension fund) operates the country’s largest car factory, of 5,000 workers, where the movement started.
The initial aim of the strike was an increase in wages. The Turkish currency having fallen by more than 25% in the last year, Turkish workers have lost dramatically in real wages over the last period. The spark of the strike came from the Renault plant workers, after 6,000 workers at a nearby Bosch factory won a much more favourable separate wage contract agreement after threatening to go on strike.
Workers at the Renault factory, rapidly followed by workers at Tofaş, Ford Otosan, and other engineering plants, demanded the same contract to be implemented for themselves, laying down tools and occupying their workplaces, in a direct act of defiance not only to the management but to the Türk Metal union too. The strike spread like wildfire, at its height around 20,000 workers were on strike. The attempts by the Renault management at threatening the striking workers through firing some of their leaders backfired, as it only helped in spreading the movement, and under pressure, the bosses were forced to re-instate them.
The Türk Metal union is a gangster-type of union, working hand-in-hand with factory bosses, with a long record of abusing, intimidating and betraying workers (including by sending armed gangs to attack workers!), and with shop-stewards not elected by the workers, but bureaucratically appointed from above. In that sense, the struggle in Bursa was also a reaction of fury against it. One of the demands of the strike was the expulsion of Türk Metal from the company, the genuine election of workers’ representatives in the factories by the workers themselves, and the workers’ right to be organised in the union of their own choice. Thousands of workers resigned from the Türk Metal union in protest at the union’s strike-breaking role. Many factories elected their own strike committees; and an inter-factory committee was eventually formed of workers’ representatives from the different factories involved in the movement. “It’s a very important experience, it’s an experience of direct democracy,” commented a Renault worker. “Workers take all their decisions together”.
A huge wave of sympathy and solidarity could also be seen, with workers’ families, neighbours and local people assisting the workers in their struggle, and many factories taking strike action, in solidarity with the Bursa workers, in Izmit, Ankara, Istanbul and other parts of the country.
Since the beginning of this week however, the strike at the Renault plant, heart of the movement, has for now come to an end. The management has agreed to give the Renault workers a one-time payment of 1,000 Turkish liras (£246) if workers resume work, also saying that no worker will face disciplinary action for having taken part in the strike. The bosses have deferred any pay increase pending the outcome of a review to be done within a month. Other plants in Bursa have come to similar agreements and most have ended the walk-out too; but some reports mention other strikes continuing elsewhere (such as at the ‘Turk Traktor’ factories in Ankara and Sakarya) and even new strikes bubbling up in other areas.
Whatever happens in the coming days, this wave of strike is hugely significant in many respects, and will leave a profund mark on events for the months to come. Lasting almost two weeks, it is one of the longest in Turkish history without any official union leadership at its head. Workers’ experience has been accumulated in organising, and in challenging bosses, yellow unions, the state and the media. In the context of a marked decline in Turkey’s economic growth, this struggle has stained a bit more the myth of economic success portrayed by the ruling AKP, and brought to the fore the social anger which is increasingly brewing under the surface in vast sections of the country’s population. It has broken a long period of blatant union complacency with workers’ exploitation in one of the most important and most potentially powerful sectors of the Turkish working class, announcing a period of new, collossal class battles.
The car production in Turkey has had a big industrial importance in the last decade, de facto becoming a strategic sector of the economy. It has grown multifold since the AKP came to power in 2002, with multinational companies benefiting from a cheap and supressed workforce. Turkey is now the sixth biggest auto manufacturer in Europe and exports two-thirds of its production. The recent strike movement is unprecedented and has hence the potential to open the floodgates for broader struggles in the workers’ movement in general in the near future. Some 70,000 primary care doctors have also engaged a three-day strike across the country on May 20, protesting against working on weekends, which the Health Ministry made obligatory at the start of this year.
All this workers’ agitation finds a particularly resonating echo as this is all taking place just before the national elections of 7 June, setting off alarm bells for the AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Some workers were encouraged to strike as they felt that the police would hold off attacking them as the elections are just around the corner. The fact that the government sent two ministers to Bursa for trying to help negotiate an end to the strikes reflects the wave of trepidation that this movement has sent in the ruling and big business circles. It could mark a decsive step in the rebuilding of the trade union movement in Turkey. A lengthier analysis by Sosyalist Alternatif on the election in Turkey, the challenges ahead, also addressing the question of how to build a new political voice for the Turkish working class, will be published on socialistworld.net in the coming weeks.
Metal Workers Do not Give up the fight!
The fire that Renault workers set alight at Bursa, the so-called capital city of the metal sector in Turkey, is continuing to spread.
The unrest started with the collective agreement signed between Türk Metal Union and MESS (‘Turkish Metal Industrialists Union’, the bosses’ union). It further grew after an additional wage increase had been given to Bosch workers outside the MESS agreement. After workers stopped the production process in the Renault factory where 5,000 of them are working, the Tofaş workers joined the resistance as well. Stopping the production in the metal sector was not restricted to these factories. In the following days, increasing anger spread to Ford Otosan.
The resistance initiated by Renault workers continued and grew to Tofaş, Coşkunöz, Mako, Valo and Otoritim factories also located in Bursa together with other factories placed outside the city like Türk Traktör (Turkish Tractor) in Ankara and Ford Otosan in Kocaeli.
Fury at Türk Metal Union!
The fury at Türk Metal, the labour union which has been abusing the rights of workers and acting in accordance with the interests of the bosses for a long period of time, reveals itself through massive resignations from the union. The resistance even spread to Ankara to the Türk Traktör factory. Besides, in the ORS bearing factory, still located in Ankara, resignations from Türk Metal have also been taking place. For now, the number of resigned Türk Traktör and ORS workers is reaching 600.
The “red line” for Renault and other factory workers is the expulsion of Türk Metal from their factories. To “de facto” realize this demand, workers cut down the signboards of Türk Metal in their factories.
Workers do not accept pressures!
Against the stopping of the production process involving approximately 15,000 metal workers, bosses have attempted to restart production with threats.
Support from other factories is still going on
Support from local workers towards the resisting factories in Bursa is still ongoing. While SKT, Farba, Belton, Rolmek and Tredin factories’ workers visited the resisting workers, Petkim factory workers declared their support for all the workers in resistance. Similarly, Maysan, Mando and Karsan workers declared their support via visiting the area.
A list of demands of the workers could be listed as follows:
- From now on, Türk Metal will leave the factory and never represent the workers
- No worker will be fired due to the resistance
- Working conditions will be improved
- The collective agreement will be dropped, in exchange for the one that was signed in the Bosch factory