Turkey: Workers are Trying to Find Their Own Voice All Over the World

As in the rest of the world, the deepening crisis of capitalism plus the pandemic continue to affect the working class in Turkey. In recent months out-of-control inflation has brought endless exorbitant price rises which have deepened the financial difficulties of the working class. With the pandemic came extremely high rent rises. In this situation where basic nutrients double their price every day, the effects of the 125% rise in electricity bills have also been a heavy blow. In Turkey, people pay one quarter of the minimum wage on electricity bills alone.

Submitted by Internationali… on February 4, 2022

Within this overall picture, there is a growing reaction against Erdoğan in Turkey. Erdoğan's move to suppress this mounting opposition in society was to announce a 50% rise in the minimum wage, which he marketed as "the biggest increase in the history of the country". This increase was received very positively by the political opposition within the system. But the concrete reality is that, alongside this minimum wage increase, layoffs have begun in many workplaces, and the salaries of workers who had an income above the minimum wage were reduced by the same proportion or, in a “more optimistic scenario”, they did not receive a wage rise. Migrant workers, meanwhile, have long been the country's source of cheap labor, working for below the minimum wage in insecure conditions, subject to racist attacks every day. In one of the most recent incidents three migrant workers were murdered when the place where they were sleeping was set on fire.(1)

As survival becomes harder and harder, the working class is taking steps to find its own voice in Turkey, as it is all over the world (oil workers' strike in Iran(2), strikes in Kazakhstan(3)...). The number of strikes is rising, some with union support and some wildcat strikes in different sectors all over the country. In the most recent example, ten days ago, thousands of workers who deliver for Trendyol, one of Turkey's largest e-commerce companies, announced that they had quit their jobs in many different cities of the country, starting in Istanbul, focussing on the non-fulfilment of the promise of a pay rise and precarious working conditions. They switched off their ignitions, and struggled for four days before Trendyol eventually had to give in. Many strikes are still going on and are seeking to be more widespread, especially among textile, transport, metal, building, printing, and municipality workers.

The government, on the other hand, is aware of the anger that has accumulated among the workers and threatens people if they go out on the streets. Even if the leaders of the opposition – CHP (Republican People's Party), İYİP (Good Party), DEVA (Democracy and Progress Party), SP (Felicity Party) – are targeted by the government, they are determined to protect the interests of the bourgeoisie and tell the people that “we should not go out on the street, the street is not the place for politics”.(4) Another bourgeois agent, Selahattin Demirtaş, a former co-chairman of HDP (Peoples' Democratic Party), in a column that he wrote from prison, directly states that Kurdish workers should compromise with Kurdish bosses.(5) The capitalist left hides behind identity issues in order to weaken the struggle of the working class. Thus, both the left and the right of capital are trying to end all the movements and to keep the working class focussed on the idea of “elections", as they are very actively looking for ways to save capitalism from the crisis by seeking a compromise between the working class and the bourgeoisie.

Nowadays, the agenda of the left in Turkey is no different from all the others we have mentioned. Although they say that “working class politics is our red line”, they are betraying the working class, from their political leaders who call workers to go from “the streets to elections” to their managers in the unions who betray workers' struggles.

A further obstacle faced by the workers' struggle is the union struggle. We should point out that the unions include the leaders of the organizations and parties on the Turkish political left which openly target the workers' struggle and sometimes threaten them. We saw the latest example of this in the struggle of Çimsataş workers in the metal sector in Turkey: Çimsataş workers, who are members of the United Metal Workers’ Union which is affiliated to DİSK (Confederation Of Progressive Trade Unions Of Turkey), were sacked when they refused to accept the contract signed by the union, and started to resist. The United Metal Workers’ Union, on the other hand, not only left the workers to fight alone, but also took aim at them, saying that the struggle of the Çimsataş workers was aimed at disrupting the unity of the workers.(6)

Despite ongoing strikes in many sectors in different cities of Turkey, it is difficult for the struggle to expand beyond sectional limits. This is because the workers' struggles are squeezed by the material interests of the trade unions into "seeking rights" via a legalistic approach. Workers who want to overcome the union and its definition of struggle face being sold out by the union. Every day, as workers experience these betrayals, they realize the importance of “self-organization”. For example, in our dialogues with some workers in municipalities covering 450,000 workers who rejected the collective bargaining agreement, workers expressed the need for a struggle that goes beyond the unions and capitalist parties, while talking about the betrayal of the unions and parties of the system. Moreover, they emphasized that what is urgent is “only the unity of the workers, not the unions or the capitalist parties”.

What matters today is "what we want" for tomorrow. The workers' struggle does not ask for charity. The workers' struggle is the struggle against the bourgeoisie and the capitalist system, whose interests are irreconcilable with those of the working class. The ultimate aim of the struggle is to create a classless society. We aim and struggle for a different world. On this path, as revolutionaries, we will work to spread the struggle of the working class, by emphasizing the separation between the interests of the bourgeoisie and the working class, and will struggle to establish the party of the working class. This is a big challenge but the working class has to create this political weapon on an international scale which goes beyond reformist compromises with capitalism. Either the working class tenaciously revives its revolutionary struggle to complete its historical task, or the misery spread by capitalism will never end. The only alternative facing humanity remains a socialist society of freely associated producers or capitalist barbarism.

Mimi and Medusa (ICT Sympathizers in Turkey)


Photo from: https://twitter.com/YKomitesi/status/1488833081696047106

(1) https://tr.euronews.com/2021/12/22/izmir-de-3-suriyeli-gocmenin-yak-larak-oldurulmesi-ihd-tasarlanarak-rkc-saikle-yap-ld
(2) https://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2021-iran-oil-workers-strike
(3) https://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2022-01-08/kazakhstan-the-working-class-attempts-to-find-its-voice
(4) https://www.haber7.com/siyaset/haber/3165568-aksenerden-provokasyon-aciklamasi-sokaga-cikmayin, https://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/kilicdaroglu-sokaga-cikmayacagiz-geregini-sandikta-yapacagiz-41975434, https://www.gazeteduvar.com.tr/babacandan-erdogana-sokak-yaniti-golge-boksu-yapiyor-haber-1548095
(5) https://haber.sol.org.tr/haber/demirtas-kurt-sermayedarlari-sorumluluk-almaya-cagirdi-319944
(6) https://www.birlesikmetalis.org/index.php/tr/guncel/basin-aciklamasi/1855-ba-1401