Victory for Türk Telekom strikers
The following article from the comrades of Enternasyonalist Komünist Sol, which gives an account of an important strike at Türk Telecom was originally published on our site in December 2007; we are publishing it now in the context of the debate within EKS over the strike's significance. Over and above the importance of the strike itself and the lessons to be learned from it, the EKS comrades very rightly emphasise the strike's importance within the context of the current atmosphere of rampant war-mongering nationalism, and the clear class line separating the patriotism of the Haber-İş union president and the workers' determination to defend their own living conditions. National defence and the workers' interests are not compatible!
The massive strike by over 26,000 Türk Telekom workers is over. After 44 days the strikers went back to work. At 1,100,000 working days lost it makes it the biggest strike in Turkish history after the 1991 miners strike. It is time to draw up a balance sheet of the events.
The first and most important lesson to be learned from this is that workers can protect their living conditions by struggling. Türk Telekom's original offer of 4% was well below the forecasted end of year inflation figure of 7.7%. In effect Türk Telekom was offering a pay cut to its workers.
The settlement of 10% for this year, and 6.5% plus inflation next year is certainly a massive victory. Following shortly after THY workers winning a 10% increase by only threatening to strike, it gives a clear message to all workers in Turkey today. The only way to protect salaries against inflation is by unity, and collective action.
It shows a clear way forward for all other workers and especially public employees who have been offered an insulting 2%+2% by the government. All pay rises that are less than inflation are pay cuts. In many ways the public sector is the most important sector in Turkey. Many working class families have at least one member who works for the state. A victory in that sector would be a victory for every worker in the country.
The second lesson concerns those who have been accused of committing acts of sabotage. It is positive that all employees who were dismissed in the strike have been reinstated. However, those workers who are facing charges of sabotage can only return to their jobs if they are found innocent of the charges. Unlike the management, the bosses media, and the unions we refuse to condemn workers fighting to defend their living conditions. It is important that these workers are not forgotten. How to react if workers are convicted of sabotage, and dismissed is a key question that all Telekom workers need to discuss.
The next lesson concerns the allegations of treachery. Haber-İş President, Ali Akcan was quick to claim that striking workers were not ‘traitors', and claimed that if the country needed it in case of war, the strikers would ‘do their duty'. To us it is very obvious that the working class in this country have put the interests of the nation before their own interests for far too long. The working class has paid for the states war in the South East not only through years of inflation, and austerity, but also through its children's blood. It is time to put our interests as workers first.
The final lesson concerns the entire working class. The Telekom workers struggled alone. Even while there were picket lines at workplaces the clerks in the PTT were still working. Yet the issue that the Telekom workers were struggling for, the defence of salaries from inflation concerns the entire working class. The unions lock workers into their different sectors. If Telekom workers alone won 10% what could they have won if they had linked up with PTT workers? What could they have won if they had linked up with public sector workers? What is needed is for workers to avoid being isolated in their own sectors, and to make links with other sectors. If strikers had gone directly to PTT workers, and appealed to them to join the strike, the victory could have been both greater, and quicker.
Inflation is not going to go away, the central bank has again revised its inflation forecasts. Not only will public sector workers have to struggle to defend their salaries against pay cuts, but Telekom workers will have to struggle again in the near or medium future to defend the victory won in this strike. And struggling together is the best way to do this.