EKS: Debate on the strike at Türk Telekom

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We are publishing below a series of four articles translated from the Turkish by the comrades of Enternasyonalist Komünist Sol, all dealing with the recent strike at Türk Telekom. Readers will remember that we have already published an article on this subject (the second in this series), entitled "Victory at Türk Telekom" which covered the end of the 44-day strike by 26,000 workers, which ended with a 10% wage increase. We are now able to publish the complete series of the articles published on the subject by EKS: the first was written at the beginning of the strike and analysed briefly the forces in the conflict, while the second covered the end of the strike which it considered as a victory for the workers.

The two articles that followed were published as part of a debate within EKS as to the real nature of the end of the strike: comrade Temel argues that whatever the appearances the strike was in reality a defeat, while comrade Devrim's reply returns to the original analysis of the strike and to comrade Temel's criticisms to conclude that whatever its weaknesses, the strike was on the contrary a victory in both economic and in political terms.

We think that the debate expressed in these articles is an important one for the working class as a whole. Not only do they raise general questions about what constitutes a victory for the workers and what does not, but they do so in a general context which should draw the attention of workers and communists all around the world. For most workers in the world's big industrial centres, imperialist war is an ever-present backdrop to our lives - a permanent reminder of the enormous lie of the "peace and prosperity" that we were promised after the collapse of the Eastern bloc - but it is not an immediate issue in our daily lives. For Turkish workers however, the question of war and the attitude to adopt towards war is an immediate, burning issue: the Turkish ruling class has been conducting a more or less permanent war against its own Kurdish population since the 1980s and the military operation authorised at the end of 2007 is by no means the first time that the Turkish army has conducted incursions into Northern Iraq (Kurdistan). Moreover, unlike the US or British armies fighting in Iraq the Turkish army is made up in large part of conscripts and the horror and brutality of war is a daily trauma for the workers whose sons, brothers, fathers and husbands are fighting and dying in this bloody but little reported conflict (see the report from EKS on the invasion of Iraq, published on our website). The attitude of the Turkish workers in struggle is thus of the greatest importance for workers and communists internationally, and we want here to comment on some of the arguments put forward in the different articles, with a view to contributing to the debate.

Temel begins by asking "...if the necessary environment for a strike to occur in Telekom was ready", and it is certainly true that revolutionaries need to have some assessment of the balance of class forces (are the workers in a more or less favorable position against the bosses for example?) when agitating in the struggle. However, the criteria for judging the strength of the strike are certainly open to question:

  1. The strike "wasn't prepared sufficiently before". But as the answer to Temel's article says, how could we expect this to be the case under decadent capitalism when the unions - the only really permanent organisations to exist within the working class - are on the side of the bosses? Temel does not ask how one should go about preparing a strike. While in general we agree with Devrim's answer to this point, we should say that there is perhaps an underestimation of what may be possible in the present situation. In the present conditions of the working class' growing distrust for the unions - which we think in general is a world wide phenomenon - many strikes end leaving small groups of workers dissatisfied with the unions and wanting to prepare themselves more effectively for the next strike. During the 1980s this gave rise (at least in Western Europe) to the creation of "struggle committees" in some workplaces, where the most advanced, politically conscious workers could meet to discuss, to draw the lessons of the previous strikes, and prepare the intervention of a radical nucleus of workers in the mass meetings of strikes to come. This kind of "preparation" is indeed possible today, and pushing for or even taking part in the creation of such groups of militant workers is an important part of revolutionary intervention in such situations.
  2. The workers "only won 10%". It is true that with inflation running at 9.8% in 2007 (according to the CIA world factbook) a 10% rise is not much. But it is certainly better than nothing, which is what they would have had without a strike, or than the 4% originally offered - especially in a period of deepening economic crisis.

These questions are common to most strikes in industrialised countries today. But the most important issue in our view is the reaction of the Telekom workers to the war. Here it is necessary first of all to avoid a false debate: the Telekom workers did not strike directly against the war, nor in our view would this have been possible without a far greater degree of militancy and class consciousness than exists in the present period. We need only consider what it means for masses of workers to strike consciously against the bourgeois state's military operations: in effect, it means that the working class is calling into question the power and the right to rule of the bourgeoisie, and this can only happen in a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situation precisely because it poses the issue of power. In the situation in Turkey today the real question is whether workers are ready to renounce the struggle in defence of their own interests in the interests of the bourgeois war machine. We agree entirely with the reply to Temel when it says that "If there had been a spontaneous return to work in order to maintain the Telecom system in times of war, it would have been an absolute disaster. This didn't happen. In fact workers stayed on strike despite being told the media, and various members of the political class that they were acting against the national interest. This is to be applauded". That workers' should continue to defend their interests despite the war frenzy of the bourgeois media is not enough to prevent war in itself - the Turkish army invaded Kurdistan despite it - but it puts a brake on the generalised outbreak of imperialist war. It is the indispensable foundation for the development of a deeper consciousness within the class of the antagonism between the interests of the bourgeois nation and their own. 

Finally, we want to express our wholehearted appreciation of and agreement with the spirit in which this debate has been and is being conducted by the comrades of EKS: "discussions of the real issues that face workers in a struggle can only add to the development of the communist organisations", and we would add, more broadly, to the development of the consciousness and self-awareness of the proletariat as a whole.

ICC