EKS debate: reply to comrade Temel

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This article is a contribution to the debate within the EKS on the Telekom strike. It replies to the article, "Telekom: Bir Grevin Otopsisi", published in last month's Gece Notları, which in turn was a reply to a previous article "Türk Telekom'da Zafer ".

In last month's ‘Gece Notları', Temel wrote that the strike at Türk Telekom ‘did not end up in a victory in any way'. This in itself was a response to the front page headline of February's which proclaimed ‘Victory at Turk Telekom' .  Gece Notları said at the time that the strike was a victory, and maintains that position today. However, we are open to discussion on this issue, and would welcome contributions from readers on the subject. 

Temel characterises the strike as a failure first, but not primarily on an economic basis. He claims that 10% was offered by the bosses before the strike, and was accepted at the end of it. This, however, is not exactly the case. The management's offer before the strike was 4%. The final settlement was 10% for this year, and 6.5% plus inflation next year. These are very different figures.

What Temel is referring to is reports in the press that indicated that Türk Telekom was willing to settle at 10%. This could be true, but it doesn't obscure the fact that what was on offer was 4%. Businesses like Türk Telekom make economic plans. They budget for what they think is possible. That does not mean that they would not have liked the settlement to be lower than it was. Of course the bosses always want the workers to get as small wage rises as possible. If they could have got away with four they would have been very happy. They couldn't, and in our opinion the strike is the reason that they couldn't.

Of course nobody knows exactly what went on in the negotiations between Paul Doney, and Salih Kiliç, but from what was published our perspective bears out. 

Temel then goes on to talk about three ‘basic internal' reasons why he feels the strike was a failure. The first is that the ‘strike deepened the divisions within the working class', and created mistrust between unionised and non-unionised workers.  As Temel says these are divisions created by the ruling class. However absurd it may seem, it is not uncommon in this country to have workers in a company working where others are striking. The most important way for workers to develop a struggle is to generalise it to include other workers. We can be reasonably sure that the unions have little or no interest in doing that, and the Telekom strike bears that out.

However, breaking down those barriers between different groups of workers is not in any way easy. The way that it can be done is by directly appealing to other workers for solidarity action. Of course there are many who will tell us that we have to make the union leaders act. We have seen recently what their ‘action' means, a sort of token two hour strike where very few even took strike action. If workers are to take these kind of actions. They need to take the initiative for themselves.

This is much easier said than done. Workers are tied to the unions not only organisationally, but also ideologically. The communist left always advocates open mass meetings for workers of all unions and none where workers can discuss how to control their own struggles. This in itself though counts for very little though if the meeting decides to do exactly what the union bosses say.

Capitalism creates divisions between workers for its own purposes. The unions play a role in maintaining this. In this strike workers failed to break out of sectionalism and spread their strike to other workers. But, did we really expect anything different? Of course we didn't. 

Most strikes are isolated in their own sectors. That doesn't mean that it is the strike that deepens the divisions between striking, and non-striking workers. It means that the working class is not strong enough to overcome those divisions.

The second point in his list is that the Telekom strike forced workers to national interests in front of their own class interests. I think that this is a strange reading of the situation. In the mass hysteria about Martyrs, and Iraq that was the background to the strike, the Telekom workers didn't stand out in any way. Personally,  I remember school children as being amongst the most vocal in the defence of national interests. The Telekom workers were no more, nor no less nationalistic than the vast majority of the working class in this country. Yes, nationalistic comments were made by Telekom workers, but they were made by the majority of workers at the time.

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. 

Yes, workers proclaimed their patriotism. Yes, workers have been agitated against foreign capital. Is this any different from other sectors of workers in Turkey? Are there sectors of workers who are rejecting both Turkish, and foreign bosses and proclaiming internationalism? Unfortunately not.

The strike did not dissolve in a wave of national feeling. That would have been a huge defeat. What happened wasn't. 

Temel's third point is that the strike wasn't sufficiently well prepared. Of course it wasn't, but then this is usually the case in strikes. In addition in this point he argued that it has dissipated the willingness to struggle within the working class, and strengthened trade unionist illusions. This is something that is difficult to prove.

As for the preparation though, the working class is not politically strong enough to prepare for strikes effectively. Most militant sectors of the working class are dominated by ‘trade unionist illusions'. In our opinion, the only thing that will break the mass of workers from the unions is by coming into conflict with them during struggles. Isolated militants, or even isolated small groups of militants may be won over in advance, but in the present situation at the start of every struggle the majority of the most workers will have illusions in the unions. How then are we supposed to prepare the strike in advance. The only ones who are capable of preparing a strike in advance are the unions. And here we are in agreement with Temel that the unions do not act in the interests of the working class.

The working class is not currently strong enough to assert its own interests clearly. It can, through struggle, break away from the ideology of foreign classes and begin to act for itself. It is not strong enough to do that yet, and therefore can not prepare itself sufficiently for strikes.

As for the suggestion that this strike has led to the will of the working class to struggle being potentially wasted, we will see what happens. 

If there is a large movement against pensions reform, it will support our contention that the Telekom strike has increased the will of the class to struggle. Illusions in the trade unions are strong at the moment. We don't expect them to break over night, and we don't expect them to break without struggle. If it encourages workers to struggle, then ultimately it leads them into conflict with the trade unions. This remains to be seen.

With Temel's final paragraph though we are in absolute agreement. We support all workers strikes in defence of class interests. We need to be aware of how the trade unions will manipulate strikes. We need to argue for solidarity between different sectors of workers. And discussions of the real issues that face workers in a struggle can only add to the development of the communist organisations. This in a real practical sense it was unites us, and we look forward to continuing this discussion, and discussions that develop from other workers struggles such as the current pensions dispute.

Devrim