Airline strike in Turkey: militant workers expose the unions

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The transport sector is crucial for capitalism. Air transport is particularly important. In Turkey on 29 and 30 May a strike movement in the national air company, Turkish Airlines, paralysed Istanbul airport, with hundreds of flights being cancelled or delayed.

The working day in this sector can reach up to 16 or 18 hours. Some airlines oblige their flight crews to sleep in the same apartment to reduce labour costs when the employees are away from home. Pilots also have to work long hours, sometimes after no more than 2 or 3 hours sleep, in complete disregard for their health, their social life and human needs. Before the strike broke out, the industry minister carried out a real provocation by threatening to ban the right to strike “in strategic sectors like transport”. The unions, who had done nothing when hundreds of workers were made redundant at Sabiha Gokeen airport in Istanbul, or when workers were forced to work extra hours on miserable wages, now addressed an “urgent” message to the airline workers, calling on them to “exercise their right to strike”. And the workers did indeed launch an “illegal” strike on 26 May. Turkish Airlines used this as a pretext for massive sackings. Thus, when they were on the picket line, 305 strikers, most of them women, were sent a text informing them that “your work contract has been terminated”. All this shows that these attacks by the bourgeoisie were done hand in hand with the unions.

The workers therefore had to fight not only against the administration of Turkish Airlines, but also the unions they belonged to. Thus, the May 29 Association, formed by employees of the air companies as an organ of struggle independent of the unions, declared, mirroring the Platform of Workers in Struggle after the Tekel strike: “the administration of the Hava-Is union, of which we are members, has played a major role in the fact that this justified protest was declared ‘illegal’ by taking no responsibility for an action which it had itself called. The bosses of Turkish Airlines count on taking advantage of this situation to get rid of some employees and treat others almost like slaves. Does the administration of Hava-Is lack experience so it could not foresee what would happen when it left hundreds of its members on their own against the administration of Turkish Airlines? What kind of trade union mentality does that reflect?”

The bourgeois left has waged a campaign deploring the lack of support for the workers shown by the president of the union, who also described the May 29 Association as “dividers of the struggle”. On the contrary, the Association puts the accent on the importance of solidarity and has called for the extension of the movement to defend the interests of the working class as a whole and for the organisation of assemblies open to all proletarians.  

Arno 31/8/12