Tekel strike: How to organise outside the unions?

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In the first article we published on the Tekel struggle , we gave an account of the developments until January 20th. In this article, we will continue from where we left off, and try to give an account of what went on from the erection of the Tekel workers' camp in the centre of Ankara to March 2nd, when the workers left Ankara.  What will be told is the story of the entire working class. We owe our warm thanks to the Tekel workers for making the writing of this article possible by explaining to us what they went through, their experiences and thoughts and for making it possible for these experiences to lighten the way both for the future developments in the Tekel struggle and for the future struggles of our class.

We concluded our first article by highlighting the efforts of the workers to form a committee. Since the beginning of the struggle to January 20th, there had been four or five attempts to form a committee, and there were as many attempts in the process that followed. On the other hand, it wasn't possible for these committees to start functioning. At the moment, there exists a group of militant workers from every city, regularly in touch and constantly discussing how to move the struggle forward. However this group has not yet managed to become a formal committee recognized by the workers. 

One of the first problems we can highlight while attempting to explain the reasons for this situation is the lack of communication among the workers. The workers are actually together always, and discussing constantly. On the other hand, they have not been able to establish an organ, like a mass assembly, that would allow them to come together and discuss all together in an organized manner. As we will try to explain later in the article, the fact that workers from each city setup their own tents and spent most of their time in these tents also contributed to this problem. It could be said that this separation blocked communication. A more important general problem was that a majority of the workers for the most part did not want to establish an alternative to the trade-union, or hesitated to do so. Lots of trade-unionists were respected for the sole reason that they were trade-unionists. Their words were preferred to those of determined, militant, leading workers. This led to a very serious problem of workers failing to stand behind their own decisions. The psychological dependence of the workers on the trade-union officials prevented the emergence of workers' committees outside the trade-unions.

What a worker comrade from Adıyaman told us confirms this observation: "Had the issues been discussed in the tents, and had each tent sent a few people, the committee would have been formed by itself. In such a situation, no one could have opposed it. It would have been impossible. We tried to put this question forward, but did it a bit from above, like people who believed this was necessary coming together. The lack of communication was a big problem, for example there should have been a communications tent when the tents were setup. Had we done that, the committee too would have been built around it."

The workers in general are openly expressing their lack of trust towards the trade-union, but their hesitations are preventing an alternative to the trade-union from arising. While this seems to be a contradictory situation, it does actually show that the trade-union still has a serious influence over the workers. The workers, even though they don't trust the union, still keep clinging to it and keep thinking they can make their voice heard using it.

As for the trade-union officials, they are, unsurprisingly, very disturbed even by the mention of the word committee. They are well aware of the fact that if a committee comes into being, they would lose control, and the mass of workers would not be in their hands anymore. Yet this is not a settled issue for the workers. The attempts to form the committee continue, despite the problems the workers have been having, and despite how troubling this is for the union officials.

If we get back to how the events developed, on January 14th, nearly all Tekel workers and their families from nearly every city with a Tekel factory had gathered in Ankara for a three-day continuous sit in. The workers made fires to keep warm during the nights. On the third day, there was heavy rain. The workers had to put up nylon covers over the streets they were sleeping in. This was how the establishment of the workers' tent city in the middle of Ankara came into being. The setting up of the tents was a very spontaneous development, as in many other aspects of the struggle. Actually, the workers had requested a struggle tent to be set up in front of the Turk-Is headquarters; this was one of the demands which developed with the initial efforts to form a committee, but the union had prevented this from happening then. The tents were set up eventually, but because the weather conditions made them necessary. The nylon pulled to cover the street quickly started looking like tents, and soon workers from all the different cities were setting up their tents. After the tents were built, the trade-union gave its support. The reason for the tents to be separated according the cities the workers came from was because the workers wanted to prevent undercover policemen or provocateurs from infiltrating the tents and preventing a possible dispersal by making everyone control the other from the city they came from. Due to the cold, more nylon sheets were brought. Because the fires they had made outside produced a lot of soot and smoke, workers had to bring in stoves. Eventually, there was a living, breathing tent city in the middle of Ankara.

There had been a mass demonstration of the Tekel workers and lots of supporters from different cities on January 17th, following the sit-in. Tekel workers, aware that they could only win by spreading the struggle, had been pushing the union confederation Turk-Is to declare a general strike. The workers, following Turk-Is chairman Mustafa Kumlu's speech which did not even mention a general strike, had first occupied the platform where the trade-unionists were addressing the over hundred thousand demonstrators, and then had occupied the Turk-Is headquarters. This lead to Mustafa Türkel, the chairman of Tek-Gida Is, the union Tekel workers are in, distancing himself from Kumlu and complaining about how isolated he is within Turk-Is, and how the other trade-unions within the confederation as well the other confederations did not give any support.

A three-day hunger strike was to follow this demonstration according to the schedule. Following the three-day hunger strike, an all out one was to begin. Despite the fact that they thought a hunger strike was the last road to take, they were saying that in this situation, their dead bodies would be worth more than their lives, that the pay their families would receive if they died would be higher than the wages they are condemned to. This was not an extreme idea developed by one person. This was the possible response anyone who was worried about the workers going on hunger strike would get from the workers. On the other hand, while what the workers said on this was a solid fact, this argument did not manage to negate the idea that a hunger strike wasn't the right way to go. On January 19th a hunger strike with a number limited number of participants, 140, began.

In the following days, Turk-Is and the leftist trade-union confederations, KESK and DISK, announced their joint plan of action. A decision to start work an hour late on the 22nd was taken, and a plan to organize daily support visit and protests was put forward. On the 21st, Turk-Is, KESK, DISK as well as the more right wing Kamu-Sen, Memur-Sen and Hak-Is confederations came together and announced that if the government did not solve the issue by the 26th, they would use ‘the power coming from production', and announce the date of the solidarity strike they would organize. Prime Minister Erdogan invited Turk-Is chairman Kumlu to have a meeting the same day. After the meeting, the government commissioned Mehmet Simsek, the Minister of Finance to come up with a new solution. Simsek was none other than the man who had said "If our government has made a mistake, it was being too compassionate towards our workers who will lose their jobs due to privatization". He now said that after coming up with the new solution, he wanted to meet the Turk-Is delegation again. This process was to take five days. In the face of this uncertain situation, and taking into consideration the suggestions of the doctors, the workers halted the hunger strike which had been going on for three days. On the 26th, the negative response from the government came. The series of negotiations was to continue until the 1st of February. This was, in many ways a policy of stalling. In the end the government did not replace 4-C[1], but did make certain improvements to it. The maximum working time, which had been increased to 11 months previously, now better paid, seniority compensation was given and so was 22 days of holiday rights. The workers responded saying "We do not want 4-C wearing make-up".

As the negotiations did not produce a result, the hunger strikes started again on February 2nd. The six trade-union confederations, Türk-Is, Hak-Is, DISK, Memur-Sen, Kamu-Sen and KESK, came together again, and declared "a general strike in which they would use their power coming from production". This decision, of course, was not taken due to the initiatives of the trade-unions themselves, but as a result of the pressure coming from the workers. The workers had demonstrated how determined they were about pushing for a general strike on the January 17th demonstration, occupying both the platform and the Turk-Is headquarters. There also had been efforts to tear down the doors of the building. The workers had called for Kumlu's resignation for three hours, and Mustafa Turkel had been forced to make a speech very critical of Turk-Is, calling on the other trade-unions to take a decision in favour of a general strike. The decision of the trade-unions was thus very clearly a result of the pressure coming from the base.  The trade-unions had done their best to stall the workers with the negotiations. Now, finally they the confederations had to declare the general strike.

Following this decision, Erdogan, after saying that the workers' demonstrations had "exceeded their purpose", said: "Well, excuse us. We did the maximum of what had to be done. This has turned into an open campaign against the government, rather than asking for more rights. We are consignees. We are consignees of the money of the new-born orphans" and added that the salaries of the Tekel workers had been paid, and the seniority compensation was now in their bank accounts, and that if they applied in a month's time they could start working accordingly to the "temporary personnel" laws, in other words under 4-C. The time to apply to start working under 4-C conditions was thus shortened. This was a veiled threat of unemployment against the workers. Not that Erdogan hesitated to make open threats either. After declaring the workers demonstration in front of Turk-Is to be illegal and after defining it as an occupation, he said "We are going to test our patience till the end of the month. Afterwards, we will take whatever the legal steps are (...) Because this event has turned into an open abuse by ideological groups and extremists. Look at their banners. Look at their slogans. They are using a shameless and impudent tone targeting myself and my party. The workers are being used." The governor of Ankara, Kemal Onal decided to jump on the bandwagon as a result of these statements. He himself made a threat: right before the general solidarity action organized on behalf of the TEKEL workers, he declared it to be illegal for workers and public servants working under enterprises. Charges were to be pressed against all who were to participate. 

On the other hand, the fact that the trade-unions had declared a general strike did not mean they were not to take the meaning out of the general strike and build a barrier against it. Lots of pro-government trade-unions within the Turk-Is confederation opposed the decision of the general strike. Pro-government confederations Memur-Sen and Hak-Is decided not to participate at the last minute. As for Turk-Is in general, they decided only to participate in the demonstrations in Ankara on the level of trade-union officials and representatives. Hence the bases will to participate was blocked, and workers from different sectors and cities were prevented from coming together. There were perhaps 30,000-40,000 in the demonstration that day, but this number could have been well over 100,000. The trade-unions tried to limit the number. Participation in the strike from the other trade-unions wasn't near the desired levels either. Although not generalized in regards to the whole class, the Tekel workers participation was about 90% so near 9,000 of the 10,857 employees. There were demonstrations in support of the TEKEL workers on the same day in other cities.

This was no real general strike. It was too limited, too insufficient. The power of the general strike comes from the threat of halting life itself using the power of production the workers have. Yet on the 4th of February, it was not really even possible for someone who wasn't notified of the strike by the trade-unions to realize that there actually was a strike going on. This was at least partially admitted even by some confederation chairmen. Sami Evren, the chairman of KESK, said "The movement started by the Tekel workers turned into a great solidarity all around Turkey. It was socialized. This is the success of the movement, but there were successes and failures to use the power coming from production in some places. There were insufficiencies here, this has to be acknowledged." The chairman of DISK, Suleyman Celebi, said "There have been ‘not going to work' actions in 81 cities. It is true that these actions in Istanbul and Ankara were below the expected, but it can't be said that this affects the general success of the solidarity action".

On same day, the government took some counter-steps. The new law on the employment of "temporary personnel", 4-C, was published in the Official Newspaper. The number of 4-C employees to be taken was announced as 36,215 for the year 2010. Tekel was included in the law. This law not only abolished the workers' right to get paid from unemployment insurance for eight months, but also aimed at making the workers work for very low pay under the threat of unemployment. On February 16th, Tek Gida-Is pressed charges against the one month time limit of applying for 4-C. If the law was cancelled, the Tekel workers would be able to get their unemployment compensation for eight months, which is double the minimum wage, and could apply for 4-C at the end of this period. The main direction, which until February 4th was pushing for the general strike, now was waiting for the decision of the courts.

What kept the workers going until February 4th was the effort to push the confederations into declaring the general strike, thus expanding the struggle. The fact that these expectations weren't realized, that there wasn't a real general strike, changed the course of the struggle. Now the focus was the one month period imposed on applications for 4-C. The legal process taking prominence is, in general, something that takes place as the struggle weakens. The example in Tekel was no exception. The role of the trade-union, both in weakening the struggle and in making the legal process the point of focus, cannot be underestimated. To express it bluntly, the workers had become a problem for them. The best way, they thought, was to send them home, take the process down the legal road and be done with it, and that was what they worked towards. This process of waiting, for the workers anyway, also meant taking a risk. They were, after all, threatened with unemployment and pushed to 4-C, but there also was a period for all this. They would lose the option to apply for 4-C in a month. As for the trade-unionists, while they mostly couldn't defend the 4-C openly, they were saying things like "We can neither tell you to apply nor not to apply".  It was rumoured that some trade-unionists were even saying "Applying for the 4-C is the most logical thing to do". Of course they couldn't dare to say these things while the militant workers were nearby, as they knew this would result in the militant workers arguing vigilantly against them, and them ending up having to run away.

The issue that dominated the following days was the seniority compensation of workers being deposited into their bank accounts, and the question of whether the workers used them or not. Erdogan said: "The workers got their compensation, those who remained there are not workers". However, the struggling workers had decided not to withdraw their compensation since doing that would in a way mean accepting 4-C. However, because some had debts, there were automatic deductions from their bank accounts. This made it appear as if the workers were using their compensations but the important thing was the trick the government was pulling on the workers. What happened was the following: the government, through the Ministry of Finance, gave an order to the Vakif Bank General Administration to open a new account on behalf of the workers. The bank, without informing the workers, cut 25 TL from each worker, and transferred the compensation to that account, so it would appear the workers used their compensations. After this came out, the trade-union filed yet another law suit regarding this issue.

The workers started a three day hunger strike on February 2nd. The hunger strike was over on February 5th. However the day the hunger strike was over, 100 Tekel workers launched an all-out hunger strike. The chairman of Tek Gida-Is, Mustafa Turkel, announced that the all-out hunger strike was over on February 11th. He also called on 16 workers who continued the hunger strike despite the trade unions decision to stop it. Afterwards, he directly repeated his call to the hunger striking workers, but got the response from a determined hunger striker that they were going to continue their hunger strike by their own will. The same militant worker was called outside by another worker who claimed that he wanted to talk to him. There, the militant hunger striker was told to stop the hunger strike, and attacked. The worker who attacked him was someone known to have defended the union against other fellow workers before and was said to be an unbalanced element. Since we do not have any detailed information about this event, we are not making any claims here about the possible connections of the attacker. It might or might not be the trade-union management who made this worker attack the hunger striking comrade. However, regardless of whether he was recruited by the trade-union management to silence this dissident hunger striker, or did it to suck up to the trade-unionists, either directly or indirectly the trade-union is responsible for this. Because if any worker can attack a fellow worker who is on a hunger strike in order to suck up to the union, the reason for this is that the trade-union bureaucracy has interests separate from and opposed to those of the workers, and this would mean that he attempted to suck up to the trade-unionists by serving their interests. This example openly shows that while the main issue for the struggling workers is the question of how we can win the struggle, the trade unions are chasing completely alien bureaucratic interests and political agendas. This situation, far from being surprising, is important in being a striking example of the counter-revolutionary nature of contemporary trade-unions. 

In any case, following this event, the negotiations with Erdogan continued. Following a compromise not being reached as a result of these negotiations, Hak-Is withdrew from acting jointly with the other confederations. On February 12nd, Turk-Is, Kamu-Sen, KESK and DISK came together again. In this meeting, it was decided to continue the negotiations with the government, to file a lawsuit to get 4-C cancelled and for the local organizations of the confederations to come to Ankara and stay with the Tekel workers in front of Turk-Is over night on February 20th. On the 16th, the confederations announced their joint action plan: on February 18th, banners saying "The struggle of the Tekel workers is our struggle" and "No to unregulated and unsafe work" were to be put up in all union offices of the four confederations; on February 19th, there were to be sit-ins and press announcements in all cities and on the 20th there would be a solidarity demonstration in Ankara. Those coming from out of town would gather in Kolej square, march to Sakarya square and stay with the Tekel workers all night. 

Tekel workers from Adana made the following call for the demonstration on February 20th, emphasizing the importance of the expansion of the struggle: "We want everyone who is against this bad order in Turkey to support our movement. This is no longer just about us. This is about the majority, the oppressed. Hopefully we will win. We have lit a fire, and the public has to continue from here. This is our future, the future of our children we are dealing with, the future of the working class in Turkey. We have led, it is up to them to finish. We shall not leave here without getting what we deserve, but the public has to wake up and support us, with their families, kids and all, with everyone". 

On February 11th, Tek Gida-Is declared an end to the hunger strike, but 16 workers continued. On February 12th, a worker was hospitalized, and five more workers joined the hunger strike as a result. These workers ended their hunger strike, declaring that they had ‘finished the hunger strike based on their own will, and would not hesitate to start again if they deem it necessary'. 

The solidarity demonstration did take place on February 20th, with the participation of the trade-unions, political parties and mass organizations. Workers from the Balnak logistics company who had lost their job around the same time the Tekel struggle started were also present. As planned, all gathered in Kolej square in the morning and marched to Sakarya square. Sakarya square was full of demonstrators. It had turned into a carnival, and the demonstrators had changed the look of the place completely. On the other hand, generally the workers were still in their tents, while the demonstrators were in the square. There was always a circulation in between these two very close locations, but the separation remained. Later in the night, people were tired, and the streets were full of demonstrators sleeping on pieces of cardboard. The next day, people gathered and the demonstration was finished with a press announcement. Afterwards, those from out of town started returning. This demonstration was important in that gave a morale boost to the Tekel workers, and in that it expressed class solidarity. However, due to the decision of the trade-unions to only send representatives and officials the number of workers coming from other sectors was low, however most Tekel workers who weren't in Ankara at the time gathered in the city. Despite all these negative aspects, having support meant a lot to the workers. Workers in the tents we visited through the night in general felt positively about the demonstration and said that it gave them morale.

On February 23rd, the four confederations gathered again. They took a decision to organize another general strike on May 26th in case the government did not take a step back. Scheduling a general strike three months later was nothing less than openly mocking the workers. The decision was on the internet before it was announced. Those who read it informed each other, those who couldn't believe what they heard went to check it themselves. No one wanted to believe the news. The branch representatives hadn't been informed of the decision, and were saying that the news was false, and were reacting strongly to those who asked about it. Following the announcement, workers gathered started shouting slogans against Turk-Is and Kumlu. At this critical moment, Turkel showed his true nature openly. To the workers he shouted "If you keep shouting Kumlu resign, then I will resign". The workers did not really have much of a problem with that!

Mustafa Turkel, the chairman of Tek Gida-Is, resigned from the position of General Secretary he held within the Turk-Is confederacy on February 24th. He announced that he was to make the necessary explanation about his reasons for resignation on March 2nd. This was also the last possible date for the workers to apply for 4-C according to the government, and also the date the government had threatened to attack the workers in order to destroy the tent city. Turkel did not see the need to explain why he resigned to the workers. By not making an explanation, he was openly undermining the Tekel workers struggle which had been going on for more than two months. Why would someone who resigned refuse to explain why he resigned? What did it mean, disappearing in an atmosphere in which the government was threatening the workers both with unemployment and with an attack? Would it be an exaggeration to say that he was waiting for March 2nd to be over, for the waters to be clear again? 

These uncertain situations, naturally lead to confusions about Turkel's resignation. He could have resigned because the workers had called for Kumlu's resignation, but also he could have resigned because he had no support within Turk-Is. The workers were considering both possibilities. A Tekel worker from Adıyaman was evaluating the situation like this: "This can be interpreted in two ways. If it happened the way the press presented it, if the chairman of Tek Gida-Is resigned as a reaction against the workers, I think this is wrong. He can't have such a luxury. No one has the right to sabotage this process. We have been struggling for 71 days. There surely will be those among 12 thousand workers who can't control their nerves, and who react. On the other hand, Turkel resigned from his position as the General Secretary of Turk-Is, not from his position as the chairman of Tek Gida-Is. I think this resignation can also be a reaction against the decisions taken by the confederations yesterday. If that is the case, if it is a reaction against Turk-Is or the other confederations saying ‘you are leaving us alone', then we would embrace our chairman with all our hearts. I don't want to think he resigned as a reaction against the workers, as it was presented by the press. I want to think it as a reaction against the Turk-Is administration. I don't think the reactions shown against him by a few fellows represent the general feeling. He wouldn't resign because of the "Turkel resign" slogans shouted by a few. There could be other reasons. From the beginning, our reaction was directed towards Kumlu, for his close relationship with the government and his lack of sincerity. But we believed in Turkel from the start. We should wait for the chairman's explanation." A Tekel worker from Istanbul evaluated the situation like this: "We are a family. There may be discussions among us. If he resigned because of the workers reactions, he didn't do the right thing. If he did it as a reaction to the Turk-Is administration, he was right. If it was done because of the workers' reaction, it was nothing but an excuse for running away. It is not right for him to leave the workers and run away. But the struggle will continue regardless of whether he is in or out. Actually, he has been threatening us for 71 days every day, like a husband threatens a wife. But we remained patient, undivided. Now, such a reaction against the workers is, to me, an excuse for running away, if of course he resigned because of it. It is not right to say "I won't play anymore" like a kid. As workers all we want is for them to do their trade-union duties and not to scold us. It was very natural for us to react against the decisions of the confederations, and I do think it included all the workers, that it was the common reaction of all the workers. Workers' meetings were to be held in the morning. Yet it was said that Turkel had an urgent meeting, and that the workers' meetings were to be postponed until the afternoon. Sometime later his resignation was announced. Where did Turkel go, who did he talk to, what happened in this meeting, we do not know." Turkel had previously said that he was against the reaction the workers gave against Kumlu, and that he would resign in case such incident happened again. Trade-unionists thought that Türkel's resignation was because of the workers reaction. As a result of this, Mustafa Akyurek, the General Secretary for Education of Tek Gida-ıs declared that the claims of Turkel's decisions being due to his disagreements with the Turk-Is administration were false, and the decision to resign was taken because of the reactions Turkel got from the workers.  

On the 23rd of February, thirteen workers in a mine in Balikesir died because of a firedamp explosion. This was the third workplace murder which had happened due to insecure working conditions since 2006. Before the thirteen workers who died on the 23rd, seventeen had been killed in the previous explosion, and three had been killed in the explosion before than. The Tekel workers who heard about this felt a great pain. Their deceased class brothers had already been subjected to insecure working conditions. Now they were the ones who the government tried to subject to the same conditions. It was impossible not to feel this class anger and pain. A worker from Adiyaman explains what happened like this: "To feel that the deceased were of us, to show solidarity. There was 100% participation. Everyone felt it, that pain. We prepared banners, black ribbons, we made a press announcement. It was very important for class solidarity". The miners were commemorated during the now regular and daily night-time demonstration with torches, and there was a minute of silence in the honour of the deceased miners. The slogan "long live class solidarity" became the voice of the day.

The next morning, on the 25th, the workers woke up to yet another bad news. A fellow Tekel worker, Hamdullah Uysal, had been killed in Ankara in a traffic accident.

Hamdullah Uysal, born in Amasya, had been working as a Tekel worker in Samsun. He was 39 years old, and had two kids, one of them disabled. He had participated in the hunger strikes. Tekel workers had experienced other losses during the struggle, some had mothers or fathers, and some had children who passed away, but this was the first time a Tekel worker had passed away during the struggle. Hamdullah Uysal was a militant worker who had been involved with the struggle from the beginning. He had been in Ankara from the start of the struggle, and had returned to his hometown only twice. Workers regarded him as a class war martyr. The way the accident had happened also resulted in class anger among the workers. Uysal had been hit by a jeep driven by a drunk driver at 5:30 in the morning, while going to morning prayer. There was anger towards that person and the class he represented. The workers were referring to the murderer as a "some rich guy with a jeep".

Because the workers saw Uysal as a martyr of the struggle, and because they felt that the tent city in front of Turk-Is was like a home to all of them, they wanted to bring his funeral to the tent city, have a ceremony there and then send Uysal home. They talked to Uysal's wife, who said: "The street in front of the Turk-Is building was like a home to him, the tent in front of Turk-Is is his home, he would have wanted this. Have the ceremony in front of Turk-Is and then send him home".

Thus, 400-500 workers went to the Forensic Office in Kecioren, where Uysal's body had been taken to. Actually everyone wanted to go there, but the workers decided to limit the number in order to not to leave the tents alone, since the government kept spitting out threats about destroying the tents. The workers feared the government could attack and tear down the tents as soon as they left Sakarya square. Thus some had to remain, and wait in front of Turk-Is for the body to be brought there.

The Tekel workers who went to the Forensics Office attempted take the body. They had to wait for hours, and were told that Uysal's brother and uncle would come to pick up his body. In the end, a relative of Uysal who himself was a Tekel worker came, but the body wasn't given to him either. Eventually an "uncle" emerged, who claimed to be Uysal's aunts husband. The Forensics Office declared that the body was to be given to him. Workers who knew that bodies are only given to first degree relatives did not buy this "uncle" story. In fact, they suspected that the "uncle" could be an undercover cop, and voiced them. Their suspicions were confirmed when this "uncle" eventually had to admit that he indeed was an undercover cop. Thus, the workers started pushing to get the body again. The police did not allow it again. They waited for hours and also tried their best to call the Uysal family, but to no avail. Finally Hamdullah Uysal's family arrived, and the Ankara Police and the Governorship immediately put them under pressure. The Ankara Police who stopped them on the road were trying to force the family to sign a document accepting that the body would be taken to Uysal's home without a ceremony in Ankara. The pressures continued in the Forensics Office as well. Finally the family had to give in and agree to taking the body home without having a ceremony in Ankara. 

In the meanwhile, the workers waiting in front of the Forensics Office were told that they would be given the body. Thus the workers got into the ambulance carrying Uysal's body. However a group who realized that the ambulances were going a different way than they should immediately got out and blocked the road. Other workers followed. Workers stopped the ambulance from moving en masse. As a result the police came and went in-between the workers who remained in the back and those in front of the ambulance in order to stop it. The workers who remained in the back tried to help the ones in front of the ambulance, but the police attacked them with tear-gas and dispersed them, and then formed a second barricade. Then the police attacked the smaller group blocking the path of the ambulance and took all of them out. They did not want to let go of these workers. The larger group of workers however managed to gather again and started trying to unite with their fellow workers. This didn't happen in the end though, and the police ended up managing to take the ambulance away by attacking the workers ferociously.  

In the meanwhile, the workers who had been waiting in front of Turk-Is tried to go to Mithat Pasha Street and leave flowers where he died; but the police prevented them. They also dispersed the workers who gathered in Sakarya Square in order to help their fellow workers in the Forensic Office. In the face of the police barricade on the Mithat Pasha Street, the workers were shouting "You are afraid of our dead". Slogans such as "Tayyip the murderer" and "Murderous AKP shall answer to the workers" were also shouted. Despite all the efforts of the police, a group of workers did manage to leave flowers on the place Hamdullah Uysal was killed.

The workers returning from the Forensics Office went directly to Mithat Pasha Street. The Police formed yet another barricade in order to prevent the workers from crossing the street en masse. The workers managed to break through the barricade however, and started a sit in on the street. Workers in front of Turk-Is also started coming. Together, they had a 20-25 minutes long sit-in, shouting slogans in memory of Hamdullah Uysal. Police surrounded the workers during this demonstration. Eventually the workers ended the sit-in and went back to the tent city.

The union did not take a stance on the side of the workers during all this. It was absent when the police attacked the workers in front of the Forensics Office. When the workers in front of Turk-Is wanted to go to help their fellow workers, the trade-unionists only tried to calm them down and make them return to their tents.

Hamdullah Uysal's death showed once more how scared the forces of the order were of the workers. The Police and the Governorship had tried their best to prevent the workers from bidding their farewell to their deceased fellow worker, but in the end it was a vain effort. The workers managing to break through the police barricade and having a sit-in on the street where Uysal died, blocking all the traffic on the street, even if for only 20-25 minutes, was perhaps the best farewell the Tekel workers could bid to their deceased fellow worker.

Uysal's death had upset the Tekel workers greatly, but it also helped the Tekel workers who were still in their hometowns understand how serious the whole thing was. One of the things Hamdullah Uysal left us, was his call for the expansion of the struggle to the rest of the class: "Here, everything gained by the working class will become a compass for the working class movements of tomorrow and after tomorrow. Join our struggle, save your future."

The following day, 25 Tekel workers went to the AKP Ankara headquarters. The Tekel workers who entered the building wanted to put up a banner with a picture of Hamdullah Uysal on it. After this, private security forces as well as the police attacked the workers in the building. This however triggered the group of workers gathered outside, who wanted to go inside also. They, however, were attacked outside also, and lots of workers were wounded in this attack. 19 workers were taken into custody. Slogans "Murderous AKP, Tayyip the murderer" were shouted and the workers explained how the government was responsible for Hamdullah Uysal's death. Those who were left behind blocked the police vehicles taking the workers taken into custody, shouting "Everywhere is Tekel, struggle everywhere", "Suppression can't daunt us". Nevertheless unfortunately they didn't manage to prevent their fellow workers from being taken away.

After the news about some workers being taken into custody came out, a group of woman workers from the Izmir tent went to the police headquarters. Those taken into custody were not recorded, with the excuse of there being repairs in the building. A group of workers who were in front of Turk-Is put pressure for the union to send its lawyers. The event had taken place outside trade-union initiative and the union wanted to part in this, but as a result of workers pressures, they ended up having to go to the police headquarters with their lawyers. The following day, workers waited in front of the courthouse from 10:00 to 21:00 when their fellow workers were released. The workers remained in custody for approximately 40 hours. 15 workers were released that afternoon. Four, who were charged with "damaging public property and disobeying a police officer", had a trial and were released the same night. They returned to the tent city with their fellow workers and supporters who had been waiting for them.

On March 1st, the court decided in favour of the lawsuit brought against the one month period for application to 4-C for the Tekel workers. The workers celebrated the decision. While the militant workers had been trying to warn the others about how this would not be a victory 3-4 days in advance, their warnings were not effective. This false feeling of victory was to sabotage the workers' united stance the next day. 

On March 2nd, Mustafa Turkel announced that the Ankara demonstrations were over and called for the tents to be taken down, with a return scheduled for April 1st. This divided the workers into those who opposed the union's decision to end the struggle and those who didn't. Those who opposed shouted slogans like "The tents are our honour. We won't let you touch our honour". The other responded with shouting "Turkel is our honour". Those who opposed the union's decision and supported it were now pitted against each other, with those who opposed the union in the minority. Some tents were taken down even before Turkel's speech was over. No time was left for the workers to have a general discussion. Thus the workers who opposed the union's decision talked and discussed among each other and decided to act around a strategy. The union was trying to pit the workers who opposed the decision and those in favour against each other, and isolate the workers who opposed it, trying to push them out of the process. The union had the intention of pushing the trouble-making workers out of April 1st, isolating them from the other workers, and take the rest of the workers completely under their control. The militant workers however did not fall into the union's trap, and in order to prevent being pitted against their fellow workers, they stopped resisting the union decision. Those who opposed the decision to take the tents down had a majority in the Adiyaman, Izmir, Istanbul and Diyarbakir tents. They went along with the decision after discussing among each other.

Actually the union had started working towards taking the tents down well in advance; they had been making propaganda in this direction for about 20 days. The trade-union representatives had been making speeches in the tents, trying to convince people to take them down. The day the workers were waiting in front of the courthouse for their fellow workers in custody, the union had made branch meetings, and had put forward the idea of taking down the tents. All this work had paid off for the union when the decision was finally announced; it was supported by the majority. One of the worker comrades we talked to before the tents were taken down, when we asked whether he expected a police attack, had responded to us pointing out that there won't be any need for an attack, since the union is taking care of that anyway. This by itself showed how openly the union and the government cooperated, but the union unfortunately seemed as if on the side of the workers to lots of people, it was backstabbing so to speak. Among happy and sad workers following the abolishment of the tent city were angry ones. One worker we spoke to had summarized the situation by saying everything starts with the trade-union messing things up and ends with it also.

The Tekel struggle was like a scream ending the silence of the working class in Turkey since the early to mid 90s. The struggle had also put forward a completely new method. The formation of a tent city, with struggling workers living there 24 hours was something completely new. As we pointed out at the beginning of the article, this had positive aspects. It enabled workers to develop self-control among each other. On the other hand, it also had negative effects. After a while, the tents led to some languor. This languor imprisoned most of the workers inside the tents. The problem of the lack of communication emerged. Still with both its positive and negative aspects, the tents were an expression of the struggle, and had turned into a symbol of it also.

The end of the tent city did not mean a month's break to the struggle for the militant workers. A group of workers, made up of a few from every city, decided to stay in contact and coordinate the continuation of the struggle in the cities within the month. Organizing the return to Ankara on April 1st, keeping the issue warm and visiting workers from other struggles made up the strategy the militant workers agreed on following the end of the tent city. While the taking down of the tents seemed like the defeat of the struggle, the fact that the militant Tekel workers have started to work towards uniting existing struggles and spreading the struggle to the rest of the class may result in very important developments not only for the Tekel workers but for all class struggles in Turkey in general. 

Sude, May 31st, 2010.


[1] "What is this 4-C then? This practice was actually a ‘blessing' put forward by the Turkish state when the number of workers who were to lose their jobs due to privatisations increased. It includes, aside from a serious pay-cut, public workers being shifted to different sectors within the state under horrible conditions. The worst of the conditions introduced by the 4-C policy is that it gives the bosses of the state an absolute power over the workers. Thus, the wage, which is determined by the state and is already a massive pay-cut for the workers, is merely a maximum price. It can be reduced by the state enterprise managers arbitrarily. Also, working hours are completely abolished for those who are to work under the 4-C conditions and the bosses of the state enterprises gain the right to arbitrarily make the workers stay at work for as long as they want, until the workers "finish the task assigned to them". The workers get no money whatsoever in return for this "extra" work after regular public employees' working hours or during holidays. Under this policy, the bosses have the power to fire the workers arbitrarily, without being obliged to pay them any compensation. Besides, the period workers can work in a year is between three months and ten months, nothing being paid to the workers in the months they aren't asked to work and the duration of their work again being arbitrarily determined by the bosses. Despite this, the workers are forbidden to find a second job even if they are not working at a certain period. The social security payments of the workers are not made anymore under the 4-C policy, and all health benefits are taken away." https://en.internationalism.org/icconline/2010/01/tekel-turkey



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