The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Turkey:
Victorious strike at Turk Telekom

Dec 17, 2007

On November 29, after a strike of 44 days, the 25,600 workers at the telecommunications company Turk Telecom won the majority of their demands.

At the beginning of 2005, Turk Telekom was privatized. The company that bought it, officially the Oger company, belongs to the Lebanese Hariri family, which is associated with Saudi Arabian capital. The new boss didn’t wait long to go on the offensive. Almost 10,000 workers were transferred to subcontracting companies, losing the majority of their rights and benefits.

As a result, contractual protections and wages were changed, increasing the divisions between the different job classifications and even inside the same classification. The boss pushed the workers to withdraw from the union, which functions in Turkey like the U.S. system: requiring the union to have more than 50% support of the workers to be recognized. Finally, workers who quit the union got a $1,205 a month wage, while whose who stayed in the union continued to receive the usual $1,175 monthly wage.

The union leadership had to call a strike, demanding the end to this process of de-unionization and wage discrimination and the end of the new flexibility measures. The press then undertook a big campaign against this movement, saying that even the phones of government ministers would be cut off and TV channels would have to stop broadcasting.

Nonetheless, the workers stopped work for 44 days beginning in mid-October. The 10,000 who worked for subcontractors didn’t have the right to join in and so continued to work, for example repairing phone outages. During all this time, the press and the police exercised pressure. First, 42 workers and union members were arrested, then 12 more, then seven more in different cities like Istanbul, Diyarbakir and Tunceli. They were accused of sabotage. Four others were fired.

Despite the passive attitude of the union leaders, who hadn’t really prepared the workers for the strike, the workers mobilized themselves to defend it, while every day the TV channels accused them of sabotage. The consequences of the strike began to be felt. Finally, a subcontracting company accidentally dug up the fiber optic cables supplying the stock exchange, paralyzing it for an entire day. Decidedly, the matter became serious!

It took this interruption of the stock exchange for the government to intervene, putting pressure on the boss to accept the majority of the strikers’ demands. According to the signed agreement, the workers won a 10% pay raise for the first year and 6.5% for the second year. And the boss agreed to end wage discrimination and to recognize the right of all workers, even future new-hires, to maintain union affiliation. Furthermore, the company agreed to rehire the fired workers and to pay everyone an exceptional bonus.

The agreement was signed by the union without consulting the workers. But the strike the workers themselves carried out remains a success for them. So much the worse for the boss, his pocketbook and even the Stock Exchange.