Jul 20, 2015
From the June 2015 issue of Workers Fight, the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in Great Britain
There was a wave of illegal strikes in the car industry in June. These strikes had far more political importance than Turkey’s general elections.
Discontent had been brewing for a long time. With inflation at 25%, workers’ living standards were falling fast. On an average wage of just over $540 a month, production line workers just could not manage. Adding to this was the repressive anti-working-class legislation inherited from the days of dictatorship in the 1980s, whereby strikes could be declared illegal at the drop of a hat and companies could impose their own puppet “unions”!
In the car and metal industries, one of these “yellow” unions was Türk-Metal-Is, a pro-bosses outfit whose leaders are close to the political far-right. At the end of 2014, it signed a 3-year deal for a miserly 3% wage increase – causing great anger among these workers. But a first attempt by the reformist confederation, Disk, to call a general strike against it in January failed. After 41 factories stopped work, the strike was declared illegal.
But after a breakthrough by Bosch parts workers, who won increases ranging from 12 to 60%, following a strike in April, new strikes broke out right across Bursa province, where much of the car industry is located.
On May 13th, 5,700 workers occupied the Oyak Renault plant, one of the biggest. Within days, the strike spread to FIAT, Ford, Case New Holland, Valeo, Delphi. Many local component factories were also hit. By May 18th, 15,000 workers were on indefinite strike, with the numbers still rising.
Renault bosses caved in on May 27th, agreeing to wide-ranging benefits which included all workers, not just union members. New pay rates will be negotiated with the strikers’ elected representatives within a month. Workers are to receive new bonuses and full compensation for wages lost during the strike. They gain the right to join and be represented by the union of their choice, as well as to elect their shop stewards. And all threats of criminal charges and disciplinary action against any striker are to be dropped.
Since then, similar agreements have been made in order to settle the other strikes. The last workers to go back in the car industry were at Ford’s plants on June 3rd. But now workers in other industries have been encouraged to make similar demands – like at the giant Petkim petrochemical complex in Izmir province and Arçelik LG factory, the country's largest appliance manufacturer. In other words the strikes are not over.
Of course, these strikes were and are illegal. But this has not stopped the workers, despite police using force to try to evict them from occupied plants and despite the threat of criminal prosecution. Against the strikers’ determination, the repressive machinery of the bosses has proved useless.
Another feature of this strike wave has been the role played by so many workers in organizing it. Right from the beginning thousands of strikers tore up their union cards. They set up their own elected commissions to run their strikes in each factory, to talk to management under their collective control and to coordinate the action between different factories – for instance, in order to show up in force where the police tried to remove strikers. It was this democratic, militant organization which strengthened the strikers’ determination.