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Şişecam Workers Show the Way: Fight and Win!

On 5 January around 450 workers of Şişecam occupied the factory they have been working for many years. The factory is one of the plants owned by Şişecam Group which is mainly active in producing glass and chemicals. The Group factories produce float glass, glass household articles, glass packaging and glass fiber as well as soda and chromium compounds. The Group is one of the biggest companies in glass industry over the world, between third and seventh. The main part of it, Şişecam, has many facilities spread over eight countries with 18,000 workers. The Group is at the same time part of one of the huge monopolies of Turkey, İş Bankası. The occupation has taken place in the Topkapı plant, in Istanbul, which mainly produces glass household articles.

The company announced that it would move the Topkapı plant to Eskişehir, another city near Ankara, by 2013 and that those workers who preferred to continue to work could also go with the plant. Around 450 workers who are members of Kristal-İş (Glass, Cement, Ceramics and Earth Industry Workers Union) accepted to move to Eskişehir together with their families. But just a week before the closure of the Topkapı plant the company made a new announcement saying that it would not take the workers, but dismiss them all. Raged by this announcement the workers stopped production on 28 December and started picketing together with their families in front of the plant.

On 5 January the police forces under the command of Istanbul governor attempted to disperse and move the workers out. There were over 1500 cops and many armoured vehicles surrounding the plant. Raged by this attempt 250 workers locked the doors and occupied the plant. Kristal-İş called for solidarity and support. Many activists from different labour organisations and families gathered around the plant in a short time to offer their support. The workers inside the plant welcomed the mass of supporters by chanting vigorous slogans which were responded by similar slogans from the visitors. The chanting continued for hours. Among the slogans were: “Your wives are proud of you!”, “We are a great family, no one can divide us!”, “Workers united would move the earth!”, “If there is no job and bread, then there is no peace!”, “We will throw the switch and win the fight!”

As the support grows some MPs came over to offer their support as well. Seeing the massive support the management had to change its arrogant position and meet with the MPs. After the meeting the workers accepted to end the occupation and the police forces were withdrawn. But the workers kept picketing in front of the plant.

The workers demanded that they be employed in any of the Şişecam factories across Turkey without losing their vested rights. But the company had the intention of employing younger, low-waged and non-unionised workers. Now the workers get 2500 Turkish Liras on the average, but Şişecam planned to employ younger workers with minimum wage of 774 TL.

But Şişecam workers waged a determined fight and Şişecam management had to back down. The management and the union reached an agreement on 9 January. According to this agreement around 290 workers will be moved to other factories of Şişecam across Turkey without losing their vested rights.

A ballot will be held to determine what plants the workers will be moved to. The workers have been given the right to change their workplaces if they can find a fellow worker who would agree to exchange his/her place. And those who may later want to return to Istanbul will not lose their benefits.

130 workers preferred to stay in Istanbul and left the job due to various reasons. Some of them have chosen to retire. And 53 workers who are employed under a subcontracting company will keep their jobs and be moved to Eskisehir plant.

As part of the agreement the strike was declared to be over and the workers ended picketing in front of the factory. Negotiations are still going on over some details.

The determined fight of Şişecam workers is an inspiring example for all workers. They showed the only way to achieve victory: Unite, Organize, Fight!

10 January 2013

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