. Kozlu Miners’ Resistance of 1965 | Association of International Workers' Solidarity
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Kozlu Miners’ Resistance of 1965

Zonguldak is a city that is virtually identified with mines and miners. It reminds people of coal and of workers covered with coal dust. Miners have a hard and arduous life. To date, mines in Zonguldak have turned into graves for hundreds of workers as a result of capitalists’ hunger for profit. In Zonguldak, grief has been handed down from generation to generation among mining community. However, Zonguldak has also borne witness to great struggles. Kozlu Miners’ Resistance of 1965 was one of them.

Zonguldak is a city that is virtually identified with mines and miners. It reminds people of coal and of workers covered with coal dust. Miners have a hard and arduous life. To date, mines in Zonguldak have turned into graves for hundreds of workers as a result of capitalists’ hunger for profit. In Zonguldak, grief has been handed down from generation to generation among mining community. However, Zonguldak has also borne witness to great struggles. Kozlu Miners’ Resistance of 1965 was one of them.

Mining in Zonguldak dates back to the Ottoman period, as far as the early 19th century, and continues to exist today. For decades, German, French and Italian capitalists extracted huge profits from mines in Zonguldak. They were followed by domestic capitalists later on. But, on the part of the workers, horrific working conditions remained the same. Forced labour was widely used in Zonguldak mining basin for a long time. It was particularly intensified during the 1940’s, after the ‘‘mükellefiyet’’ (forced labour law) was enacted by the government. During this period, miners mainly consisted of workers aged over 17 who were forced out of their villages and compelled to work in mines. While they were forced to work excessive hours, their health and safety were neglected. From father to son, the workers would share the same fate for generations. Both the mining basin and the city would be filled with miner families. The mine would represent their future, their nightmares and their graves.

In the past, airlessness, continual exposure to coal dust, constant noise, extreme temperature and intense humidity were part of the usual working conditions, just as they are today. These conditions were causing physical disorders such as backaches, headaches, muscle cramps, indigestion, and excessive fatigue. They were also causing mental problems such as stress, depression, inattention and temper tantrums along with alcohol and smoking addiction.

In 1965, having worked under such miserable working conditions for decades, miners decided to shout “enough is enough”. On the one side, precarious and unbearable working conditions were continuing, and on the other side, there was no wage increase. The last straw came when the premiums, which were supposed to be paid to workers, were instead paid to managers, pro-boss engineers and shift supervisors. In some parts of the basin, workers decided to go on a strike, refusing to go down into the mine. All around Zonguldak, in Kilimli, Gelik, Karadon and Kozlu, in one mine after another, workers took the same stand and reacted together. As usual, government officials sicced military police forces on workers. As a result, two of the workers, Satılmış Tepe and Mehmet Çavdar, were killed by the soldiers.

Government officials tried to justify all that happened by spreading the lie that the workers were provoked by outsiders. In just one day, ten thousand soldiers were sent to Zonguldak. They were followed by the minister who rushed to the mining basin and sought to persuade the workers to return to work. A possible organised reaction from the workers was a source of fear for them.

Zonguldak miners’ strike of 1965 was a milestone in many respects. The union bureaucracy sought to appease the workers who stood in unity and decided not to go down into the mines. Throughout the strike, trade union administrators adopted a collaborationist attitude towards the government. They also turned a blind eye to the attack that took the lives of two workers. All these intensified the frictions among the trade union movement. The struggle that started aroused workers’ interest in politics. As a result, more and more workers became members of TIP (Workers’ Party of Turkey).

Death of two workers in Zonguldak unleashed a chain of developments that would influence the whole working class of Turkey. Türk-İş, along with the bureaucrats ensconced at its top, began to be questioned by workers in terms of its position in the class struggle. In subsequent years, workers’ movement would rise and the struggle would spread to major industrial cities, reaching its peak with the great workers’ resistance of 15-16 June 1970.

In 1991, decades after they had made Zonguldak resound with their chant “strike”, miners marched to Ankara, the country’s capital, along their families. Numbering over 80,000, they made the rulers tremble. As these resistances demonstrate, when workers organise and mobilise, they can change the miserable working and living conditions imposed on them. Rather than complaining about subcontracting, employment (read: slavery) agencies, occupational accidents (read: murders) and severe working conditions, we must remember the struggles of the past and learn from them in order to organise and fight for a better life. Those who produce the life also know how to change it!

21 October 2016