Metal Strike and the Government Ban

On January 29, thousands of metal workers started their strike against bosses’ union MESS (Union of Metal Industrialists). The strike was organised by Birleşik Metal-İş (United Metal Workers’ Union), which is a DİSK (Confederation of Revolutionary Workers Unions) affiliate and involved 22 factories across Turkey. Birleşik Metal-İş is one of the three unions in metal industry officially recognised for collective bargaining along with Türk Metal (Türk-İş affiliate) and Çelik-İş (Hak-İş affiliate).

When the strike was in its second day, the government stepped in and issued a decree to “postpone” the strike for 60 days. The reason has been announced to be “putting national security at risk.” The term “postponement” is just a legal euphemism quite often used by bourgeois governments in Turkey to ban any major strike that they see as a threat. This decree means removing the right to strike almost to the point of suppression. The government move is also a strong sign that the government has seen the great potential the strike had in creating a much more favourable atmosphere for the working class struggle on a larger scale.

Now officially the strike is to be dealt with by the high board of arbitration. According to the official procedure workers have to accept the arbiter’s decision at the end of the 60 days’ period, which means that there is no postponement at all. On the legal level workers are left with no other choice than submitting to the decision of the arbiter.

The workers in picket lines received the news of “postponement” with a burst of anger. They cried for war against the government. And they did not want to leave the pickets and go in their factories to start work. The union officials held an emergency meeting on what to do. Workers in all picket lines across the country were in an extremely excited state while waiting the decision of the union. Most of the workers were in the opinion of disregarding the government decree and carry on with the strike facing whatever the consequences are. Some of the striking workers and factories argued for occupying their factories and demanded the union decide in this direction.

The union issued a statement at the end of its emergency meeting in which it condemned the government decree. In the statement it announced that it did not give up the fight and continue in other forms of struggle such as slowing down the production, public protests, marches etc. Union representatives held meetings with workers trying to convince them to go in and start working. Although the workers were very angry with the so-called “postponement” they unwillingly agreed to continue the struggle in different forms as decided by the union. And, on the legal front, the union appealed to the State Council for a cancellation of the ban.

The strike had really a great potential to spark a bigger social movement. It already created a fresh wind in the working class circles. Workers in industrial areas such as in Gebze were all attentive to the news of the metal strike. And even before the strike started it succeeded in intimidating some of the bosses as they had to back down and leave the bosses’ union (MESS) to sign independent contracts with the union.

The strike started with a great and fresh enthusiasm giving also hope to other sectors of workers all along. It started with big marches in industrial towns with the participation of many working class organisations and left political parties and groups, including UİD-DER. Thousands of workers gathered in front of factories giving enthusiastic speeches and shouting slogans with a determined spirit. The main theme of speeches and slogans were directed against MESS. Referring to the past tradition of DİSK they said “we will bring MESS to its knees as we did in the past.”

Picket lines were formed around strike tents set up in front of all factories involved. Workers from other industries, unions, working class organisations, and people from neighbouring districts kept visiting the picket lines, expressing their support for the strike.

The immediate cause of the strike was the imposition by the MESS of a three-year contract instead of the regular two-year contract. This imposition was accepted by the other workers’ unions in metal industry, namely Türk Metal and Çelik-İş, despite the discontent of workers. Metal industrialists wanted to guarantee a stable and low wage for workers for the coming three years. As it is banned by law in Turkey to go on strike for any reason other than disagreement in collective bargaining process, this is to rule out any strike action for the next three years until the next round of collective bargaining.

The wages in metal industry are quite low. 60% percent of the workers in the industry get the minimum wage (less than 400$) and, on the average, a metal worker gets slightly above the minimum wage which is below the poverty level. What metal bosses try to do is to guarantee the already low level wages in metal industry for another three years. Birleşik Metal-İş strike is very important as metal industry has traditionally set the standards of industrial relations in all industries in Turkey.

Workers in metal industry were already very uneasy with the existing conditions. The attitude of Türk Metal and Çelik-İş added more fuel to the anger of workers. And Birleşik Metal-İş had to take into account this rank-and-file anger and did not agree to the drafts offered by MESS.

Metal workers have an important tradition in waging great strikes against bosses and their government dating back to 60s and particularly 70s. The mass strikes by metal workers organised by DİSK Maden-İş, which is the precursor of the present Birleşik Metal-İş, at the end of 70s were so important that the bourgeoisie eventually staged the military coup of 1980. DİSK was closed by the military fascist junta and all vanguard workers were persecuted by the fascist regime.

As a fighting workers’ organisation UİD-DER has engaged in the strike since the preparatory stages of it. There have been constant contacts and meetings with the workers since the early days of the collective bargaining dispute. As rank-and-file organisation of workers is of key importance, UİD-DER has been trying to help metal workers to form and maintain their rank-and-file organisations. With the beginning of the strike UİD-DER activists were present day and night in the picket lines and marches shoulder to shoulder with the striking metal workers. In Gebze UİD-DER gathered metal workers from both Birleşik Metal-İş and other metal unions to discuss the strike in order to bring it to success. And in different working class districts UİD-DER organised marches in support of the strike in an effort to draw attention of other workers and the general public to the cause of metal workers. These marches were joined by other political groups and working class activists as they had been visited and invited by UİD-DER.

Now workers continue their struggle within factories mainly in the form of slowing down the production. Outside factories the union, in collaboration with other working class organisations, announced a series of mass demonstrations and marches in different cities. Some of them have already been held and UID-DER was one of the main participants of these actions. All of these actions are important as it is crucial to keep the fighting spirit of metal workers alive. And most importantly, rank-and-file organisations should be formed and kept alive as the key element of struggle. UİD-DER tries hard to help metal workers win their struggle. It makes solidarity with the metal workers in their struggle in every possible way, organise diverse activities to raise their consciousness and keep their fire alive, and helps them form their rank-and-file organisations.

Workers united will beat capital!

Down with MESS!

Long live the struggle of metal workers!

Long live class solidarity!

10 February 2015