Metal Workers Shake the Ground

Movement of metal workers in Bursa, heartland of automotive industry in Turkey, sends tremors through the whole metal industry in Turkey. Workers of biggest industrial companies such as Renault, Fiat and some others have already started unofficial strikes and also of other factories including Ford and many others have been holding various types of protests in their factories and around. The heart of the movement is some biggest automotive factories such as Renault, Tofaş (Fiat partner in Turkey) involving tens of thousands of metal workers. 

For a couple of months metal workers who are “organised” under Türk Metal union have been very uneasy about the recently finalised contract between the boss union (so-called MESS - Union of Metal Industrialists) and the union (Türk Metal). They have been showing their discontent by mild workplace actions against Türk Metal.

The immediate cause for the workers in metal factories to rise was the separate contract signed by the union with Bosch. This contract is a better one and the other workers demanded the same contract to be implemented for themselves as well. They said “if this is possible for Bosch workers, then it is possible for us too.” But Türk Metal rejected this demand and sparked the struggle with this attitude.

Türk Metal is a highly organised gangster band under the guise of a union. It was founded by bosses through fascists and forcibly introduced in big metal companies by the hand of the military fascist junta after the military coup of 12 September 1980. Workers of these companies had been formerly organised in DİSK. With DİSK being closed by the military fascist junta these workers were forcibly made members of this fascisto-gangster union. Since then Türk Metal is a yoke in the neck of metal workers. It is organised in most metal companies with a membership of around 180.000 making it biggest metal union and one of the biggest unions in general in Turkey. Even the workers representatives in workplaces are not elected by workers but appointed from above. They are indeed watchdogs of bosses imposing a regime of fear upon workers.

In the middle of April workers made an ultimatum to Türk Metal demanding a change in the already signed contract which was a shameful three-year contract (a 3-year contract is imposed for the first time in labour history in Turkey) bringing forth a miserable wage rise against inflation. Workers in Renault factory took the lead. They said that if the union did not make a move then they would resign from the union en masse. As the union did not do anything other than trying to blacken the protesting workers, a storm of collective resignations from the union started. Gangsters of the union staged an attack against workers and workers’ press, including UID-DER activists. But they failed to intimidate workers. Now thousands of workers from may metal factories have resigned from Türk Metal. As Türk Metal is not even a yellow union, this is a positive move forward for the workers movement. To smash Türk Metal is a very important step in any case.

In response Renault fired some workers. But workers stopped production and forced the boss to retreat which immediately gave positive result. Renault had to reinstate the fired workers.

Now workers demand a change in the contract, including wage rise, driving out of Türk Metal, election of workers’ representatives by workers in the factory themselves and no firing of workers as a result of these protests and resignations. As the bosses of Renault rejected these demands, workers in Renault started an unofficial strike on 15 May. They are soon joined by Tofaş (Fiat), Coşkunöz, Mako, and Ototrim workers, which make nearly 15.000 workers already. As this is against the law the labour ministry sent their inspectors and declared that this is illegal and they, together with the metal bosses’ union, made a stance against striking workers. Workers from many other factories in Bursa make solidarity visits to striking Renault and Fiat workers.

The process of resignation from the union keeps on in other metal factories in Bursa. And this movement is slowly spreading to other factories in other cities and towns. In many factories workers are making mild protests against Türk Metal and show their support and sympathy for Renault and Tofaş (Fiat) workers. The discontent is very deep and this movement does not seem to calm down soon. Whether the fighting metal workers will choose another union or set up a new union is not certain at the moment.

But metal workers are faced with many challenges. They are under siege of the biggest capitalists in Turkey, the state and the fascist Türk Metal. And they are very inexperienced as a result of heavy repression for the last 35 years.

The centre of the movement is Renault factory. There and in Fiat factory one shift of workers are inside the factory refusing to leave and workers of other shifts collects around the factory in constant collaboration with those inside. Many factories formed their own committees and there is also an inter-factory committee formed of workers’ representatives from different factories.

The movement keeps spreading to other metal factories up and down the country. The first moment for workers is always to raise their voices against Türk Metal and resign from it in the form of outdoor gatherings and marches with slogans.

With this movement a very important (perhaps the most important) section of metal workers begin to flex their muscles. To do away with Türk Metal is immeasurably valuable in the first place as this will open the way forward. Metal industry represents one of the key industries with more than a million workers in Turkey. Metal factories are generally the biggest ones. Metal industry makes up nearly half of Turkey’s exports. It sets the general standards in wages and industrial relations in Turkey.

The struggle of metal workers is a manifestation of anger built up for a long time and if this gets into a more organised form it has the potential to open the way ahead for the workers movement in general. That is exactly the reason why MESS, Türk Metal, and the state strive to break the struggle of workers. They try to isolate workers, prevent them to get into contact with other workers organisations, prevent solidarity among workers and so on.

The present struggle is not limited to doing away with the gang of Türk Metal. This is a struggle against capital that gets enormous profits by exploiting workers as well. All metal workers and workers in other industries, either unionised or not, should be in solidarity with the fighting metal workers.

Fighting metal workers need international solidarity as well. We call on all our class brothers/sisters to show their solidarity with them, first and foremost the workers from Renault and Fiat in other countries.

21 May 2015