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Paşabahçe Strike: The Road to the Establishment of DISK

On 31 January, 1966, almost 2,500 glass workers went to strike in order to have their demands met and sign a collective agreement. Chanting “No to Slavery in Working Life”, “Defending Our Labour is Our Honourable Task”, Paşabahçe workers commenced a strike which still serves as a model today and remains to be discussed in workers’ education programs in trade unions. The families of the striking workers and workers from other industries provided the strike with moral and economic support, showing the Paşabahçe workers that they were not alone.

“We are workers. We work at a factory called Paşabahçe, where we produce bottles and glass. Paşabahçe has a posh store in Beyoğlu. [A district of Central Istanbul] If you visit this store, shiny plates and glasses would attract your notice at once. That is what we produce. Sometimes the temperature reaches 1800 degrees at our workplace. We number 2,500. With our families taken into account, we number 10,000. It was said that collective agreement law had been enacted. We were told that we could claim our rights. Despite the collective agreement reached 3 years ago, we have been given nothing. So, we launched a strike. It has been 80 days so far, and we still claim our rights. In order to feed ourselves, we are picking fruit and vegetables or going fishing. We are also selling extra items in our homes such as rugs, cloths and chairs.’’

These lines are from a pamphlet which was written by the Paşabahçe workers in 1966 during their struggle against the conciliatory attitude of the Cam-İş (Glass Workers’ Union).

Paşabahçe workers were working under miserable conditions and receiving very low wages. When the Cam-İş signed a 3-year contract offering an insignificant wage increase, the accumulated anger of the workers came to the surface. Tired of the conciliatory and collaborationist conception of trade unionism adopted by Cam-İş, Paşabahçe workers resigned from their union and became members of Kristal-İş (Glass, Cement, Ceramic and Soil Industries Workers’ Union). The boss refused to recognise Kristal-İş and to meet its demand for collective agreement. As a response, workers went to strike.

On 31 January, 1966, almost 2,500 glass workers went to strike in order to have their demands met and sign a collective agreement. Chanting “No to Slavery in Working Life”, “Defending Our Labour is Our Honourable Task”, Paşabahçe workers commenced a strike which still serves as a model today and remains to be discussed in workers’ education programs in trade unions. The families of the striking workers and workers from other industries provided the strike with moral and economic support, showing the Paşabahçe workers that they were not alone.

In the meantime, the bosses were not sitting idly by. They were putting pressure on the striking workers and trying to dissuade them. 12 big bosses, all of whom were members of TİSK (Turkish Confederation of Employer Associations), placed an advertisement in the newspapers denouncing the strike and declaring their support for the Paşabahçe boss. Not long after, Paşabahçe boss took legal action, asserting that the strike was illegal and must be ended. The case was rejected by the court and the strike continued.

The bureaucracy ensconced in Türk-İş (Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions), which continues to play an ominous role in the class movement today, came into play in Paşabahçe strike. On 21 March, 1966, Türk-İş issued a statement announcing their decision to end the strike. But, nothing would be able to stop the self-confident and determined workers of Paşabahçe. They refused to accept the decision of Türk-İş and continued the strike. Paşabahçe workers acted in a very determined way to achieve victory. They left the boss in a difficult situation by blocking the material flow to and from the factory. They also occupied the raw material store.

At a meeting on 22 March, the boss offered to take back 42 of the 47 expelled workers. In return, he demanded an end to the strike. Workers made clear that they would resist until all the expelled workers return to work. So, the strike went on.

On 6 April, 1966, some of the trade unions affiliated to Türk-İş including Petrol-İş (chemical industry) and Maden-İş (metal industry) came together and formed a committee for the support of the Paşabahçe strike. The committee denounced the protocol signed by Türk-İş, describing it as ‘‘betrayal of workers’’, and declared that it would stand in support of the workers in their honourable struggle. Another important feature of this committee was the fact that it was founded by those who would subsequently found DISK (Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions) and put into practice class-oriented trade unionism. Indeed, Paşabahçe strike was the precursor of DISK. Those who initiated the committee would later take an active role in the formation of DISK. Paşabahçe strike was one of the struggles that prepared the grounds for the May Day 1977, 15-16 June Great Workers’ Resistance of 1970 and the legendary strikes against MESS (Metal Industrialists’ Union) in 1970s.

Another characteristic of this strike was that it set a great example of class solidarity. For instance, workers from different industries raised a total sum of 460,000 liras for the striking workers and their families. Union of agricultural wholesale market workers provided 10 tons of fruit and vegetables to the striking workers. Migros workers also provided food aid to the striking workers. The Paşabahçe glass factory, which was a partnership of CHP (Republican People’s Party) and İş Bank, witnessed an unprecedented working-class solidarity. After the Solidarity Committee called on the public to withdraw their money from İş Bank, those favouring the strike rushed to the bank and took out a sum of 1 million liras in an effort to exert pressure on the Paşabahçe boss. This great support bothered and set off alarm bells among the bosses. On 19 April, the cabinet postponed the strike for 1 month on the pretext that “it was threatening the public’s health”.

Following the strike, Türk-İş imposed temporary suspensions on its affiliated unions that stood in solidarity with the strike. This process would result in the founding of DISK in 1967. Until the military coup of 12 September 1980, the workers would carry out a dogged struggle against the bosses. Following the coup, Halit Narin, the head of the Turkish capitalists’ association, would say, “So far, the workers have had their day and now it is our turn”. What lay behind these words was the preceding period that witnessed great working-class struggles.

Struggles such as Paşabahçe provide a guiding light for the working class. Paşabahçe, Kavel, Alpagut, Netaş and Derby strikes occupy a significant place in the struggle history of the working class in Turkey. Littered with invaluable lessons and experiences, they continue to show us the way forward. Today, we are passing through a period where unions are dragged into the swamp of bureaucracy due to the disorganised state of the working class, workers’ rights are under assault, anti-democratic laws are being enacted and fascism is rearing its ugly head once again. In such a period, it is of vital importance for workers to become aware of such important experiences of the past.

10 September 2019