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Tekel Workers Keep On Their Struggle

It’s been over two months and Tekel workers keep fighting for their jobs against all odds. They started on December 15 by gathering in Ankara arriving from all over the country. They managed to make their voice heard by militant protests in Ankara. In response to their protests government used brutal police force. But, eager to show their determination the workers began a three-day sitting protest on January 15. Thanks to their pressure Türk-İş made the decision on January 17 to hold a mass rally in support of Tekel workers. The meeting held in Sıhhiye Square, Ankara, was joined by more than 70 thousand workers. In expectation of an announcement of a general strike Tekel workers stormed the floor when they see that Türk-İş president Kumlu did not say a word about it. And they themselves called for a general strike from the floor. In the end of the rally a group of workers marched to the Türk-İş premises to continue their protest by chanting angry slogans most frequent of which was “Kumlu resign!”

Acting upon this mounting anger Türk-İş issued a warning against government setting a deadline (January 26) for negotiation. Common demands put forward by union confederations were “abolish the article 4/C” and “guaranteed job security with fundamental rights” which were the demands of the workers in the first place. And the AKP government had to abandon its uncompromising attitude giving concessions. It had to make improvements regarding the status defined by article 4/C, such as lengthening the maximum duration of annual employment from 10 months to 11 months, raising the wages for 4/C workers, recognizing the right to severance pay and annual leave. But the workers did not give up the struggle as they were not given a regular job security.

Thus the workers began hunger strike while at the same time looking forward to the one-day general strike agreed upon by the labor confederations to be carried out on February 4. However the confederations did not strive for a sweeping strike to bring daily life to a standstill. Participation was unfortunately very limited both in private and public sector. Yet the result cannot be considered a total failure. At least, the concept of solidarity strike which has been illegal since the 1980 fascist military coup was legitimized to a certain extent.

Prime minister and other ministers did not stop their insulting attitudes during these two months, especially in that they always tried to blacken the struggle of Tekel workers. It was “they are lazy idlers” in the beginning and reached to the lengths “their acts are interfered by the devil”. Thus it was precisely the militant class action of Tekel workers that highlighted the anti-worker and capital-loving face of the AKP government.

Last week most of the hunger strikers stopped the hunger strike for reasons of serious health problems. And the latest development is that the remaining hunger strikers stopped their action as of February 17 as well. In the meantime there was another meeting of Türk-İş president with the PM and government with no result. The government thinks they have already given too much. And instead of organizing well-prepared massive actions union bureaucracies now decided to appeal to the State Council with claims of unconstitutionality of the 4/C status. But there is no credible explanation on the part of unions as to why they did not do that in 2004 when this status was first introduced.

The deadline given for the Tekel workers to apply for a 4/C job is the end of February which will be a critical moment for the whole course of Tekel workers’ resistance if the resistance will not end until then for some reason. In any case it is clear that the only way forward is to spread the struggle, increase solidarity with Tekel workers. And the rally in support of Tekel workers on February 20 will be a good test. Union bureaucracies try to limit this action to a representative level. February 20 meeting with Tekel workers must be a big militant mass rally. But this is not enough. A widespread solidarity strike should also be organized which is key to shake capitalists and the government.

19 February 2010