We document this short report about a recent workers’ action in Turkey. The context is global, inflation will hit the working class everywhere this year. The report leaves many questions unanswered. Did the company provoke workers into an action that they were not prepared for to justify cheap dismissals during the period of an economic downturn? We have seen this practice again and again, from printers in the UK to metal workers in India. What role did the trade union play in it all – were they a unifying force, or a conscious or unconscious company tool to mobilise workers at a moment opportune for management?
By Emre Şahin, first published in Junge Welt, 1st of February 2022
Violence against workers: On Monday, Turkish police launched a large-scale operation against striking workers in Kocaeli and arrested 200 people. Workers had occupied the factory of the car manufacturer Farplas to protest against the dismissal of their colleagues. The police stormed the building and used pepper spray, the Kurdish news agency ANF reported.
The protests began on the 19th of January with a work stoppage by the workers after they demanded higher wages and rejected the offer from management as insufficient. The inflation rate has been hitting people in Turkey for months, with everyday goods having become unaffordable for many. Negotiations began the following day between workers and management. Management also promised not to dismiss any of the strikers.
However, in the course of the talks, the majority of the 2,000 workers at the company became members of the Birlesik Metal-Is (BMI) union, and on the 27th of January they filed a representation claim with the Ministry of Labour. In response Farplas dismissed nearly 150 workers, contrary to its own promise and without severance pay. The reason given was that they had joined the strike on the 19th of January and had “disturbed the working relations”. Farplas also announced that it would sue for compensation for the damages caused by the strike.
This level of haughtiness and harassment was the final straw for the workers. Together with their dismissed colleagues they announced industrial action and demanded the withdrawal of the dismissals. They also renewed their demand for better pay, regulated working hours and the right to organise. “Without work and without bread there will be no peace,” shouted the strikers in the occupied company, as seen in footage posted on social media.
Breaking the resistance became the job of the police: late on Sunday, they deployed several units in front of the company. As a result workers climbed onto the roof to demonstrate their determination. But even there they were not safe from the police. They were repeatedly harassed by the police drones, who recklessly endangered the strikers’ lives. On Monday the police stormed the factory and arrested the workers. Outside thousands of BMI members from the surrounding companies had gathered in front of Farplas to support their colleagues. They blocked the police transport buses until they were tackled by the police.
Workers who were released from police custody told the Birgün newspaper on Monday:
“We have not harmed the company, but have expressed our resistance to the dismissals. (…) We were beaten and reproached for our actions. What do we learn from this? If you fight for your livelihood in this country they call you a terrorist and a traitor to your nation.”