Tekel workers are back

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Tekel workers today (24 May 2010) occupied Türk-İş office in İstanbul and announced a new hunger strike

Tekel workers today organised a protest against Türk-Iş (Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions) President Mustafa Kumlu and occupied the union’s building in Istanbul. A group of Tekel workers occupied the building of Türk-Iş in Istanbul at midday hours. Over 50 workers were carrying banners saying “Mustafa Kumlu resign!” and “Union is staying calm while workers are dying”. They chanted slogans “Tekel is everywhere, resistance is everywhere.” Wearing black bands on arms and heads, workers have started a hunger strike.

Tekel is a former state economic enterprise of tobacco and alcoholic beverages that was privatized in early 2008 despite the militant struggle of the workers against privatization. The tobacco factories were sold to British American Tobacco, which sacked 12,000 of the workers and closed down the many factories around the country except one, thus making it clear that its real purpose was to conquer the large domestic market of Turkey. The government proposed these workers jobs in other public sector establishments paying roughly half their earlier wages, but more importantly with no job security or social rights. The workers revolted against this, organising on 15 December 2009 a march on Ankara from 21 provinces of the country. Having survived the ferocious attack of the police on the fourth day of their action in Ankara, the workers spent the next four weeks in front of the building of the trade-union confederation to which their union is affiliated, Turk-Is, carrying out protests and impromptu small demonstrations. Having gained the support of broad sectors of the working class and society at large and having voted unanimously to continue their struggle, the workers forced the Turk-Is bureaucracy to take action, one-hour work stoppages all around the country and a big demonstration in Ankara on January 17th, during which they invaded the podium to call for a general strike (not a legally recognised right in Turkish legislation).

When the negotiations between the government and Turk-Is stalled, the bureaucracy was forced, under the pressure of the force of the workers' action, to decide, together with other workers' and public employees' confederations, on a one-day “solidarity strike” – a general strike in disguise, on February 4th. However, not one single confederation, including the left-wing DISK and KESK, moved a finger to really organise the general strike, so this turned out to be one only in name. There were sporadically workplaces that did spontaneously stop work on that day, but the real action was on the streets. In all the 81 provincial capitals of Turkey, as well as many small towns, there were demonstrations, more than a hundred thousand workers all in all coming out on the streets in support of the Tekel workers. This show of solidarity, despite the machinations of the bureaucracy, forced the government to step back and concede the improvements mentioned above, which nonetheless fell far short of the major demand of the workers, i.e. job security.


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