Turkey: Will Hunger Strike of Tekel Workers Lead to General Strike?

Six union confederations in Turkey have announced that they will go on a general strike if the government does not respond to the Tekel workers’ demands by 26 January 2010.  The hunger strike mentioned below is now on hold pending the government response by the deadline.  — Ed.

Worker Yaşar from the Tek Gıda-İş union: “The workers expect the confederations to put a general strike on the agenda.  There is no area left that was not attacked by the government.  The hunger strike was our last resort.  If I died today, my children would benefit from a higher pension”.

Cafer Yaşar was a tobacco worker for 24 years.  He retired from Tekel as a foreman in July 2008.  He is Head of the Adana Branch of the Tobacco, Alcoholic Beverages and Food Subsidiary Workers Union of Turkey (Tek Gıda-İş).  Right now he is part of the Tekel workers’ resistance in Ankara.

21 January is the 38th day of the resistance of the Tekel workers.  Three days ago, approximately 40 workers went on hunger strike.  Five of them were taken to hospital on Thursday (21 January) for health reasons.

Yaşar told bianet, “The hunger strike is our last resort.  There is no support from the production any more.  Our factory has been closed and sold”.

Simple requests: The protection of employee personal rights granted at Tekel and their transfer to other public enterprises.  Yaşar recalls, “This has been done before.  Employees from the Rural Service were transferred to the Special Provincial Administrations and the SEKA staff was transferred to municipalities while their rights were protected.  Something tends to be forgotten about the Tekel leaf tobacco factory: We were not privatized.  Our factories were closed down”.

The government contemplates imposing the 4c regulation on the workers which means worse conditions for the employees.  They would be deprived of social rights and job security.  The government did not step back from the 4c regulation throughout the duration of the workers’ resistance.  Instead, they made do with improving conditions little by little.

Yaşar claims, “When the Prime Minister went to Syria, he said they would extend the 4c working duration from 10 to 11 months and that they would raise the pay by 29 percent.  We do not accept this.  We want our employee personal rights”.

“If I died right now, my children would benefit from a higher pension”

Yaşar explains, “Our average wage was TL 1,350-1,400 (€ 615-635).  Adding a premium of four monthly salaries paid in eight instalments it adds up to TL 1,500 (€ 680).  With 4c it would be a wage of TL 700-800 (€ 320-360)”.

“The 4c regulation allows for a working duration of ten months the most.  The employer can also keep you for two months but for a maximum of ten months.  Neither severance pay nor social rights are provided”.

“After ten months, the employer can lay the worker off and may not take him back.  There is no work guarantee.  The employer is not obliged to call back the worker after ten months”.

“If I would retire under the 4c regulation, I would have a pension of TL 900 (€ 410).  If I died right now without working any further, my child would benefit from a monthly allowance of TL 1,500 (€ 680)”.

Yaşar has got five children, the oldest one is about to finish university and the youngest one is in fifth grade.  His wife is a house wife.  “May god not put anybody into the same situation”, he says.  “You take care of your children’s education.  And you are living on rent.  Who can get by with TL 750 for ten months?  Maybe you can do the calculation”.

“General strike as final action”

Yaşar is pleased with the support from the people in Ankara, the left-wing organizations and the students’ organizations and also with the media’s interest.

The Turkish Confederation of Labour Unions (Türk-İş), the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK) and Hak-İş Trade Union Confederation (Hak-İş) had a meeting on Thursday (21 January).  “We are in favour of a solution without compromising.  We hope to end the hunger strike.  However, if the government does not listen to us and if the confederations unite, we would prefer a decision for a general strike.  This is what the base wants”, Yaşar indicates.

This article was first published by the Bia News Agency on 22 January 2010; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.  See, also, Erhan Üstündağ, “Tekel Workers Crack Heads of Union Confederation for General Strike” (Bia News Agency, 18 January 2010); and Haluk Yurtsever, “Tekel direnişi kritik dönemeçte” (Sendika.org, 22 January 2010).

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