The No to war in Iraq demo that was called by a Co-ordinating Committee made up of about 150 different organisations, including trade-unions, political parties, democratic mass organisations and various political journals and papers, was held on December 1 in Istanbul. Around 20,000 people turned up. This turnout was low for a country that faces the threat of war right next door across the border. That this number was very low becomes evident when we take into consideration that an overwhelming majority of 80-90 percent of the population is against the war according to the opinion polls and that 100,000 turned up for the May Day demo.
The trade unions were almost absent from the demo although the Organising Committee had been formed by the Labour Platform - a broad joint platform of nearly all the trade unions in Turkey. Having adopted an attitude of tokenism from the very start, the union leaders did no practical work to assure a good turnout. The most significant trade union presence from those unions affiliated to the biggest union confederation, Türk-İş, was the Tez-Koop-İş union with its lively, well-organised and disciplined 200-strong contingent. While the Petrol-İş (Petro-chemical workers' union) took part with 100 workers, the remaining three or four unions turned up with at most 30-strong contingents. Whereas the other unions like Yol-İş, Tes-İş and Tümtis, that had made up a large part of the columns of the Confederation on the previous demos where Türk-İş took part, were absent this time. The attendance of the other labour confederation, DİSK, which claims to have a more radical stance within the union movement, was also limited to a few tiny contingents, except for a 150-strong contingent of Genel-İş (General workers' union). And the third confederation, Hak-İş, turned up with only 40 people marching behind the single banner of Hak-İş.
The highest turnout among the KESK (Confederation of Public Employees' Unions) unions was from Eğitim-Sen (the union of education employees). Although the members of Eğitim-Sen who turned up from various branches and neighbouring towns amounted to a 1000-strong column, their presence was marked by a lack of preparation, discipline or enthusiasm. The attendance of SES (health workers' union) was very low. And the professional associations like the Association of Architects and Engineers and the Association of Physicians were represented only by 200 people in total.
While this was the case in relation to the numbers that turned out from the unions, the attendance of political parties and organisations was also well below what they had achieved in the previous May Day demo. The total attendance from all the left parties was hardly 10,000. The large part of the rest of the demo was gathered behind the banners of the various political journals and papers. The great majority of the demonstrators were those who marched into the square from the Perpa side. Although the numbers were less than what they should have been, the youth that were the overwhelming majority of those on the march brought their enthusiasm to the demo.
One of the prominent themes of the demo was "far away from them, but close to us" [Note: the word for "far away" in Turkish is the same word as the name of Iraq, which is "Irak"]. It is true that the imperialist powers, above all US imperialism, who have an interest in launching a war in Iraq are seeking, without in any way jeopardising their own lives, to make the workers and toilers cut each other's throats.
While this vital menace of an imperialist war is threatening the workers, toilers and young people of many different countries in general, it is a more burning threat to Turkey which borders with Iraq. In spite of this, it seems that the workers and youth who take part in the protest demos in the countries which are "far away" are actually "closer" to understanding the real reasons for this war and are drawing lessons from it, sharing the suffering of Iraqi people and showing solidarity.
We must analyse the reasons for why the Turkish working class and youth have reacted like this, while in all the advanced countries, from the USA to Europe, the working class and youth have organised protest demos with numbers bordering the millions. During the period of 1963-1980 the Turkish working class was seen as exemplary in terms of its struggles, discipline, organisation and sacrifice by the rest of the working class of the world. But since then it has been substantially thrown back, thrown into disarray, disorganised and, most importantly of all, demoralised due to the September 12 military dictatorship and the subsequent long period of repression.
The working class movement does not manifest its revolutionary activity in a smooth linear and constantly rising tempo. It also needs a certain period of "rest" and a gathering of its strength, especially after long and unsuccessful periods of rising struggles. The negative factor created by the lack of a strong revolutionary organisation capable of providing leadership to the working class movement in Turkey should also be added to this objective plight of Turkish working class.
As long as it is deprived of such a revolutionary leadership, we will continue to see both the lamentable situation of the trade union movement and the fact that the dynamism of the youth is not shaped by the creative discipline of the class struggle. Today's experience demonstrates once again that the working class is either "organised and everything", or "disorganised and nothing". The task of changing the present situation falls on the shoulders of internationalist communists who will have organise it.