Turkey: Antiwar mood brings to surface opposition inside the trade unions

The war in Iraq is the burning issue in Turkey today. But apart from this central issue there were (and are) two other main items on the agenda of the class struggle here, the new labour bill and the International Working Women's Day. The war in Iraq is the burning issue in Turkey today. But apart from this central issue there were (and are) two other main items on the agenda of the class struggle here, the new labour bill and the International Working Women's Day. But of course these two issues are inevitably linked to the war issue under the given circumstances. There are in fact a lot of minor and major antiwar meetings and mass rallies taking place all over Turkey.

The biggest antiwar mass rally took place on March 1, in Ankara. Although it was in Ankara and on a Saturday (in Turkey almost all working people in the private sector work at least half a day on Saturdays) there were around 100,000 people on the rally (see previous article). There were also other antiwar rallies, mainly in Istanbul.

There is another important development in the trade union movement. For the first time for years a big meeting of worker's representatives (or shop stewards) from across Istanbul has taken place. There were around 700 shop stewards from among many unions that are affiliated to three different confederations, namely Turk-Is, DISK and KESK. In that shop stewards' meeting more than twenty shop stewards took the floor to speak. Some of these gave very militant speeches and these were received very well and created a very enthusiastic mood. These militant speeches were reported in almost all the left wing papers.

This meeting was a result of the efforts to create a new united opposition movement from below within the labour confederations. Some union branches from different unions, that have a more fighting spirit have been holding meetings to create and shape this movement. This development may lead to a crucial movement. Although this movement is still in its early stages, the union bureaucracies have immediately begun to fear it. Now they are trying to placate the movement. The shop stewards' movement issued a declaration denouncing the government for its pro-war and pro-employer positions and the union bureaucracies for their treacherous and collaborationist role. It appears that this initiative is spreading rapidly to some other important cities and regions across Turkey. Similar meetings have been held in Izmir, Samsun and Ankara, and they intend to link up with the Istanbul committee.

Another result of this movement is a series of actions against the new labour bill which is a dangerous reactionary bill which could destroy many vital rights of the workers. During these protest demos, outdoor mass press conferences, etc,. have been organised in front of the headquarters of the employers' organisations, of the government party (the AKP) local branches and in the workplaces. Among these protests there was one mass rally which took place in Gebze, an industrial town near Istanbul and it was the biggest of all. This protest was accompanied by a march but this was blocked and charged by the police and there were a lot of arrests.

There are some negative consequences that flow from this attempt of the bosses to introduce a new labour bill, and that is mass firings. There are thousands of workers who have been fired as a result of this assault. And the advanced workers are those who are mainly suffering from this.

As an indication of how worried the bosses in Turkey are about these developments is the greater police presence in key places and neighbourhoods. This is the sign of the things to come. The police repression has already increased as a result of the antiwar mood among the people. Many protesters have been arrested. Even the most famous actors and actresses who took part in the protests were arrested. A lot of mass rallies and other meetings are being outlawed and hindered. In fact due to increased police pressure the rallies tend to be smaller at the moment. Of course this might change rapidly in the circumstances. For example, yesterday (March 20) there was a spontaneous rally in one of the most central squares in Istanbul after the war had broken out. The turnout was about 5000, which is pretty good considering the conditions. Today there is already a work stoppage taking place in some workplaces. Tomorrow there is another antiwar rally in Izmit, another city near Istanbul, which is expected to be bigger. Lastly, there will be a big mass rally in Istanbul on April 6 called by the main labour confederations.

There was a mass rally in Istanbul on March 8 for the International Working Women's Day as well. It was a 10,000-strong demo and the main theme was again the war.

And lastly, the In Defence Of Marxism Manifesto on the war has already been translated into Turkish. The document is very good and has been received very well.