An insight on what is happening in Turkey and what it has to do with us. An analysis and some observations
- Scritto da Clash City Workers
- Creato: 08 Settembre 2014
[to all the comrades, to the dead, to the injured, to the arrested during these days of struggle]
1. Issues of methodology / 2. Turkey in the last decade / 3. About development contradictions, social classes and mobilizations of last years / 4. The present situation, the possible evolutions and what we can hope for years to come / 5. What does Turkey have to do with Italy? Some considerations
Why is it important to increase our knowledge about Turkey and to focus on what is happening there?
Because this country represents a text-book example of neoliberal “reforms”, the same reforms already applied or that are going to be heavily imposed here in Italy in the near future. In this respect, to understand what is happening in Turkey means to directly appropriate of those tools needed in our everyday battles and to comprehend why our people’s destinies are so woven. This is meant in a practical way and not for ideological purposes.
What are you going to find in this text?
- First of all, a reconstruction of Turkey’s history during the last ten years, a history from which we can learn a lot about how economic “growth” works in the capitalist mode of production and how the political dimension is shaped by profit needs.
- On this basis, in the most documented way possible, we are going to outline an analysis of social classes in Turkey and of their political representations, focusing also on the mobilizations in recent years and the emergence of new union movements in the country.
- In the fourth paragraph we are going to discuss the last episodes of rioting, identifying their most significant traits and the lessons we can learn from them.
Some time ago we already wrote a short article about Turkey: the idea that we launched was totally different from the debate that was going on through the web, hypnotized by facts reported or by simplistic oppositions (like “ecologists vs government”, “secular vs Islamist”, “movements vs capitalism”)1. With that article, as well as with this one, our aim was not to say: “this is what is happening” or worse: “this is the truth!”.
We know that reality is always complex and dynamic; that a lot of work and a detailed knowledge of facts are needed to be able to have a broad interpretation; we are aware that political events are made by a mixture of tensions, reasons, causes; that the same participants to protests variously assume, according to their stories, sensibilities and contexts.
We are not surprised of the fact that people in the streets say that they are demonstrating because they don’t want a shopping mall in their neighbourhood, or because it is more and more expensive to drink a beer, or again because they are tired of police abuses: and we don’t intend at all to affirm that these reasons are “false”, and that people don’t know why they really demonstrate in the streets.
Every moment of break stays on the intersection of many trajectories, it is a unique juncture, where individual dissatisfactions and collective claims converge, where many different social actors raise. It is not a novelty of today: it has always been like this – and this is what postmodern mind-set ignores, when it portrays in a schematic way the past and it chases “the marketing of discontinuity” at all costs…
But the problem is: to really understand a movement it is not possible to analyse a sum of impressions or the idea that the movement produces about itself. Somebody used to say: “As a man cannot be judged on the idea that it has of himself, as well this upsetting period cannot be judged by the conscience that it has of itself; but it’s necessary to explain this conscience by contradictions in material life, by existing conflict between production forces of society and production relations”2.
Therefore, to understand an event in its deep causes, comparing it with others, trying to understand where and how it can happen again – this means, for us, to follow a “scientific” approach, although in a particular science, as the social and political science is –, it is not enough to stop at a collection of opinions between protesters, or at an analysis of involved parties’ strategies, or at a series of geopolitical verifications… Rather it is necessary to try to focus on the deep structure of a society. For us, to start from an economic dimension and from capital/labour contradiction does not mean to depreciate all other factors; rather it means to better comprehend them on the field in which they arise. It means to observe how the economic dimension continuously models all the society, how it structures and divides the social field, which dialectic it allows between the classes, how it runs over individual and collective needs.
It is very complicated to have a clear understanding of all this, and particularly to understand what to do with it, so we have no pretentions to summarize in a short piece all what is happening in Turkey. As we already did in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya cases, we simply intend to launch an hypothesis to work on, supported by a series of documents elaborated by analysts more expert than us, hoping that someone would take it, would go deep inside of it and would well justify it.
We think, indeed, that we are just a tile of a “collective intellectual”, which is made of thousands of comrades around Italy and worldwide. We hope that our reflections and the data we collected can be helpful and that some important elements emerged in the Turkish events can live also in our practices and in our analysis of the Italian and European situation. What is happening there really closely concerns us… But it is time, by now, to move to the substantial part of this document.
In order to clearly understand what is really happening, we need firstly to go back to Turkey’s most recent history. An early assumption is needed: we will examine specifically the last ten years, starting from the year 2000. We chose that decade as a starting point, because in those years something new has happened, something that would have changed the country significantly. Since 2001 major changes took place within the country and they were destined to transform Turkey as it had never happened in previous decades. The charts clearly show that in those years, something very important happened: all the macroeconomic indicators (GDP, inflation, public debt, Foreign Direct Investment) changed quickly3. Let's have a look here:
|GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT||INFLATION RATE (YELLOW LINE) FROM 1997 to 2013 (EUROSTAT)|
|DEBT RATIO||FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT (FDI), ($ Billions)|
|Number of Companies with International Capital|
What has happened? In 2001, Turkey experienced an extremely difficult situation4 with a GDP growth of -9.4%. The inflation reached an incredible annual 68.5%5, an extremely high percentage, especially if you compare it with other countries: in the same period, inflation in Italy was 2.8%, while the EU average was 2.4%. Furthermore, Turkey had a high public debt (77.9% of GDP), and an “underdeveloped” production system, mainly concentrated around few old companies owned by the State, which still controlled all the strategic sectors of the Turkish economy. Agriculture played a major role, while service and tourism sectors were still hanging-back.
Following the outbreak of the new economy bubble and the financial crisis of 2001, Turkey was on the verge of bankruptcy. On the one hand, it was unable, to find lenders on international markets, on the other, to sell its State bonds. Therefore, Turkey was forced to ask for a new intervention of the International Monetary Fund. At that time, Kemal Derviş, former World Bank Vice President and in 2001 Minister of Turkish Economy, was the man in charge of conducting all the negotiations. Essentially, he was a man of imperialism in the right place at the right time. Nevertheless, negotiations were not simple: loans were subjected to the "principle of conditionality", in other words the adoption of "blood and tears" measures for the Turkish population. The cornerstones of the reforms for the IMF were: the reduction of the public debt, fiscal discipline, fighting inflation, a dense series of structural reforms to strengthen the private sector, the banking system and to improve the climate investment. In other words, "the required reforms aim to increase efficiency and productivity, through a plan of liberalization and privatization. The goal is a rapid increase in production, increasing the competitiveness of export-oriented industrial sector, supported by a policy of wage moderation"6.
Clearly, Kemal Derviş agreed on those conditionalities and the IMF approved the funding in February 2002: this would have been the biggest operation ever approved by the Fund. We are talking about 16.5 billion dollars, resulting in an overall exposure of Turkey towards the fund of around 31 billion dollars. This loan was provided by the "Stand by" formula, it basically means that the money supply does not take place in a single operation but, we might say, in the course of the works: in other words, money is given only if the policies prescribed by the Fund are actually implemented.
The investment, however, remains relevant even if it is tied with the execution of very hard measures - in fact, IMF does not feel like taking any risk (as demonstrated by the fact that at the same time the Fund was not easily granting aid to other countries on the edge of bankruptcy, like Argentina). From this point of view, it is very interesting to understand how and why the situation broke through. Here comes into play the political will of the United States, very representative within the IMF, that were committed in doing everything possible in order to avoid Turkey’s collapse. Those were the years of the "war on terror", the U.S. were investing a lot of money in the Middle East, and were getting ready to attack Iraq. Turkey constituted a useful background for military operations in the area: the country could not be left in a situation of deep internal instability7.
But there was still a "little" problem to be solved: the overall ruling class that led up Turkey to that moment had lost its legitimacy both at the eyes of international donors and of the population, forced to swallow an economic manoeuvre of such magnitude. Moreover, a series of heavy corruption scandals were exposed, which led to the resignation, in May 2001, of the Minister of Energy, and in September of the same year of the Minister of Public Works.
It is precisely in this moment that Erdoğan stepped into the scene. A complex character, with very humble origins, even imprisoned for his political and religious ideas, linked to Islamic movements and to the inhabitants of Istanbul suburbs, a city that he ruled as mayor. In the elections of November 2002, his party, AKP - which was a novelty within the Turkish political scene, since it was founded in 1998 - gained 34.3% of votes. Due to the complex electoral system, a proportional with a weir settled at 10%, those results meant going directly to the government, since the only other rival party was CHP, left wing and laic, collected a poor 19.4%.
Certainly, the political legacy was heavy, "we must honour the commitments" with the IMF, but Erdoğan seems the right character to do this type of job. Here begins the alliance between neo-liberalism and Islamism that characterized the last ten years of Turkish political life: an aggressive anti-people economic policy accompanied, however, by the making of the popular consensus and unity in the social body through the appeal of religious values in terms of education, care and control. Between 2003 and 2005, Erdoğan carries on with great determination the program imposed by the IMF. In particular, his government implemented the following points:
a) a framework law on foreign investment (which mention a special "protection against expropriation");
b) legislation that governs the creation of companies;
c) the reform of the labour market;
d) the law on the control of public finances;
e) the law on public procurement;
f) the liberalization of electricity market, gas, alcohol and landline and mobile telephony;
g) privatization of the sector of TEKEL and TÜPRAS refineries and power company TEDAS;
The class character of these measures is evident. There is no need to dwell on liberalization and privatization: they immediately attract capital because they sell out important sectors of the state and open up new spaces for the market, resulting in a progressive rise of tariffs and a deep worsening of working conditions for workers and employees now subjected to private company owner.
Let's examine the framework law, something that looks very similar to many proposals circulating also in other countries. This law is used explicitly to encourage foreigners to invest in Turkey. How does the law foster the investments? First of all, reducing regulatory burdens: in other words to open a factory there is no longer need of permits and certifications but just simple "notifications" - this practically means that many controls and protections disappear for those who work and for the territory itself. Second, tax rates on income for corporates decrease to 20%, reaching one of the lowest taxation rate in Europe; tax incentives are provided to those who invest and this in addition to exemption from VAT in some areas. To complete this picture, the framework law also gives the opportunity for foreign capital to control up to 100% of Turkish companies, except for those identified by special regulations; the possibility of complaint towards international arbitration; even the possibility for foreign capital to repatriate profits, dividends and any other income; the exemption of customs duties for the import of machinery and equipment; the exemption from VAT over the purchase of machinery produced in Turkey. The icing on the cake, "special economic zones" are also created, in which the state gives financial incentives, free land, tax relief, relief on pension contributions for workers (to make it clear, the State undertake the payment of social security contribution in place of the foreign company) and is also given the opportunity to use public university facilities for research and development for the benefit of private companies. In other words, Turkish government gives the country and its population to international capital, subordinating them to imperialism.
Nothing better happens on the side of labour rights and standards. The first thing Erdogan’s government did, was to institutionalize the practice of temporary employment: in other words, in Turkish factories by law is possible to use workforce hired by a third part and agencies. Furthermore, a number of measures with the scope to maximize the flexibility of the labour force have been introduced, which in a few years will transform the country from the roots. Turkey will have the highest average working week in Europe - around 53 hours! - the lowest rate of work absences due to illness (only 4.6 year in 2013), a shocking number of deaths at work8, a minimum net salary that in 2013 is around 409 dollars per month - around 300 euros per month...
Some chart will enables us to intuitively understand what we are saying:
|*Fonte: MERCER 2008 - Pan-European Employer Health Benefits Issues Survey
** Fonte: EUROSTAT 2011
By robbing workers’ surplus labour, the Country has soon changed its face: Foreign Direct Investment passed from 1,8 billion dollars in 2003, to 22 billion dollars in 2007. At the same time inflation- an endemic Turkish problem, and a big problem for the banking system9 - bottomed out at 8,4%10. So Erdoğan finishes his “homework” in time for the further IMF agreement’s revision at the end of 2007.
Even though there were these amazing results (for the bourgeoisie ça va de soi!), in Turkish economy there is still a problem: a loss ratio in the balance of payments. In other words, Turkey still has more imports than exports, and its economy grows thanks to the fresh capitals which enter through the FDIs. The Economist says it clearly: Turkish economy could be extremely vulnerable: “when the economic system, globally, goes through a positive period, there are consistent money flows towards Turkey which offers high profit rates. In this way the Lira increases its value, and both imports and the deficit of the trade balance increase. But when the investors are scared capitals get quickly, even more than in other countries, out the market: this provokes the Lira’s depreciation and a decrease of the internal demand”11.
This happened, though, in 2007, when the international markets reached their greater expansion. So that year’s political campaign promotes the possibility to not renew the IMF loans. People believed that Erdoğan didn’t want “help”, a belief supported by all the other parties, who seemed to have the same will, in name of “national pride”. Indeed, everybody notice that loans are necessary, because if the FDIs diminish all the system will collapse.
Effectively Erdoğan, who won the elections with 46,6% of votes, promised that austerity would have finished, but in 2008 he renews the IMF agreements. This means another tranche of ruinous measures. Privatizations, thus, continue for: highways and bridges, harbours and airports, and even dams and lotteries which were still totally under the state’s control.12 It’s not over: Erdoğan government goes on with the pension reform, strongly supported by the IMF. According to this reform, retirement age is brought to 65 years old, in a country where life expectancy is of 72 years old for men (for women this reform is even worst because retirement age goes from 58 to 65 years old!). The Government ratifies in 2008 a National Health Care Insurance, a sort of privatization of the health care system, which raises many protests.
In 2009 Erdoğan has to deal with the crisis effects: the GDP fell down to -4,8% and the FDIs, which mostly came from the EU in recession, continued coming only from the East. This marks a turning point in Turkey’s foreign policy: the accession to the EU, started in 2004, is blocked. On the other hand Erdoğan himself will use the economic upturn in 2010 to find his own space, from the middle East to North Africa, intervening in Libya and Syria, strengthening the myth of the Ottoman Turkey. He tried to present himself like the defender of all Arabs against Israel (you remember the Mavi Marmara affaire, assaulted from an Israeli commando that killed 9 pro-Palestinian activists)…
GDP from 2002 to 2010
However, after the electoral stop at the local elections in 2009 where the AKP had “only” the 38,9%, there is an increase of the GNP of +8,9%. This encourages Erdoğan to strengthen his political power. This is proved by the Constitutional Referendum of that year, that the Islamic leader uses to reshape other state sectors’ action, like the judicial system, that the Prime Minister tried to put under political control, and the army, which is a real competitor and not only the “democracy guarantee”, but it controls parts of the labour market and wealth shares. The army remains, though, expression of the laic and kemalist bourgeoisie.
The good economic pursuits fostered Erdoğan to “rise up” against the IMF, and to not demand for further loans, as the IMF itself suggested in 2009. This is not well accepted by some parts of the international capital: before the political elections in 2011, indeed, the Economist and the Financial Times openly support the opposition party, CHP, since they did not agree with the Prime Minister authoritarianism. The Economist and the FT, of course, just like the US and the UN today, are not concerned with democratic matters: simply international capitals do not necessarily need too strong leaders.
Nevertheless the AKP at these elections achieves its best result: 49,83%. But since this time two parties pass the election threshold (the left-wing laic opposition of the CHP gains the 25,98% and the nationalists of the MHP at 13,01%) Erdoğan loses seats. With 327 seats on the necessary 330, he can’t change the constitution without consulting the other parties. Anyway he can still be the centre of power networks and support the new Islamic bourgeoisie, and especially the religious associations which are linked to the popular classes.
Also for this reason they formulate the school reform in 2012 which favours Islamic school and propels leaving school, in one of the most famous countries for minor labour (about 1,6 billion children are employed13): this reform increases the years of compulsory school but it is divided in three steps. In each step children have to change school, encouraging them to abandon their studies.
As we can see, although the GDP growth from 2002 to 2013, (on average 5%, despite the world economic crisis), for Erdogan there are several critical aspects. We can look at the OECD statistics to understand how many contradictions were accumulated, not only from a macroeconomic point of view (remember the problem pointed out before, about the payment scale and about Turkey dependence from foreign capitals?), but mainly from a social point of view. It’s the OECD, one of the temples of the worldwide neoliberalism, that puts Turkey between the first five countries in the world with the biggest gap between the 10% made by the richest part of the population and 10% made by the poorest one (together with Chile, Mexico, United States and Israel, the countries which represent the vanguard in terms of neoliberalism policies)14.
In other terms, while neoliberalists and social democrats (even the Italian ones) continue to say that everyone takes his benefits from the economic growth and consequently we need to “develop the economy and to sustain companies”, entire parts of the population are cut out from development and have seen their conditions getting worst.
As Sevket Pamuk, economic historian of worldwide fame and director of the Department of Turkish Studies at the London School of Economics, underlines: “the condition for workers, non-qualified workers and public employees in Turkey did not get a lot better. Although there was a little increase in their salaries, as a counterbalance there is a growth of the cost of living in the cities and an inflation at 8,9% that makes this change imperceptible”15. Pamuk remains cautious, but reality is even worse than his assumptions. Not only because wages have lost their purchasing power, not only because workers work longer hours and with worst conditions, with a very low pension and health care coverage. But also because, despite the economic growth, the unemployment rate is still at 8,8%, and a consistent NEET rate persists16. And we have not mentioned the difficult situation of the rural areas, which remained entirely on the fringes of the acceleration of the economy.
Who benefited, then, from Erdogan policies? What was the classes profile in Turkey? On which social blocks the various political groups build their power? If we don’t understand this, we can’t understand anything about the riots that are developing at the moment and the paths they can take.
Who was the great winner of class struggle in the last decade is evident. Once again Pamuk tells us: “the standard of living and the level of wealth of upper middle class families is definitely grown. At the same time a new lower middle bourgeoisie was born, made by those who migrated from Anatolia rural areas to the big Turkish metropolis like Istanbul, Ankara and Smirne to look for a better future. Those became mainly traders and small business owners and got rich thanks to the Erdogan’s AKP policies of which they are the strongest supporters.” Let’s try to be more specific.
Erdogan can count on a remarkable social block. He has first of all the support of some families from the big bourgeoisie, big manufacturers and the “Anatolian tigers”, directly linked to him by ties of friendship and kinship. But it’s not just about them: his economic policies created a new Islamic bourgeoisie, based on small and medium enterprise (called KOBI, the one in which there are more deaths at the workplace, less trade unions presence, more exploitation etc.). These economic networks, often pulled up by residents of the suburbs, prosper thanks to undeclared work, that continues to represent the 50% of Turkish economy, and are widely present all across the country. But Erdogan also manages to penetrate in the popular strata and in the countryside, thanks to the call to Islam and to his material support to schools, care and volunteers centers with a religious background that act as a collector of votes and pillars of the approval for the AKP.
But Erdogan can’t cover all the bourgeois front. In fact, it is also represented by the big families from the secular bourgeoisie, the “old steam masters”, as the Sole 24 Ore17 calls them, that in the last decade have lost progressively shares of power. The role of this bourgeoisie fraction shouldn’t be ignored: not only because it has acquired positions in the last century, not only because it has strong international relationships, but also because it continues to be a presence inside the army and to represent, through the political tool that is the CHP, the biggest opposition throughout the country. It has also a strong popular support, legitimated by the call to the values of secularism and to Ataturk’s figure. The third Turkish political party, the MHP, instead, it’s all about nationalism, traditionalism of secular imprinting and opposition to the Kurdish and Armenian minorities.
But, if these are the social blocks under the hegemony of the bourgeoisie, what are the material situation and the self-perception of our political subject of reference, the proletariat? Who is he supporting, where is he, what is he doing and how does he participate to Turkish political life?
Let’s start with some obvious findings. In the last ten years there was a growth of the proletariat in absolute terms. Turkish development, indeed, was marked by the expansion of manufacturing, industry and the “backward” service sector. This brought to an increase of the number of employees, in particular workers in the manufacturing and touristic sector: more people were put in work, many were torn from the countryside, from the forms of subsistence and of reproduction almost individual and have completely entered in the capitalis social relations.
Although this numerical growth, at least at the beginning, the role and the action of this social subject was not particularly visible. One of the reasons is easily explained: difficulty in organizing, both in workplaces that at the general political level. Let’s start from this last level, in some respects a less complex one: left parties and in particular communists, students, dissident intellectuals in Turkey have been constantly repressed. During Erdogan government this repression has become particularly ruthless: we can think of Grup Yorum case, a rock folk Turkish band from the radical left whose singers in September 2012 were arrested and tortured, or even more one can think at the huge operation against the left in this last months, that brought the arrest of almost 8 thousand people, including many mayors, university professors, journalists, trade unionists, grassroots activists.
If we consider then that the minimum threshold for political representation in Parliament is set at 10%, we can understand why the left class struggle can’t make its existence “visible” on a national scale, even if there are many groups, micro parties, organizations also really combative and capable.
But why the workers, even if they’re many and experimenting inhuman forms of exploitation, were unable to break significantly in social and political Turkish life and to oppose this terrible class struggle led by Erdogan?
First of all there is a material problem: a large part of labour force is linked to small and medium enterprises, where the owner’s control is stronger, and the workers concentration is significant only in some districts. But it would be enough to look how Trade Unions operate in Turkey, which rights workers have and how they can call for a strike, to understand that the situation is actually really difficult.
Let’s make some examples18.
Is quite a feat to join a Trade Union. There is a complex bureaucratic procedure that entails with the authentication of the request by a notary in five copies that are then forwarded to different offices, including the government ones. Furthermore, Unions are not present everywhere. Calling for a strike is also really hard: there is a long process of notices to the counterpart, and after all in any moment the authorities can suspend the injunction.
Moreover, before the Constitutional Referendum in 2010, it was possible to strike only in the private sector, and anyway not in strategic industries like the ones for coal production, hydroelectric, electric and gas centrals, in the banking and notaries sector. After a long struggle now is possible to strike even in the public sphere, but with very strict rules. Again, the Turkish constitution forbids, at least in private sectors, political and solidarity strikes – so the ones that more than anything else build elements of consciousness between the workers
Nevertheless it would be false to say that in the workplaces in Turkey there is a social peace. On the contrary, what we know (indeed, given the difficulty in organizing steadily, often tensions erupt in a local and self-organized way and so they’re not registered) shows that is precisely in workers protests and generally in popular classes protests that the red string between the different struggles never got broken.
It is there that we can find the resources to mobilize, to communicate and to extend the opposition. It depends on these peculiarities the social claims of the protests and their generalization outside Istanbul, the spread almost simultaneous in all the cities and industrial settlements (while the countryside remained apart from to the “contagion” as we can see from the map below19). This demonstrates that riots were never born from anything, but, even if they can seem for the observers like a simple event, they are in reality, the product of accumulation of forces, the product of a continuous sedimentation.
Let’s try to follow this red thread. Although the economic crisis in the early 2000s affected the capacity to develop mobilizations, the economic growth produced also an increase of awareness among workers. In 2004 there was a relevant increase of strikes in the tyre production; they were so strong that the government was obliged to pass a law that prohibited such kind of demonstrations. The number of strikes increased constantly until 200720, in this year there was a huge mobilization against the privatisation of Turk Telecom. This involved 26'000 workers, small number in abstract terms, but a relevant one if we think about the rate of unionisation in Turkey (that covered only 3 millions of workers out of 23).
In 2007 there were more than 1 million of days of absence from work. This temporary exploit, that produced also clashes with police forces and the celebrations of the first of may as a great day of struggle, demonstrate that a conflict and unrest have always been present in Turkey, and movements are do not come out of nowhere; there is a strong continuity over the years.
The 2008 was characterised by huge mobilizations against the pension and heath system reforms; the latter obviously touched firstly workers. The situation exploded in October 2009, when in Istanbul there was the FMI and World Bank summit. For days the town experienced strong clashes and turned out with demonstrators injured and arrested. It was no a coincidence that 2009 was also the year in which Resistanbul was born, one of the organisation that marked these days of mobilisation in Gezi Park.
This flow goes on all long 2010, during which TEKEL’s workers took to the streets (with related clashes with the police), people protested against 2010 Constitutional Referendum, and again opposing education reform in 2012. The latter, among other things, involved the firing of 300.000 teachers who began to organize themselves. In the meantime public employees protested for their contract’s renewal: thousands of workers claimed an increase in their wages… Hence, it really appears useful to pay attention to some aspects of this new Trade Unionist movement.
From this point of view it appears quite emblematic the long struggle at TEKEL, one of the previous state-owned companies producing tobacco and alcohol, given as a “gift” from the President Erdoğan to the British American Tobacco. This struggle gained huge international attention21, not only because of the workers’ perseverance in resisting for months against processes of “flexibilisation” and against wage cuts, which made possible one of the biggest demonstration in the recent history of Turkey (100.000 people all over the country), but also because the mobilization was organised by workers themselves, even against leftist Trade Union bureaucracies, namely DISK and KESK. The struggle form in itself, the “Sakarya Commune”, a whole of tents organized in a neighbourhood in the heart of Ankara, is a crucial moment for the history of contemporaneous Turkish movements.
Sungur Savran, an Istanbul based radical journalist, describes the struggle’s impact on many visitors, socialist communist militants and workers that went there to help and to express solidarity, “Sakarya camp soon became a Mecca for all opposition movements and had an important role for class consciousness awakening among all the people, for TEKEL’s workers and for visitors”. How can we separate this event, with the participation of thousands of comrades from Istanbul, from the Gezi Park one? How can we deny that in Ankara protest, for some aspect more violent than the one in Istanbul, there is no memory at all of this struggle? Is it not actually the same nucleus of workers mobilized?
But let’s make another example. In September 2006 in Antalya the female workers of SUPRAMED, a plant of multinational company Prescription Medical Corp22 rebelled: as far as the struggle concerned negligible numbers (83 workers out of 85), it has marked an important moment. First of all because it has been managed in first person by women, who dared to resist for 448 strike days; secondly because at the end it overcame and it even succeeded in obtaining contractual improvements; thirdly because it was able to introduce for the first time a Trade Union in the famous Special Economic Zones (SEZ) opened by Erdogan (in this sense this experience has much in common with the Chung Electronics workers’ one in Poland)23.
Extremely interesting seems then the Turkish Airlines workers’ struggle24. The company decided indeed to fire 305 employees, “guilty” of having tried to stop through initiatives and protests a governmental law proposal that aimed to forbid strikes in air transport sector. On June 3rd 2012, anyway, the law was published on the Official Journal of law while workers were left unemployed. Also for its huge media coverage and social impact, the dispute was transformed in the symbol of the new season of Turkish workers relations, insomuch the Erdogan’s Labour Minister, who yet approved Turkish Airlines actions, was in charge of the mediation.
Trade unionists’ releases are extremely interesting to understand what is going on in the country in the last years and provide the key of understanding the last protests: “The question is easy: if Turkey is growing, we want our share of this growth”, explains the Trade Unions Confederation President in the public sector Memur-Sen. “The government preferred to stand on the riches’ side, that means with the capital”, echoed to him the leader of public sector Trade Union Confederation KESK.
Hence, is sufficient to read some specialized magazine25 or to surf the web, to discover that in Turkey there has never been social peace. After all it is not possible, in a capitalist production, to abolish class conflicts: sooner or later, problems have to come out. Certainly the development of these struggles encounters many barriers, among them the repression carried out by bosses and by the State is only one and maybe the more negligible.
Turkish proletariat indeed seems to be affected by the “classic” impact of globalization processes on a peripheral country, and in particular of the creation of the fracture line (identified by some writings of Robert Cox in 1981 and by Andreas Bieler in 2000) between workforces oriented towards domestic production and others directed towards international production26. These connections with capital of different origin seem to generate illusory differences within the same class, and then also two different approaches: a more corporate one, and it is the case of public employees and agricultural workers, and a more “united” and “internationalist” one, and it’s the case of textile and automotive industry workers. This conflict internal to proletariat consents to the whole bourgeoisie an easier control of the situation; it is a constant division factor between Trade Unions and even among different segments of the workforce, for example, between the one related to formal economy and the one related to informal economy.
In this situation we need to add that AKP takes advantage of “yellow” Trade Unions to develop partnership and balance mechanisms between capital and labour (let you imagine for the benefit of whom!).
After all is exactly this repression on workplaces that makes protests, when they burst, so much heated. What happened in Istanbul in 2009 at the FMI “visit”, or what is happening in these days in all Turkish cities, proves that the only opportunity is to shift the conflict site: if it is dislocated on work places afterwards it will be spread in the metropolis; and it will be focused on the protection of a place which the movement's intellect identifies as central.
To conclude, we can see well that, in this context of decennial development but of brutal inequality, problems like that of gentrification (which is not so related to Gezi Park’s trees, but concerns the more material evictions of proletarians and minority groups, besides the destruction of a highly symbolic square for movements) however important, don’t help us to understand the totality of the event, the fact that it was embraced by a whole range of the excluded from capitalist economy triumphal progress.
Therefore, we don’t have to be astonished by the reason because all this happened, rather we should ask why it didn't happen before… In any case, what is sure and gives us some hope even for Italian situation, is that when around there is some flammable material a spark is sufficient for everything to burn.
Now, it is time to come up with some political reflections about the Turkish mobilization in its general features, trying to go beyond the mere Gezi park events and putting aside the “news bombing” (with its inner contradictions) of these days.
In the short-term period, Erdogan government has several weapons at its disposal – last but not least the brutal repression of the police. First of all, our analysis concerns its party: even tough there is an inner fraction inclined to dialogue (due to both a “clan-oriented” management of public affairs and to guarantee itself for future electoral operations) it still is the most representative among Turkish people. Moreover, thanks to the linkage to the Islamic apparatus, the party can rely to some extent on the popular support, also useful to a sort of informal repression lead by reactionaries groups close to that apparatus; useful to use secondly the State intervention to keep the status quo (this is a repressive pattern experimented ex. gr. in the Fascist Italy as much as in the present Greece with the Nazi movement Golden Down).
Overall, Erdogan has been the guarantor of the Imperialistic interests in Turkey for more than ten years. Under Erdogan rule the international capitals (not only of the US or Europe) have been free to flow in the country without any restriction: actually he is the first leader to guarantee profitable conditions for the global capitals; moreover, the Turkish prime minister is aware of his international role as demonstrated in several of his last speeches. At the same time, his ties with the “rich” foreign capitalist supporters make his position sufficiently safe, at least until a new reliable successor will be chosen. This latter will be someone who will do what the middle-class always pretends to be done: to break up the resistance of the proletariat, which can create serious troubles not only for the Turkish bourgeois but for the profits of the international ruling class.
This is the strength of Erdogan, but what about the opposition? To some extent, we have already seen it: the power of the mobilisations of these days mainly rests in the linkages among a large social crisis – and it is easily to catch up the causes – , the leftist activists – few but combative, strengthened by a ten-years period of struggles – along with a large part of the population devoted to the ideals of Kemalism and feared of the strengthening of Islamism (historically, in Turkey the Laicism is both an ideological and material fundamental element).
In these respects, the role of the ultras movements of Fenerbahce, Besiktas and Galatasaray in the street clashes (to limit the analysis just to the city of Istanbul) is extremely emblematic. The ultras, as a part of the metropolitan proletariat, face the problem of mass unemployment/underemployment, at the same time, of the “on-and-off” character of the work today. Moreover, among them there are political and trade-union activists that have shown, in the clashes against the police, a certain degree of tactical skills (it is something that we have already seen in Egypt). However, apart of some initial political confusion (if we think about the anarchical ultras of Carsi showing the flags of Ataturk), in the next years this situation can be potentially productive, especially because Turkey is a young country: the active stratus of the population, the one between 18 and 40 years, reach the peak of 20 million people!
Of course, as long as the attempt made by the secular centre-left party of CHP and the right-wing party of MHP to co-opt the movement will fail. As the young people, the workers and the opponents of the Erdogan regime, these parties demonstrated against the public policies of these years to achieve greater spaces of power and to have a bigger share of the wealth created in the last ten years. But we have to consider that the parties mentioned above represent those capitalists who were left behind during the Erdogan regime and were excluded from the management of important public contracts. In other words, they try to follow and support the protests to have a role in the aftermath of the Erdogan regime27.
The CHP party, for example, knows exactly that Erdogan does not have the support of the European capitalists because this fraction of the international bourgeois fear the Eastern capitals being so close to Europe. At the same time, they are disappointed that in the privatizations of the last years the greater role was played by the international funds coming from the East. Therefore, if we give a look to the English and German leading newspapers, we catch easily up that among some of these groups already born an “interest” for the protests28.
The CHP is aware of this trend and, for these reasons, tries to foster a new general balance of the Turkish power relations, conscious that the opposition represents the 40% of the Parliament, and that in case of new elections the influence of the Islamic leader could be wiped-out or definitely weakened. Therefore, if the protests in the streets will go on, the general frame for this opposition would be perfect. This trend could actually lead to a “national unity” or “technical” government to overcome the crisis and especially to foster a new compromise between the several Turkish middle-class strata.
So, there is the actual risk that the protests generated by this heterogeneous movement will be supported and then led by the conservative parties, which substantially plan a sort of “return to the past”. We should not be surprised by this issue: a so fragmented and heterogeneous movement is easy to manipulate.
In a context in which the proletarian organizations and the class-oriented representations are so split, it is quite difficult to see a Proletariat walking toward the Revolution... in fact it is normal that the employees, the workers and the inhabitants of the productive districts – some of the social groups excluded by the development of these years – are opposing to the Government in order to claim for an improvement of their material conditions; a political change that would allow them to be part of the economic growth.
The other part of our “social bloc” is formed by the Armenian and Kurdish minorities. In this moment they have an effective difficulty to step-in the conflict. This because the Kurdish are politically involved in a transitional phase linked to a “democratic solution” for the conflict that oppose them to the Turkish government. So, even tough they joined the mass-protests and even tough they launched several little attacks in Kurdistan, the Kurdish knows that if they will join the conflict the nationalist forces would be strengthened at the same time. On the other hand, the Kurdish – that in decades of political fight have great experience about the time of the revolts and about the defeats – are aware that this kind of protests can easily lessen, so they will think before an intervention in the “Turkish domestic affairs”, which could undermine their path towards independence.
So, if our analysis is correct, it is not likely that Erdogan will be kept afloat on the short period only using both the repression and a mild political opening to the protesters. The contradictions of the Turkish society won't be solved easily by a government reshuffle and the situation will stay unstable, even in the absence of a new economic crisis due to a decrease of foreign investments – that would produce an increase of unemployment or public debt.
But this social condition already is so serious to deserve another kind of approach: in this respect, it is more likely that if the government wants to win the next elections, it will divide the front of the protest, giving something in terms of salaries' increases and popular-oriented measures.
However, time to stop with speculations. To argue what will happen in Turkey in the next years we should at least be there, analysing what is going on the workplaces or if in these days of mass protest new working relations are blooming or grassroots trade-union already born (as happened in Egypt during the uprisings). In these days it is difficult to know exactly what's happening, but we hope that the Turkish situation will be a common field for comrades to share materials and to discuss.
However, certainly we know what to hope for our Turkish comrades. Although it's quite difficult that within this situation they will take all the power, given the force of the counterpart and the degree of fragmentation of the proletarian forces (in these respects we can compare the evolution of the situation in Tunisia and Egypt in the aftermath of the revolution, in which the organization aspect was fundamental), actually we can hope that they will push the mobilizations ahead to achieve a strong consensus among large strata of the population. And we can hope that this revolt will be the germinal moment of a new proletarian-oriented class organization, or at least the strengthen (that is the aggregation of new forces) and the coordination (that is more unity) of the already existing ones.
Just within these conditions we will see new important developments in the middle-term period.
That said, let's talk about our situation. Supporting our Turkish comrades from afar, expecting they will do all of the “dirty work” for us, is a superficial perspective we must overcome. Being thrilled on social networks because of other peoples' sacrifices will not drive us anywhere. Even solidarity protests with Turkish demonstrators which have been promptly raised up in every corn of the world can be reduced some times to mere witness/celebration. First thing to do is to be patient and to take time to learn. Learning, that means to understand how much we have in common with Turkish people and which are the possible connections between what they are facing just now and what we are passing through day by day here. Most of all, if there is any possibility to organise a Taksim Square live in Italian streets too. It is possible to act incisively only under these conditions. We must not to feel discouraged if Turkish comrades are defeated: to the contrary, we have to stay even more by their side when Turkey will be ignored by our medias.
Firstly, we have to take into consideration the fact Turkey is far from being a distant or under-developed country. In fact, we can foresee our future in its present history. All the reforms that have been implemented in this country from 2002 until now, are similar to those attempted or promoted by Monti and Letta here in Italy. That means everything has occurred in Turkish nation is nothing but the natural course of this kind of policies. According to this point of view, looking at Turkey situation allows us to strongly criticize the neo-liberal measures that have been promoted by our Government.
For example, let’s just have a look at how layoffs are regulated in Turkey. A short advance notice, a few months seniority subsidy, and then it is over. This is exactly what our ruling class intended to achieve while pushing for the abolition of “Article 18” or what international agencies meant by suggesting more exit flexibility in labour market!.
In addition, think about the process of negotiation between firm's and workers' representatives: in Turkey there anything like collective bargaining. Mediation is carried out on the single company level. That involves workers having a minor bargaining power because of their scarce number and their fragmentation. In fact the diversity in terms of contract and wages from one firm to another implies the impossibility to negotiate a better solutions.
This is exactly what Italian capitalists are aiming at, Marchionne first and foremost, when they try to assign capital-work relation to the secondary level; the territorial level or the one of the single company.
And so forth: we could persist in citing examples for long time but we will limit ourselves to the next one. On these weeks we have been hearing about an agreement concerning representation undersigned by Confindustria (Italian employers’ federation) and Trade Union Confederations. Its purpose is to limit agreements' negotiation to the only contract signers, by-passing all of the grassroots trade unions and crushing workers' possibility to organize themselves.
Now, what happened one year ago in Turkey? Parliament began a discussion on a particular draft law limiting the access to negotiation table only to those trade unions surpassing the representation threshold of 3% on the total number of workers employed in that sector. Moreover, government is estimating unionized employees' statistics downwards: this means only 20 out of the 51 current Trade Unions would end up maintaining their negotiation status. This is what is going to happen in Italy, since our threshold has been set up even higher, at 5%...
Secondly, Turkish case induces to question all of the economists' assumptions, be it conservatory or liberal, pro-Keynesian expansive policies or pro-austerity ones. This allows us even to be critical towards the radical Italian movement here in Italy. Turkey shows us that there's no point to oppose “growth” to “austerity” without preliminarily clarifying what does the term “growth” mean; without explaining how it is going to occur and who's going to benefit from it. Turkish country has passed through growth and austerity: it has been the theatre of what the current Confindustria President hopes for, when he talks about the urgent necessity of more jobs. His declarations would seem to match the aspiration of youth and the desires of the majority of population, but he simply avoid to mention at which conditions in terms of prices, contracts and salaries that should be realized.
Squinzi is slavishly followed by CGIL and the other Trade Union Confederations, and astonishingly by some comrades talking about “re-launching our country's economy”. They just don't take into consideration that growth in a capitalist mode of production means nothing else but an increasing in exploitation, and that there is no common, unifying country in the name of which we should renounce to our class struggle. There's no alliance possible between us, who produce wealth with our sweat and tears, and them, who steal it from us in order to increase their profits.
In the third case, Turkish example allows us to understand how does a globalized economy work and which are the real connections amongst workers from all over the world. We could make an example relating to today's news. In the cities of Fabriano and Teverola, in the province of Caserta, the notorious INDESIT factory is going to shot down, to lay-off workers and to delocalize production.. to Poland or Turkey29. Why? Mostly because of the presence of Special Economic Zones which are characterised by a dramatic level of exploitation. Since capital profitability depends on labour cost, why should it not move to places where producing is more profitable? The only condition that could prevent INDESIT to move is the workers struggles in Turkey. Only in that circumstance INDESIT owners would be obliged to maintain the production in Italy. This drives to a final conclusion.
Turkish protests are totally similar to those happening in developed countries: we are not in front of a poor country going through a specific crisis. This is a kind of spontaneous, heterogeneous form of demonstration that is very different from the big organized mobilizations of 20 years ago. If the comrades involved in this process will avoid to be defeated by Erdogan or to be co-opted by the CHP, and they will be able to create a progressive front deep-rooted in the civil society, it will be an extremely important experience for us.
In other words, if this protest will have an impact on the labour market, whether workers will succeed in obtaining higher wages and more rights (as it has happened in Tunisia or Egypt), capitals will have more difficulties to move. Consequently factories' delocalization will be harder to accomplish and there will be harder to start race-to-the-bottom competition processes among European workers. For the same reason, Turkish workers need us to keep on fighting for higher wages: in this way, they would have enough bargaining power to ask better working conditions.
Considering these elements, we can assume that Turkish struggle is our struggle and vice versa. This even relates to what is occurring in Poland, Egypt and China: every improvement happening to proletarians of any country is something positive for us too. It is not by chance for Turkish event to be followed and supported from people of those countries where strong revolutionary movements took place. Think for example about public statements by independent Egyptian Trade Unions in solidarity with Turkish protesters30. Every progress achieved by working class in every corner of the world represents a slowdown of the offensive carried out against us; because it dismantle the workers’ completion, one of the strongest means of capital oppression.
This demonstrates the value of internationalism, nowadays more than ever.
1. Only a few days ago we discovered that in this interesting article, Istanbul Uprising, by Ali Bektas, of the important “Counterpunch” review, published on June 5th, that is two days after our post, it affirmed basically our same thesis: “Let there be no mistake, Istanbul cannot be lumped in with Athens, Barcelona, Lisbon or New York. What is happening in Turkey is the flip-side of the anti-capitalist coin. It is an uprising against development. It is a street battle for cities that belong to people and not capital. It is resistance against an authoritarian regime emboldened by an economic boom. What we are seeing unfolding in the streets of Istanbul is a convergence between Turkey’s small but growing anti-authoritarian left who has been organizing various campaigns of social relevance in the past years and a large section of the urban population loyal to the Kemalist ideals of modernism, secularism and nationalism”. counterpunch.org
2. K. Marx, “Critique of Political Economy”, 1859.
3. The data we will use are provided by the major international agencies: IMF, World Bank, OECD, EUROSTAT, TurkStat and Ispat (Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey), an important agency direct emanation of the Government, with the clear scope of promoting the country an make it appealing for international capitalists: it is really impressive that are the same Turkish leaders to candidly admit the exploitation of the workforce, the lowering of wages, etc.
For a glance on Turkey, we refer to statistics elaborated by the OECD.
For more info on the relations between Italy and Turkey see Turchia, paese emergente dalle grandi prospettive, made by the Agenzia per la promozione all'estero e l'internazionalizzazione delle imprese italiane e la Nota congiunturale dell’aprile 2011 a cura dell’Istituto nazionale per il commercio estero.
4. For a study of Turkey in those years we suggest the one carried out by the Chamber of Commerce of Brindisi, Analisi del mercato estero, Ottobre 2007.
5. Just to give an idea, it means that if a commodity in Turkey, in January 2001, cost 100 €, after only a year it will cost 168.5 €!
6. See G. Colombo, L'economia turca, il FMI e la UE: un triangolo virtuoso?, su ISPI Policy Brief, n. 11, September 2004.
7. This point is extremely important because part of the growth of the “Turkish boom” of subsequent years happened also through military procurements and the billions poured from the U.S. into Turkey for this purpose. It is no coincidence that at the end of this process will occur even an expansion of Turkish capital: in northern Iraq it is in fact the majority share of capital.
8. From this point of view, Turkey is the first country in Europe. Deaths are counted, in 2009, as 3 per day, but calculated on an audience of only 9 million workers enrolled in SGK (an institute similar to Italian INAIL), while the active workers in the same period were nearly 23 million, which presumably increases the number of death on the workplace to 6 or 7 per day! Anyway, according to data from the International Labour Organization, in 2009 the country placed itself 80th in the world ranking with regard to safety at work. See C. Spinella, Deaths white, the other side of the boom Turkish. In Istanbul, 11 workers died in a fire, of March 14, 2012.
9. The Turkish economist Emre Deliveli affirms that “the Turkish success has been possible by fixing the banks” Why Turkey is Not Thriving, on Hurriet Daily News, May 31st 2013.
10. In January 2005 the new Turkish Lira becomes the currency. This tries to symbolize an interruption with the high inflation past.
11. The Financial Times too has some uncertainties, which are reported in the article by A. Tetta, Economia turca: quando la tigre abbaia, su Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, 13 agosto 2012.
12. At the beginning of the privatization process, the State had majority shares in 250 firms, 105 manufacturing systems, 524 real estates, 8 highways, 2 bridges, 6 harbours. At the end of 2009 199 firms were privatized and in 188 firms there was no longer the state’s presence” cf. Istituto nazionale per il commercio estero. Nota congiunturale, april 2011.
13. According to a research made by the union DISK, in Turkey 49% of youth between 7 and 15 years old is employed.
14. Cfr. the report of OCSE, Growing risk of inequality and poverty as crisis hits the poor hardest, del 15 May 2013.
15. Cfr. again from A. Tetta, Economia turca: quando la tigre abbaia, quoted.
16. NEET stands for 'Not in Education, Employment or Training': According to the OCSE, in 2010 the 43,7% of 20 - 24 years old did not study, neither work. This data are partially reliable because of the huge presence of informal economy.
17. Cfr. Vittorio Da Rold, La Turchia divisa anche sull’FMI, 18 luglio 2007.
18. Cfr. European Trade Union Confederation, I sindacati turchi e le relazioni industriali, April 2010.
19. Global Intelligence Stratfor, 2 June 2013.
20. Ibidem, I sindacati turchi e le relazioni industriali.
21. Here more information about the struggle: S. Savran, The Tekel Strike in Turkey. The “Sakarya Commune” Wins the First Round!, su Global Research, 16 March 2010.
22. T., Linking Theories of Framing and Collective Identity Formation: Women’s Organizations’ Involvement with the Supramed Strike, on European Journal of Turkish Studies, November 2010
23. Non lavoreremo per un piatto di lenticchie! Lotta e organizzazione nelle Zone Economiche Speciali (Polonia), 24 Maggio 2013.
24. Cfr. C. Spinella, Divieto di sciopero in Turchia. Una legge impedisce le proteste nel settore aeroportuale, 29 June 2012.
25. See “European Journal of Turkish Studies” November 2010 about Turkish workers movement, neoliberal policies embraced by Erdogan and the relation with the European Union.
26. See Elif Uzgören research, from the International Relation Department at Dokuz Eylul University. Cfr. his article, 5 October 2012, Labour Struggle in a Peripheral Context: Debating Labour and Alternatives to Globalisation in Turkey, on andreasbieler.blogspot.it
27. In this regard Erdogan discourse about the link among protests/economy / foreign destabilisation are not baseless, although used as a mere political speculation to present protesters as “enemies of the State”. Furthermore, Erdoğan explicitly recognises that the aim of the demonstrations is not the defence of the park but the Turkish economic model.
28. On the other hand we cannot be sure that the strong drops of the Istanbul Stock Exchange last week show that international capitals decided not to support Erdoğan. It cannot be excluded that this financial turmoil are “normal” short-term speculative operations used to threaten a government that in 2013, extinguishing the debt with the IMF, could decide to raise its head.
29. This point of view allows us to understand how many silly things have been said referring to the so-called “working class extinction”. It is the capital that flows towards areas characterised from better conditions of profitability (as happened in Germany or in the Usa in the last years, which are countries far from being under-developed nations). This implies manufactory restarting and old and new factories opening. It's a kind of magic due to an increase in the exploitation rate and to the incentives that are destined to companies. In other words, if the conditions are the ones decided by Squinzi e Marchionne.. we can have all jobs we want!
30. MENA, Solidarity Declaration from the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions to the workers of Turkey, 5 June 2013.