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From The Socialist newspaper, 3 February 2010

Tekel workers demand general strike in Turkey

STRIKING WORKERS at Tekel, the former state-owned tobacco and alcohol monopoly, travelled last December from all over Turkey to protest in the capital, Ankara. Despite cold weather and snow, the workers stayed in tents, fighting to defend their jobs and wages.

Stephan Kimmerle, CWI

Their strike reached a peak on 17 January, when a demonstration of almost 100,000 was held in Ankara. Railroad workers, fire fighters and other workers showed their solidarity and held 'warning strikes' in support.

As a part of their privatisation programme, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sold the Tekel company to the US multinational, BAT (British American Tobacco) in 2008. 12,000 workers are threatened with huge wage cuts and taking temporary jobs lasting only eleven months.

The Tekel workers and protesters put a lot of pressure on the Turkish union leaderships, demanding a general strike.

The leaders of six union federations finally threatened the government with warning strikes, in all industries. But the government's subsequent concessions are very limited, so far.

Union leaders said they will meet again to decide whether to hold a general strike, but as The Socialist goes to press this has not been decided.

This struggle has changed Turkey: workers from Turkish and Kurdish backgrounds are struggling together. The coming battles around privatisations and redundancies will be inspired by the determination of the tobacco workers.

Changed situation

The political situation over the last few years was dominated by the two struggling wings of the ruling class. The so-called conservative, 'Muslim' section is represented by the 'moderate' political Islamist party, the AKP, and the so-called 'modern, liberal and secular wing', is represented by the military and the opposition CHP (Republican People's Party). But now the Tekel strike is seeing the working class starting to enter the political arena.

Initially, Tekel workers went to the Ankara offices of the ruling AKP, which many of these workers previously voted for. But instead of support, the government sent police to meet the workers.

The opposition parties originally tried to opportunistically jump on the Tekel strike bandwagon but as the workers' struggle became more radical, they backed off. For many Tekel workers and for working people in general, it is becoming clear there is no party representing their interests.

The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), the international organisation the Socialist Party is affiliated to, stands for:

5 February 2010, 1pm: Join the protest outside the Turkish Embassy in London, 43 Belgrave Square, London SWIX 8PA

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In The Socialist 3 February 2010:

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