The grand[i] uprising in the Summer 2013 in Turkey raises important questions for social scientists and prevailing conceptual frameworks for understanding social movements and resistance. This blog examines the dynamics of the uprising in terms of class struggle via the case of school teachers.
The spark that ignited the uprising, at the end of May 2013, was an environmentalist issue, protesting the destruction of one of İstanbul’s few green public park areas (Gezi Park at Taksim square). However, the action on the streets quickly transformed into an anti-AKP[ii] /anti-government movement. The brutal intervention of the police force, at the instigation of president Erdoğan, provoked demonstrators, as the sphere of resistance shifted from Taksim Square to the whole country.
Hundreds of young teachers also took to the streets, participated in public forums and marched at the rallies in the Summer 2013. Although their primary revolt was about their basic social rights as a citizen and against the government’s brutality via the police, they also had their own agenda. Whenever teachers were chanting “Everywhere is Taksim!” they meant their schools and classrooms as well as the streets of their neighbourhoods. Boyun eğme (Do not surrender!) was a call for them not only to fight back to the authoritarianism of the AKP government over their everyday lives at home, but also against the deteriorating labour processes and employment issues at work. In otherwords, the young teachers were rebelling against the brutal police, the oppressive government and their coercive “employer”.
Three key points of argumentation should be noted:
1) The provocative role of the AKP government, led by Erdoğan, was a key factor triggering the 2013 Turkish uprising. For more than a decade, Erdoğan and his governments meticulously followed an aggressive path of neoliberalism as well as an obscurant and oppressive strategy. The AKP government has sought to restructure processes across public employment in general, including increasing reforms of the education sector.
The reforms have covered recruitment and appointment systems at the primary and secondary levels in the public education sector in Turkey and have led to an obvious deterioration in the employment relations of teachers:
- Teaching as an occupation and professional has been trivialised.
- A precarious and iniquitous employment model has been formed.
- Considering the yearly teaching time and the time spent at work, teachers in Turkey are working considerably more but teaching less than the OECD average.[iii]
- Teachers are being paid less than the OECD average.[iv]
- By the newly introduced applications of performance management and business like appraisal methods, teachers have been experiencing loss of autonomy and control over their labour processes and high level of deskilling.
2) The uprising in Turkey might have been triggered by environmentalist concerns of the urban middle classes but was in no way an apolitical gathering of the It should be noted that there is a particular history of unrest in the country. Tensions have been gradually rising for more than a decade.
Before the uprising of 2013, August had become the month for teachers’ demonstrations. The candidates, who have their university degrees but have not yet been appointed as a teacher, met every year on the streets of the main cities of the country. By March 2012, there had been 30 suicides as a consequence of not being appointed as a teacher.
On the other hand, the obscurant policies of AKP had been turned into direct pressure in the schools over the teachers. The backward changes in the curricula besides the new laws regulating Islamic religious schools and courses created an intense unrest within the teachers as well as the parents.
3) The last issue relates to the presence (or absence) of the so-called traditional forms of employee organizations. Although the overwhelming working class character of June 2013 is now accepted, neither the unions, other representative association or any of the opposition parties played a key role in the actions. Teachers, for example, would name their neighbours, relatives or friends before their unions as comrades of June 2013.
I have to note that, current industrial relations` regulations in Turkey do not provide industrial action rights for public unions. In the education sector unionisation is more than 65 percent (1 007 865 employees of which 651 234 are union members), but with no rights for collective agreement and strike action.
Despite these constraints, I would still argue that unions largely neglected their members` struggle politically during June 2013 uprising.
Revealing these points, the teachers’ actions can be considered as an illustrative case for discussing the anti-capitalist characteristics and the class struggle dimensions of the uprising in Turkey and the movement beyond.
[i] Beginning from the end of May for more than three months, millions of people in most of the big cities of Turkey were active in one way or another in the protests. AKP government executed an improportionate force to the appeal of the people in response. Summer 2013 has been over, closing the first round with 6 deaths, couple more still struggling in coma, tens of young people who left their eyes and many others with serious injuries. Yet the tension has never decreased, on the contrary new agenda has been raising constantly since last summer. People who have been killed by the police forces has reached to 10 people.
[ii] AKP Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party), the political party currently holding the government of Turkey with a 49.9% vote power from the general election in 2011. The overall vote percentage of AKP has only decreased by 4.3 points (45.6%) in the `post-Gezi` local elections at March 30th 2014.
[iii] OECD 2009 Education at Glance Report