Monthly Archives: July 2014

Teachers and the Summer 2013 uprising in Turkey

Burcak_Ozoglu
Burcak OZOGLU- CERIC

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

http://www.oecd.org/document/24/0,3746,en_2649_39263238_43586328_1_1_1_1,00.html#4

[iv] ibid

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Fast food workers strike in the US, but who will unionise the UK’s chippies?

Jane Holgate WEB
By Jane Holgate, CERIC, University of Leeds

Low-waged workers in small workplaces are, statistically, the least likely to go on strike. They are unlikely to be unionised, are under close supervision from the boss and are easily replaceable. Traditionally, unions have paid little attention to these workers. Organising in small workplaces with high staff turnover provides little return for lots of effort.

Yet in the US, thousands of fast food workers from outlets such as McDonald’s, Domino’s and KFC have walked out of their workplaces taking their colleagues with them in a series of day-long strikes that began in 2012. The most recent of these involved coordinated action in 150 cities across the US last month.

But nothing of a similar scale has happened in the UK, and it doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon. The reasons for this go to the heart of the differences between unions on either side of the Atlantic.

Poverty wages

It is easy to see why campaigners in the US have targeted fast food. The industry’s workers are the lowest paid in the country, according to government data. Their median salary is just $11,000 per year. They also suffer a high degree of “wage theft”, where employers dock their pay or force them to work unpaid hours.

Workers are demanding the right to join a union and are pushing the Obama government to increase the minimum wage nationwide. Currently, the federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 but individual states and cities have the power to set their own rates above this figure. Since the strikes began minimum wages increases have been secured in seven states and two cities. SeaTac, near Seattle, in Washington State was the first city to win an increase to $15, followed by the city of Seattle itself.

Complex labour laws mean unions face difficulties getting recognised by employers and the unions often experience expensive legal challenges from employers. The unions and unionised workers also face intimidation and bullying from multi-million dollar union-busting companies. To avoid this, unions have adopted a new tactical approach to organising in this sector.

New tactics

Campaigners have targeted the state and federal legislatures to increase the minimum wage. As many fast food restaurants are franchises, the owners have little room for manoeuvre when it comes to wages, as the price of supplies and food is set and regulated centrally by companies like McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Low profit margins mean the owner of an individual McDonald’s franchise has little scope to increase wages.

The unions also chose to organise fast food workers in the community as opposed to in the workplace. They set up Fast Food Forward – a community coalition – where they have funded organisers to work with local groups and workers centres. Faith leaders in local churches and community activists have shown their support for the strikers. In one example, from late last year in New York, “Clergy and city council members walked a Wendy’s worker back in after her manager told her she was fired. The high-powered delegation convinced the manager to ‘unfire’ her”.

Workers are also legally protected from dismissal (largely), as it is unlawful to fire workers for attempting to organise a union.

Could these tactics work in the UK?

One reason this form of organising hasn’t spread to the UK is that local councils don’t have the power to set minimum wages. A minimum wage campaign could be directed at the national government, but unions in the UK have tended to use their political links with the Labour Party to press for demands for worker-friendly legislation and are unlikely to think it worthwhile to demand progressive labour laws from the current coalition government.

Unions in the UK also tend to be too focused on servicing their current members rather than on expanding into new, non-unionised workplaces. While some unions have adopted the language of organising, where this does take place, it tends to be where unions already have membership. For a typical UK union, a trip round the local high street’s fast food places would be a leap into the unknown.

It’s a leap the unions might be willing to take, if it weren’t for another problem: they simply don’t have the resources of their US counterparts. The UK trade union sector has seen merger after merger (a consequence of a failure to invest in organising) as unions need to consolidate in order to cut costs and survive.

In the US, unions are able to draw strength from being part of a wider tradition of community-based organising, including a number of national networks of faith-based and community coalitions. Geographically based community organising – while starting to take place in Unite, the largest private-sector union – is not a feature of UK trade unionism. But even Unite’s community membership is aimed at organising those not in work to campaign for social justice rather than workers in the workplace.

For unions in the UK looking enviously at the success their counterparts have had across the Atlantic, there are lessons to be learned. British trade unions could recast themselves as broader social justice organisations where their role is to create benefits for all workers rather than just their members. Forming genuine common-cause coalitions with progressive community organisations campaigning for social justice, instead of just requesting assistance when unions need support for an industrial dispute or campaign, could prove valuable in reaching into communities where unions do not have a base.

Further, the campaign for a living wage began in London in 2001 when London Citizens – a community coalition explicitly based on US organising tactics – began working with unions to secure wage increases for hospital workers in East London. Since then, this small organisation has managed to persuade dozens of employers to pay a living wage of £8.80 in London (£7.65 outside of London) per hour – £2.49 (£1.34) more than the national minimum. More than 100 local authorities have now committed to paying the living wage.

At the same time they have managed to shift the political discourse around low wages to that of a “living”, rather than a “minimum” wage, such that the Labour Party has committed to its introduction, should it be returned to government.

Unions need to get smarter and more flexible in the way they organise in order to adapt to the constantly changing labour markets and laws that make organising workers difficult. It can be done, but it requires a fundamental shake-up of the way unions currently operate and the adoption of more innovative and tactical approaches to organising.

Jane Holgate does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Facts and issues on the Soma mine blast in Turkey

Dr. Burcak OZOGLU – CERIC

enerji-bakani-yildiz-soma-da-da-rakam-vermedi-6025878_7881_o
Government versus Miners.

The incident:

On the afternoon of May 13th 2014, news agencies reported a blast in the mine in Soma, a small town in Western Turkey. First reports said that a power unit blew up 1.2 miles underground (subsequently, experts revealed there may have been other causes for the release of high amounts of carbon monoxide).

The accident left hundreds of workers trapped underground for hours and days, with 301 reported to have been suffocated to death after four days of rescue operation.

The incident proved itself to be a disaster rather than an accident. It was a major disaster not just because of the high number of casualties but also because of the tragic events after the blast. It was a tragedy not only for the locals but the people of Turkey.

Officials were very slow to provide technical information about the incident and have never announced the exact number and names of the workers who were supposed to be in the mine at that the time. So the rescuers did not actually know who they were searching for.

The minister of energy and national sources, as a representative of the government, was leading the operation and he himself has never provided sufficient information.

The executives of Soma Holding Inc, the company that was operating the mine visited the scene accompanied by government officials, although many accused them as directly responsible because of their negligence.

The death toll generated a tremendous groundswell of action and unrest both locally and all around the country. The ongoing unrest in the country after June 2013 was transferred with all of its anger to the Soma incident. People focused attention on the AKP government`s privatization policies and the profit making obsession of the private sector. Prime Minister Erdoğan continued to be the focus of the protests. He was booed and his car was kicked by the people of Soma when he visited the town after the accident. Erdoğan`s so-called condolence speech, in which he cited 19th century England and proposed these types of accidents as the destiny of miners, provoked more protests.

The mine was closed after five days of rescue operation. The investigation is still continuing just like the protests and actions all over the country.[i]

The Employer:

The main employer of the Soma mines on paper was the Turkish State itself. Audit Department reports revealed the business model of the mine and it clearly showed that Soma Holding Inc. was actually the sub-contracting company of Türkiye Kömür İşletmeleri Kurumu (TKİ), the state owned establishment for coal mining of Turkey.

This fact had two significant points in terms of the Soma incident: Firstly, it was revealed that the AKP government, via being the representative of the main employer of TKI, was obviously amongst those directly responsible for the disaster.

Secondly, the business model for Soma Holding Inc., being sub contracted for the main job, was in breach of current law on mining operations. The implementations of privatization via transferring operations in the mines are restricted to the transfer of supporting operations, whereas in Soma mine the main operation of mining was contracted to Soma Holding Inc.

Apparently, the Soma mine was not exclusive in regards to the relations between the AKP government and Soma Holding Inc. Just after the Soma disaster, newspapers revealed that over 70 billion TRY (£20 billion pounds) of funding had been issued for the Holding in seven years (all covered by AKP governments between 2005-2014).

Another rather striking issue about the employer(s) of Soma was their unperturbed determinations about the mining business. In an interview in September 2012, Alp Gürkan, CEO of Soma Holding, boasted how they cut the costs of coal production from 130-140 US dollars to less than 24USD at Soma mines. He also explained their main motive as profitability in the mining business and how working with TKİ provided this opportunity to them.[ii]

Sub-contracting as an employment model:

Privatization has been one of the main strategic goals of the AKP since their early governments in 2004 and has shaped their political and economic strategies for more than a decade. The figures show how privatisation has been one of the main `businesses` for AKP.

1985-72
Source: TR Privatization Administration
http://www.oib.gov.tr/program/uygulamalar/1985-2004_years_table.htm

The case of Soma mines were one of the various implementations of privatisation of the public services. The public services of coal production in the Western basin have been sub-contracted to some specific capitalist groups, since 2005. This met the procedural requirements all lawfully on paper. TKİ had transferred the operational rights not the property of the mines.[iii]

Soma Holding Inc. became the sub-contractor in 2005 and has admistered the mine since then. Soma was not however exceptional. The ministry of labour has revealed that there are 12, 606 workers in the mining industry employed under sub-contracted employers.[iv]

However, for the mining industry in particular, this method comes with some small problems for employers. As mentioned above, the law currently prohibits the main operation of the mining industry to be transferred to a sub-contractor. That is mining, as the main operation, cannot be transferred to a sub-contracted employer, which in this case is Soma Holding Inc.

What happened at Soma was firstly a twisted label for the operation of excavation as a service operation, not as main operation. Secondly in terms of employment of the workers a method of sub-contracting the sub-contracted was used. The workers at the mine were responsible to some kind of vendors, called dayıbaşı, although they were the employers of the “main” sub-contractor (Soma Holding) on paper, they had been working in 30-40 people groups under vendors (dayıbaşı) in the mining jobs.

This inconvenient system of employment explains all the ambiguities about the numbers and names of the workers in the mine at the time of the incident.

The disaster tragically disclosed the problems of the employment model in the privatised mines. In response, the government has not sought to review or stop such procedures. On the contrary, it has sought to accelerate regulation that allows for such models.

A decree law, which was in progress for some months, was brought before parliament just days after the Soma disaster. The law covers regulations and changes in related laws that will make the exceptional employment case in Soma mines a point of principle in sub-contracting implementations. The lessons from the Soma mine have been obviated in the pursuit of employment models that further the profit motives of employers.


[i] See for details: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/14/turkey-mine-blast-relatives-soma-energy-minister : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-27406195http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-27455367

[ii] See: in Turkish http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/yazarlar/21586913.asp

[iii] See: http://www.oib.gov.tr/baskanlik/privatization_procedure.htm

[iv] See: in Turkish http://www.csgb.gov.tr/csgbPortal/csgb.portal?page=haber&id=basin491


Burcak_Ozoglu
Burcak Ozoglu is an Instructor at Middle East Technical University (METU), Northern Cyprus Campus, and is a visitor at CERIC during 2014.