Since Saturday, workers at Aliağa, the Izmir refinery of Turkey’s largest company, Tüpraş, have been occupying the plant to oppose management’s layoff plans. While all shifts have joined in on the action, production continues. Workers staged a mass protest outside the refinery on Monday morning.
In the petrochemical sector, where the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government imposed a strike ban in 2012, workers rallied after Petrol-İş union officials approved the layoffs. Tüpraş, owned by Koç Holding, one of Turkey’s largest conglomerates, had recently informed the union that 88 workers would be laid off from Kırıkkale, Batman, Kocaeli and Aliağa refineries, which employ around 4,000 workers. Twenty-seven were to be fired from the Aliağa refinery.
The headquarters of Petrol-İş informed the local branches of the names of the workers to be dismissed and told them to restrict the action of the workers against the dismissals.
On May 23, a worker from Tüpraş in Aliağa told the daily Evrensel“We cannot say that we are going to fight with the union behind us in processes such as dismissal or sanction by the disciplinary council. The union headquarters has the attitude of letting them do it, and the local branch cannot prevent these processes. Tüpraş workers are forced by their union to give in to pressure from the company.
The local Aliağa branch of the union, which remained silent until the struggle broke out, is working to end the wild action and prevent a production stoppage. On Monday morning, Petrol-İş Aliağa subsidiary chairman Hasan Toptan said, “Our protests, which have been going on inside the refinery for two days, will continue outside the gate starting today. , and if necessary on Aliağa Square…”
Before the workers mobilized on Saturday, branch officials met with company directors, police and the district governor’s office, but called for no action. These meetings reflect concern about the impact of a mass struggle by workers in this strategically vital company.
After the workers’ action began, Toptan blatantly declared that “they will not negotiate with the employer over 27 people”, while branch vice-president Gökhan Karataş said: “We said that let’s follow our 27 friends on the list until January, if they continue to work under the conditions you bring to us and come to us with an apology, if they steal, we will not support them, but we do not couldn’t come to a point of reconciliation. This is actually an admission that union officials asked for time until January because they could not appease the workers.
The transformation of trade unions into an extension of corporations conspiring against workers is an international phenomenon. On Saturday night, the United Steelworkers (USW) union in the United States sabotaged a strike by workers at the Chevron oil refinery, calling for an immediate end to the two-month struggle by 500 workers.
The World Socialist Web Site calls on Tüpraş workers not to trust the union. To repel layoffs and other attacks, rank-and-file committees must be formed in refineries. Only such committees can unite workers against union attempts to prevent strikes and production stoppages, to divide workers and strangle the struggle. They could also appeal to the support of petrochemical workers and other workers more broadly, in Turkey and abroad.
The layoff plans come after years of lost wages and real benefits. The Petrol-İş union, which acts as the labor police in this strategic company, signed a contract last March without the approval of the workers. With an official annual inflation rate reaching 70%, the union agreed to a 40% raise for the first 6 months of the three-year collective agreement and below inflation increases for the following period.
During contract negotiations in 2019, workers took independent action against company dictates, occupying four refineries. In the end, the union ended the fight and the High Council of Arbitration imposed a wage increase below inflation, which means a real loss of purchasing power.
Last month, Tüpraş allegedly punished two Aliağa workers with a week of unpaid leave after refinery workers exercised their “right not to work” by refusing to be subcontracted.
The growing attacks on Tüpraş workers come as the company makes huge profits by exploiting the workers. In the first quarter of 2022, Tüpraş achieved net sales of 76.5 billion Turkish liras ($4.66 billion), increasing its sales by 286% compared to the same period last year. In the first quarter, it recorded net profit of almost TL 896 million ($54.63 million).
The profits of Tüpraş constitute only a fraction of the post-pandemic profits of the corporate and financial oligarchy. In Turkey, wage labor received 31.4% of national income in 2019, but fell to 27% in 2021. The share of enterprises in national income, on the other hand, fell from 42.9% to 47% over the past two years.
In its “Strategic Transformation Plan” last November, Tüpraş plans to focus on “sustainable refining, biofuels, zero-carbon electricity and green hydrogen”. As a result, it has pledged to reduce carbon emissions from its operations by 27% by 2030 compared to 2017 and to be carbon neutral by 2050. and benefit reductions.
The soaring cost of living due to the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the NATO sanctions against Russia are driving workers to struggle in Turkey and around the world. The Turkish Statistical Institute found that official annual inflation in Turkey hit 70% in April, with prices rising 105% in transport and 89% in food and non-alcoholic beverages. The Inflation Research Group, made up of independent economists and academics, has calculated that actual inflation has actually reached 156%.
The Turkish lira collapsed. While it took 8.40 TL to buy 1 USD in May 2021, today it takes 16.40 TL. In contrast, the minimum wage for about 10 million workers only increased by 50% to 4,250 TL ($260 today). Yet, according to the pro-government trade union federation Türk-İş, of which Petrol-İş is a member, the poverty line for a family of four reached nearly TL 20,000 in May.
As the rising cost of living and growing social inequality fuel the class struggle, various leaders of the capitalist class are calling on the government to prevent a mass social explosion. One of these proposed measures is to increase the minimum wage.
A month ago, Orhan Turan, chairman of the influential Turkish Association of Industry and Business (TÜSİAD), said: “We need to think about it [wage increase] for social peace, and if possible, to pass this process without crushing [workers] with inflation.
Last week, Ender Yorgancılar, President of the Aegean Chamber of Industry, warned: “8 million people live on minimum wage. The purchasing power of minimum wage earners must not fall. People have to live. People should be comfortable with the money they earn. Otherwise, hungry people will do anything.
The Tüpraş workers’ struggle is part of a growing international movement of the working class. More recently, Turkish doctors went on strike for 6 days in May demanding wages and benefits, while healthcare workers staged a ‘white rally’ in Ankara on Sunday. January and February witnessed an unprecedented wave of strikes in Turkey, with at least 106 wildcat strikes.
Defeating union sabotage of workers’ struggles requires uniting workers in all workplaces, industries and countries against the onslaught of corporations and governments. The International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWARFC) provides the organizing vehicle necessary for the objective development of the working class movement. We call on Tüpraş workers and other workers coming into struggle to contact us and form such a committee.