Turkish shipbreaking workers stop work amid wave of wildcat strikes

Shipbreaking workers on strike in Aliağa [Credit: @chdizmirsubesi Twitter]

More than 1,500 workers working in shipbreaking yards in the western Turkish city of Izmir, in the Aliağa district, have been on strike since February 11, demanding wage increases and best conditions. Amid a wave of wildcat strikes this year in Turkey, the work stoppage began over an inadequate pay rise at one company, then quickly spread to all 22 worksites.

The shipbreaking strike is part of a wave of wildcat strikes that have spread across Turkey since the start of the year. Workers in Turkey, like their class brothers and sisters in other countries, are acting against the economic and social consequences of the deadly pandemic policies carried out by the government in the interest of the ruling class.

Aliağa, one of the largest shipbreaking centers in the world, is a crucially important industrial area. There are giant petrochemical companies such as Petkim and Socar in the region, as well as Turkish Petroleum Refineries (Tüpraş), which is the largest company in Turkey. Each year, nearly 900,000 tonnes of scrap extracted from scrap yards provide raw materials for steel mills in the region.

The strikers, who gathered daily in the shipyard area and are under police blockade, staged a mass march yesterday with the banner “The breakage will not be hell, the workers will not be slaves: accept our demands”. These unorganized workers elected their own representatives and said they would continue to strike until their demands were accepted.

The demands of the striking shipbreaking workers are as follows:

  • 350-500 TL (25-37 USD) daily wage;
  • Their work should be classified as “heavy and dangerous industry”;
  • Work only half a day on Saturday;
  • The company must provide personal protective equipment;
  • No worker should be fired because of the strike
  • Companies should accept representatives elected by workers.

In meetings with workers’ representatives, the companies rejected these demands.

Turkish courts have rejected a lawsuit brought by a shipbreaking company in Aliağa against one of the workers’ representatives, demanding a “preventive cessation of the strike”. The tribunal declared“The lawsuit was brought against a single worker. Given the fact that a single worker cannot go on strike, in the concrete case, the request for a “precautionary termination of the strike” had to be rejected on the grounds that it could not be said that there was a strike in meaning of the definition in the law. »

Addressing the Gazette Duvar, a striker said the following about the deadly working conditions: “We are exposed to chemicals such as smoke, lead and asbestos. Apart from that, there is a risk of falling from heights and heavy tonnage objects falling on us. There are also dangers such as the overturning of a crane or the breaking of a ship. Fatal accidents occur as a result of the crushing and crushing of construction machinery.

Ahead of the strike, Kamil Önal, president of the Association of Ship Recycling Industrialists, said in a statement on February 2: “We will continue to work for the future of our country, acting in a spirit of national solidarity, at a time going through hardship,” citing the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of the Turkish lira against the US dollar. He said, “Not just in production capacity; we are also number one in environmental and labor protection. …Our facilities are designated as “exemplary facilities” in the world. »

In fact, two workers lost their lives at a shipbreaking yard last September when a rope snapped. In July, two workers died after a gas explosion in the same area.

A worker told the Anka news agency in January of the devastating consequences of toxic chemicals in scrapyards: “There are people who have died of lung cancer. My father was one of them. I know three or four friends of my father who died of lung cancer. He added: “In fact, asbestos is not only dangerous for us and our families. It is dangerous for the entire Aliağa region. It harms nature, people, the environment, everything.

Nimet Koç, a representative of the Asbestos and Hazardous Waste Association in Izmir, said: “Asbestos causes cancer of the pleura, cancer of the peritoneum, deadly mesothelioma and its variants. People are dying of suffocation and have to live on oxygen resuscitators.

The attacker who addressed the Gazette Duvar said: “They give one mask a day, but this mask loses its function after two hours. They give out gloves once a week and we have to make do with them for a week. They don’t give work clothes anyway and we buy them with our own money. He pointed to the rapid rise in inflation, saying, “Even if we get a raise, those raises will melt away after three days. It won’t make any sense. We have therefore added to our demands a regular increase every six months. Our resistance will continue until our demands are granted.

According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜIK), official annual inflation reached 48% last month, the highest since the 2001 crisis. The Independent Inflation Research Group (ENAG) announced that the rate actual was 114%. According to the pro-government trade union confederation Türk-İş, in January 2022, the poverty line for a family of four in Turkey reached 13,843 lira ($1,015). However, the minimum wage is only 4,250 TL ($315).

According to the Social Studies Group in Turkey, 65 strikes took place between January 6 and February 14 this year. With the exception of a strike at the BBC service in Istanbul, all developed as “wildcat strikes”, beyond union control. In total, nearly 13,500 workers joined these strikes, including 29 in textiles, 10 in transport, 7 in petrochemicals and 6 in metallurgy. Istanbul and the city of Gaziantep in the southeast of the country carried out 22 strikes each, followed by Izmir, Kocaeli and Mersin.

Turkish healthcare workers, who are at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the suffering caused by official mass infection policies, also went on strike for three days this month. for salaries and benefits.

The Aliağa strikers expressed their solidarity with other workers involved in the same struggle, in particular with the workers of Farplas Automotive in Kocaeli and the Migros warehouse in Esenyurt, Istanbul. In January, more than 2,300 workers at the Farplas Automotive plant in Gebze, Kocaeli, halted production in protest at a low wage increase. The company reacted by laying off more than 100 workers.

Warehouse workers at Migros, one of Turkey’s largest supermarket chains, also went on a wildcat strike on February 3 over the company’s low pay rise. The company rejected the claims of the 450 workers and appealed to the police. On the evening of February 8, police raided the workplace, arresting around 150 people. Then 250 workers were made redundant.

This wave of wildcat strikes is part of an emerging global movement of the working class that marks the end of the decades-long repression of the class struggle by the ruling class with the help of trade union bureaucracies around the world. The workers are acting on their own, without trying to join a union or engage in the months-long “bargaining” required for a “legal strike”.

This directly raises the need to organize grassroots committees, independent of the trade unions, and to organize and unify their struggles across Turkey and internationally. The emerging working class movement signals the awakening of a social force that can end the COVID-19 pandemic and the danger of war and save millions of lives. the World Socialist Website urges workers coming into struggle to form their own rank-and-file committees and unite in the International Rank-and-file Committee Workers Alliance (IWA-RFC).

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