For days, Turkey has been rocked by massive street demonstrations and violent clashes between protesters and police. Ever since authorities brutally uprooted a peaceful sit-in in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, which the government intends to destroy as part of its urban ‘renovation’ projects, millions of Turks have taken to the streets in what amounts to nothing less than a spontaneous popular insurrection against the authoritarian neoliberalism of prime minister Erdogan’s Islamist government and a nationwide uprising for real democracy.
Now the obvious question on everyone’s lips is simple: what’s next? The honest answer is that it’s simply too early to tell. One development, however — largely overlooked by the mainstream media so far — might change everything. Historical “coincidence” has it that two major Turkish unions have independently announced two strikes for June: one by the confederation of public sector workers and one by the metal workers’ union. The former represents civil servants; the latter represents the workers of Turkey’s main manufacturing export engine.
As BBC Newsnight editor Paul Mason writes in his latest blog post, and as I argued in an earlier analysis of the ongoing protests, all eyes are now on the workers — for it is they who hold the key to the insurrectionary gateway that could turn this popular uprising into a full-blown revolutionary event. After all, Mubarak’s government in Egypt only fell after the young middle-class radicals who sparked the uprising managed to mobilize Egyptian workers — culminating into the February 8 Suez strike that threatened to cripple the Egyptian economy.
This is where the dual public sector and metal workers’ strikes may turn out to be crucial events in the development of the ongoing unrest. On Tuesday, June 4, the Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK), representing 240,000 civil servants, will hold a 48-hour “warning strike” to protest “state terror” in the face of peaceful popular dissent. The strike had already been called last month but happens to coincide with the ongoing protests. If it is to be truly effective, however, this action needs to be turned into an indefinite general strike.
The Türk Metal Union has similarly been mulling a strike for June, although it is not yet known if and when it will take place. This strike could be the real game-changer. If the metal workers’ union manages to mobilize anything close to its 115,000 membership, the strike could paralyze the single most important export engine of Turkey’s manufacturing sector. Taken together, these two strikes could bring to a halt not only large parts of the the state apparatus but also the industrial base, putting major pressure on the government to back down.
Meanwhile, the stock market is collapsing, losing over 10 percent on Monday alone, hinting at investor fears that Turkey may no longer be the regional role model and capital safe haven it was once touted to be. Over the past decade, Turkey witnessed an investment boom of epic proportions, turning the country into Europe’s fastest-growing economy. Most of the recent inflows, however, are those of Arab sheiks who fear that their investments are no longer safe in Europe due to both the eurozone crisis and a clampdown on ‘dictatorial’ bank accounts.
These sheiks may now wish to deposit their money outside of Turkey, triggering a sudden evaporation of the financial base upon which the Turkish economic miracle of the past years ultimately rested. In other words, the ongoing popular uprising may trigger consequences far beyond those currently foreseen by most Western media commentators. The economy, as always, is the Achilles heel of the capitalist state, and by striking right at the heart of the process of capital accumulation the people can significantly weaken the government.
In the end, all of this comes down to a simple notion that I have expressed in a number of recent writings, including this conference paper. The capitalist state — regardless of whether it is developing or developed, democratic or dictatorial — is structurally dependent on capital. Without the constant circulation of investment in the economy, the state simply risks collapse. This is why a triple public sector strike, manufacturing sector strike and investor strike could be the unholy trinity that brings Erdogan’s authoritarian government to its knees.
Again, as I emphasized in my more extensive analysis of the protests and the prospects of revolutionary change in Turkey, all of this remains undetermined. The future is yet to be written. But the historical confluence of popular unrest in the streets, labor strikes in the public sector and manufacturing industry, and investor panic in the stock market may combine into a toxic potion that could take Turkey far beyond even the wildest dreams of those currently assembled in the streets. Again, all eyes are on the workers.