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Thousands of energy workers in cities across Turkey are going on wildcat strikes against misery contracts imposed on them amid the social crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the April 30 action, when 2,000 Bedaş electricity workers in Istanbul launched a wildcat strike defying a strike ban, now thousands of electricity workers in Istanbul, Ankara, Adana and Zonguldak have spontaneously walked off the job. They are protesting sell-out contracts made by the Tes-İş union affiliated to the Türk-İş union federation.
police came to threaten the workers in front of the Tes-İş Adana Branch. Yesterday morning, after an hour of booing and protesting the union, workers stopped work, pledging not to go back to work until their demands were met. A worker declared, “I will not be silent any more. Enough is enough!”
On Thursday, Süleyman Keskin, chairman of the rival Enerji-Sen union from the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK), told Yol TV: “Our colleagues are uncomfortable with collective bargaining agreements conducted behind closed doors, and a contract process in which their approval is not obtained.” However, Keskin was silent on the fact that DİSK also negotiates contracts and cooperates with companies behind closed doors, and that anger is mounting among workers in many industries against DİSK, as well.
This April, the Bedaş workers’ struggle in Istanbul came to a dead end due to pressure to support another union, namely, Enerji-Sen. Today, Bedaş workers are calling for joint action with workers in other cities in their social media group, but their new union, Enerji-Sen, is silent. Strictly adhering to the legal ban on strikes in the energy sector, the only thing it does is organize ineffective, symbolic actions outside of working hours to restrain workers’ militancy.
The energy workers’ rebellion against the unions, defying the strike ban, is part of an international upsurge of the class struggle. While the ruling class has massively enriched itself around the world during the pandemic, with a criminal “profits before lives” policy, social attacks have mounted against the living conditions of the working class, alongside mass deaths and infections.
While the unions undertake to defeat the workers in the service of the ruling class and state, workers’ anger against this reactionary collaboration is growing. Workers are increasingly engaged in struggles to reject the conditions imposed on them and seek a way forward.
US Volvo workers twice overwhelmingly rejected a contract imposed by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union and formed their own rank-and-file committee, setting an international example. Volvo workers in Ghent, Belgium, also walked out on Thursday, protesting the union’s support for extending weekly working hours.
In Turkey, Bedaş workers recently downed their tools, again defying the strike ban. TPI Composite workers who opposed a sellout contract signed by the union were fired from their jobs. Miners from Soma, who have not received their severance pay for years, recently tried to go to Ankara, but police blocked them from entering the city. On their way back, Tahir Çetin, chairman of the Independent Mining Workers’ Union, and miner Ali Faik Inter lost their lives in a traffic accident reportedly due to exhaustion, increasing workers’ anger.
Lifting the ban on strikes, improving living and working conditions and achieving a real increase in wages cannot be achieved by unions that have become an extension of the companies and the capitalist state. Nor is it possible based on the nationally based program that the unions and their pseudo-left supporters advance.
The way forward for energy workers is to build their own rank-and-file committees, independent of the unions, joining the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees called for by the International Committee of the Fourth International, to coordinate their struggle with their class brothers in Turkey and around the world.
This struggle is to organize a much broader international counteroffensive of the working class with a socialist program aimed at the nationalization of key sectors such as energy and the establishment of workers’ power as part of the fight for global socialism.