As the failed military coup against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unfolded, Birleşik Metal İş, a left-led union of metal workers, condemned the coup and urged supporters to reject it despite Erdogan’s authoritarian rule and anti-worker policies.
“Suspension of the Constitution, dismantling the rule of law, suspension of freedoms cannot be acceptable regardless of which kind of juntaist and authoritarian mindset they are coming from,” said the union in its statement.
The coup plotters may have thought that Erdogan’s suppression of workers rights would create popular support for the coup.
Certainly, Birleşik and its members had legitimate grievances against the president.
In January 2015, Birleşik called a strike of auto workers after the union rejected a national collective bargaining agreement negotiated by Türk-İş, a union with close ties to employers and the government, and the Turkish Employers’ Association of Metal Industries (MESS).
The contract, which covered most workers in Turkey’s auto industry, was a substandard contract that did nothing to raise the low wages of Turkey’s auto workers.
When 15,000 workers and 22 factories joined the strike, Erdogan broke the strike by declaring it a threat to national security.
In other conflicts between labor and capital, Erdogan has always sided with capital.
For example, a 2010 mine explosion in the province of Zonguldak killed 30 miners. It was one in a number of mine disasters that since 2000 had injured and killed hundreds of miners.
In response, lawmakers proposed legislation that would increase and improve government safety inspections.
The coal interests opposed the proposal and so did Erdogan. As a result, the proposal failed to become law.
The Erdogan’s decision to scuttle the bill proved deadly.
In 2014, an explosion at a mine owned by a mining company called Soma Holding in the province of Bursa, killed 301 miners.
Safety at the Soma mine had deteriorated badly since it was privatized in the 1990s.
A 2010 report by the Turkish Chamber of Architects and Engineers cited problems with the mine’s ventilation systems, pre-warning mechanisms, and wall supports.
The mine also had no rescue chambers, which are required by mines in Europe and North America.
After the explosion, Erdogan shrugged of the tragedy, calling mine disasters common occurrences that shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.
Erdogan is not only indifferent to workers low wages and lack of job safety, he has stifled working class leaders who have spoken out against his indifference.
In June, Arzu Cerkezoglu, general secretary of DISK, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions, was detained and interrogated for insulting the president during a speech she gave.
Cerkezoglu isn’t alone. Since 2014, 1850 people have been investigated on similar charges.
Despite Erdogan’s authoritarianism and his disregard for worker rights, Birleşik and DISK chose to condemn the coup attempt.
They did so because their experience has shown that replacing one authoritarian leader with another doesn’t benefit the working class or the nation in general.
Since 1980, Turkey has suffered through three coups in which the military has taken control of the government.
In every case, the working class and its organizations fared badly.
During the periods of military rule, strikes were outlawed, independent working class organizations were banned, and union leaders were imprisoned.
Basic labor rights were ignored, and workers’ wages, benefits, and working conditions deteriorated.
“Our country many times has encountered military coups and coup attempts in the past and our country couldn’t recover from the pain and sufferings of these attempts for many years,” read the anti-coup statement issued by Birleşik. . . “Workers and people of the country are the those who got most damages and paid the heaviest price because of coup d’etats which suspends most basic human rights, destructs freedoms, and attacks workers’ rights.”
Both Birleşik and DISK said that now that the coup attempt had been defeated, the unions would work with other progressive people to build democracy in Turkey.
“(The) working class in Turkey will rebuild secular, democratic, independent, social state of law with determination and common sense,” said Birleşik in its statement on the coup attempt.
Kemal Özkan, a leader of DISK and assistant general secretary of IndustriALL, a global confederation of industrial unions that represents 50 million workers in 140 countries, said that the struggle to restore democracy and workers rights must begin immediately.
IndustriALL Global Unions demands full democracy in Turkey according to international norms and standards,” said Özkan. “Oppressions and restrictions on labor rights must immediately be lifted.”