'Intervention' in the Class struggle- a case study: TEKEL and the ICC

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Devrim's picture
Joined: 15-07-06
Aug 31 2010 21:35
'Intervention' in the Class struggle- a case study: TEKEL and the ICC

A discussion on another thread made me think of starting on about what the term 'intervention' actually means in concrete terms.

Joseph Kay wrote:
Now SeaSol's just one example, and i'm not without my criticisms either. Nor is this approach without problems and pitfalls of its own. But i think the difference in approach stems from the basic assumption about the role of revolutionaries - whether it is to organise or to intervene. While there isn't a strict dichotomy, there are clear organisational and practical consequences to this which tend to be self-reinforcing (i.e. if you set yourself up for interventions you focus on building a tight political organisation with detailed positions and are less oriented to everyday organising, if you focus on everyday organising you tend not to develop detailed positions on things and so interventions are of a different nature to those of political groups etc).
Devrim wrote:
I'd like to know what you think of our interventions in the TEKEL struggle. Unfortunately the leaflets aren't on-line in English at the moment. I will try to post some of the leaflets and a summary of what we did on a different thread in the nest week or so.
Joseph Kay wrote:
i'll have a read when english documents are available. i'd imagine they're politically astute and well-written, but my argument (as above) is even the best-executed interventions are structurally limited by the nature of intervention itself (i mean i'm proud of Tea Break, but without any prexisting networks/contacts, formal or otherwise it had no discernable impact). i mean i'm sure it's possible to build up a relationship with workers during a big public struggle, and thus for them to have time for your arguments, and i'd be interested to read your TEKEL stuff. now i'm not against interventions, i'm against making them a strategic orientation for revolutionary organisation.

I don't have the documents to hand yet, my computer died recently, and I lost everything. There is a pamphlet on it available in Turkish, and German. The translations were done via English so the English versions of everything must exist somewhere. I will try to find them soon.

The contents of the pamphlet, which was produced after the struggle had virtually ended (all links are to English versions):

1) Introduction

2) Turkey: Solidarity with TEKEL workers' resistance against government and unions!
A detailed article from our paper discussing events in the first half of the struggle.
3) [url=Tekel strike: How to organise outside the unions?]TEKEL strike: How to organise outside the unions?[/url]
A detailed article from our paper discussing events in the second half of the struggle.
4) Thoughts on the Ankara experience: Lessons of the TEKEL struggle.
5) General Strike or Mass strike?
ICC leaflet
6) What happened in the TEKEL struggle 2 March to 2nd April: A balance sheet, why do the unions exist? Published in English as "If the unions are on our side, why are there 15,000 riot police between us and them?"
Article from our paper written by a TEKEL worker
7) Hand in Hand
ICC leaflet
8)What happens tomorrow?
ICC leaflet
9) Letter from Hanover in Germany to the TEKEL workers

I don't think the letter from the workers in Hanover exists in English, but the three leaflets and the other article from our paper do. As I said I will try to find them soon. The three articles linked to now explain the history of the struggle more than our actual interventions.

So what did we do.

* We produced three leaflets.
* We covered the struggle in our press
* We organised (with FAU/IWA)a speaking tour for a striker to speak in Germany
* We produced a pamphlet after the struggle (Also available in German)
* We had a virtually continual presence at the protests constantly discussing with workers and their supporters
* We distributed information internationally about the struggle, and collected money abroad for a group of militant workers
* We hosted many TEKEL workers in our homes on numerous occasions (reading the articles about the struggle will explain why this was necessary.
* We set up a website for a group of militant workers from the struggle

Other things might come to me later.

Anyway, I will look for copies of the other articles, but maybe this can set a basis for a discussion.


Devrim's picture
Joined: 15-07-06
Aug 31 2010 21:38

I messed up the link on one point, and you can't edit the opening post on this forum.

It should be:

3) TEKEL strike: How to organise outside the unions?


Devrim's picture
Joined: 15-07-06
Aug 31 2010 21:44

Article 4:

ICC wrote:
Reflecting on the TEKEL strike

After the Türk Telekom strike in 2007, we held a public discussion in our press on what it meant for the working class. This time we would like to do so again on the issues raised in the TEKEL strike. We believe that it is important for workers to reflect on what lessons can be learned from these experiences, and to discuss how these lessons can be applied in future struggles. We want to use this article to ask some of the questions that we think could lead to a worthwhile discussion.

Who controls strikes?

The first question that comes up is the role of the unions, and workers’ controlling their own struggles. Many workers in the TEKEL strike realised that the union would not struggle for them. We saw many demonstrations of anger against the union workers, and several attempts made by workers to form a committee outside of union control as detailed elsewhere in this issue. As nice as it may have been to see workers kicking the union leaders of the stage on the January 17th demonstration, actions like this do not in themselves pose an answer to the real question about who is controlling the strike. Anger at the role that unions play in strikes is common. When we look around the world we see a lot more of it in other countries than here in Turkey, but we expect to see a lot more of it as the crisis deepens, jobs and living standards continue to be cut, and the unions continue to fulfil their roll of selling workers to the bosses.

There is a large difference though between anger and protests against the union and workers taking control of their own struggles. Of course, if workers are not angry with the way the union is running things, they won’t want to take control of a strike. The anger is a first step, but only a first one. The alternative to the union controlling a strike is the workers’ controlling it for themselves through mass meetings and strike committees of elected delegates. These, however, won’t come out of nowhere, and certainly the unions won’t set them up. For this reason, we feel that it is the task of communists to constantly argue for mass meetings in workers disputes, not rallies held where people sit and passively applaud what union bosses say, but real workers meeting where every worker can speak, and the workers themselves take decisions.

What sort of Committees?

When workers in the TEKEL strike talked about forming committees, it is important to consider what the role of such a committee is. Militants can’t just set themselves up as a strike committee and start to run a strike. Only a committee elected by workers at mass meetings can do that. For communists the goal of militants in a struggle is not to set up a new more radical leadership, but to promote the active conscious involvement of workers in their own struggles, and the way that workers express themselves is through their traditional forms, the mass meeting and the strike committee. That doesn’t mean that those who tried to set up a committee were wrong. Far from it, they were very right. It is necessary for militants in a struggle to co-ordinate their activity. Isolated, as an individual, one worker alone can not talk to every other striker, and can not have all of the ‘correct’ ideas. It is through discussion with others that we develop our ideas, and while one person is just an individual, a small group are much better equipped to address wider groups of workers.

One of the things that for us typified this struggle was that we didn’t see one leaflet produced by workers addressing the strikers as a whole. Of course, the left, including ourselves, all had plenty of leaflets to give out, but there was nothing that came from the workers themselves that discussed how to take the struggle forward. In other countries this has been a feature of major struggles. Groups of militants coming together put out their own publications to explain to other workers how to take the struggle forward. This is something that can be done without a large group, and in a way, it is the way to gather the people around militants, and to put forward the arguments for mass meetings amongst the wider workforce.

What was the strategy?

Possibly one of the main reasons why nobody was putting out their own leaflets was because nobody had an alternative strategy. In the early days of the struggle, workers were focused on calling for the union to organise a general strike. When it finally came, it was even worse than we were expecting it to be. After the farce of 4th February the term general strike is left as little more than empty words. Strikes were sporadic and isolated, and strikers were left alone to be victimised for showing solidarity. Even the demonstration in Ankara was significantly smaller than the previous one. Afterwards workers were demoralised, and ended up sitting in their tents waiting on legal manoeuvrings. It was very clear that there was no strategy except for putting pressure on the union for a general strike, and when that ‘happened’, nobody had any idea at all how to go forward. There was no strategy at all.

How can workers win struggles?

For us in the current period workers can not win struggles on their own. The assault on jobs, working conditions and wages is a class wide attack, and needs a class wide response. To build for a class wide response, workers need to take things into their own hands. Everybody at TEKEL knew they needed solidarity. To call on other workers for solidarity we need massive delegations going to other workplaces to call for solidarity action directly. The only time during the TEKEL struggle was when there was talk of distributing a letter written by one of the TEKEL workers to workers at the Sugar factory outside of their workplace. It is not something that individual workers can do on their own. It comes back to the previous point about needing groups of workers to come together and argue for the tactics needed to win, groups that can put forward the arguments for this sort of action.

What positive things can we draw from the TEKEL struggle?

There are many positive things that we can take from the TEKEL struggle. It shows that workers are still willing to struggle, and that the bosses can not have it all their own way. It reinforces the understanding that the unions are not on the side of the working class. It became quite clear on the April 1st demonstration where thousands of riot police were there to protect the union from its members. The recognition amongst the TEKEL workers in particular, but amongst workers in general that solidarity is necessary and the way to win is massively important.

It is not just a case though of commenting on the positive sides, but of trying to understand the difficulties that we still face, and to discuss how to overcome them. We welcome any contributions, written or in person, on the question.



Devrim's picture
Joined: 15-07-06
Aug 31 2010 21:50

Related documents; a speech and a statement by the 'Platform of struggling workers the group we set the website up for.

The first is a speech made by them when they stormed the stage at Mayday in Istanbul and kicked the unions off it (italics are our comments):

Istanbul May Day Speech of Struggling Workers
This speech we are publishing have been made, in front of 200,000 people, by the workers who occupied the platform during the May Day demonstration in Taksim Square, Istanbul, a previously banned demonstration area itself, forcing the Turk-Is chairman Mustafa Kumlu and other trade-union bureaucrats to flee. The fact that the workers who occupied the platform are the ones who have been shaking Turkey with their struggles in the last few months, that these workers have committed this act fully with self-organization and in a completely unified way, and the message of their speech, in our opinion has a massive importance for the working class movement, and shows the way to victory for the entire proletariat.

We are the struggling workers from the Tekel, Istanbul Water and Sewers Department, Samatya, Fire Department, Esenyurt municipality, dustbin and ATV-Sabah news corporation struggles.
All of us are struggling in order to fight against working and living like slaves, subcontracting, the 4-C and unsecure working conditions. We are together so that we can carry the fire lit by the Tekel struggle, by establishing the channels of a united struggle. We have established the Platform of Struggling Workers in order to establish an example for all our worker brothers and sisters by displaying an example of the most advanced form of class solidarity, and in order to stop the slogan “we shal win by uniting” from just being a slogan and to create what it concretely corresponds to.
Capital produces unemployment, insecurity, lack of future and misery for the working class. Capital produces wage-labor. We know that, while struggling against the 4-C, against insecurity, subcontracting, unemployment, we also have to struggle against capitalism which is nothing but the order of wage-slavery. The true emancipation of the working class lies not only in rising partial demands against unemployment, hunger and misery, but in expanding the united class action against capital which produces unemployment, poverty, insecurity, hunger, poor health and so forth.
This May Day shall be one marked by class demands, one in which the voice of us the struggling workers is reaches all our worker brothers and sisters. We shall win the May Day, just as we won the Taksim square.
Taksim was not opened due to the permission given by the bourgeoisie and its state, it was opened with the accumulated struggles of the working class who insisten on being in Taksim despite all the suppressions and attacks, it was opened with the Tekel struggle, it was opened by the workers’ struggles coming after another, it was opened by the anger of the hunger army against working and living like slaves growing up so much as a dynamic of organizing and struggle that it made capital lose sleep. We have liberated Taksim, now Taksim is without a doubt a May Day area. Next is for the May Day platform to be taken by those who truly deserve it. May Day and the May Day platform belongs to the working class, it belongs to militant workers, to struggling workers. The speech/platform does not belong to the treacherous trade-union bureaucracy who stabs the class from the back whenever the class movement rises; it should belong to the Tekel workers who gave working class struggles a new breath, it belongs to the firemen who rised the demand of secure work and working like human beings against subcontracting and firings, it should belong to the ISKI workers, it should belong to the Samatya building workers who aren’t paid their wages and who are forced to work likes slaves, it should belong to the Marmaray workers, it should belong to the Esenyurt municipality workers who lost their jobs because they unionized, it should belong to the ATV-Sabah news corporation workers, it should belong to the Platform of Struggling Workers. The May Day platform should not belong to those who beg for permission every time from the capitalist state, to those who are a barricade not against capital but against the working class. It should belong to the working class who fill the squares with its class demands.
Thousands are hungry, thousands are unemployed. There is your capitalist system!
Down with the order of wage-slavery!
Workers, not union-bosses to the platform!
No to working like slaves, no to living like slaves!
Workers unity shall defeat capital!
Long live class solidarity!”

The second is a statement issued by them after being de-invited from speaking at an event:

A Workers Films Festival?
We are publishing this text written by the Platform of Struggling workers, explaining the event that occurred on the 2nd of May during the Workers’ Film Festival in Istanbul, between the workers who had been invited to this event, and the organizers of the festival. We want to stress the importance of the clarity expressed in this article by the struggling workers who have been haunting the trade-union bosses in Turkey recently.
We, as the Platform of Struggling Workers (National Tobacco and Alcohol Monopoly (TEKEL) workers, Istanbul Water and Sewers Department (ISKI) workers, firemen, Sinter metal workers, Esenyurt municipality workers, Samatya building workers, Marmaray building workers, dustmen, workers from the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) and workers from the ATV-Sabah News Corporation) were invited to the opening ceremony of the Workers’ Film Festival on the 2nd of May. When we arrived at the Ruya Cinema from our march from the Taksim Square, they said that they reserved the seats on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th lines to the struggling workers. After seating us, they called us to another room to discuss the platform. We had actually agreed on how the speeches were to be made there began a bargain regarding whether we could or couldn’t protest first of all Mustafa Turkel, the chairman of Tek Gida-Is, and other trade-union bosses from Turk-Is whom they had invited as a part of the protocol.
We, as the Platform of Struggling Workers, clearly expressed that we can not remain silent in the presence of union bosses who form a barricade against the workers struggles, who take the content out of workers struggles. And we declared that when the union bosses would speak, we would silently leave the theatre. After agreeing with this, we saw that they had seated the trade-union bosses in the seats they had said were reserved for us. They told us to wait in the side of the saloon, and get out if we don’t like it. Thus we as the struggling workers protested this situation, and left the theatre shouting slogans “Down with the union bosses”, “We don’t want sold-out unions”, “We will win by struggling” and did a one hour long sit-in in front of the Ruya Cinema.
The organization committee of the festival came during the sit-in, and criticized what we were doing, claiming what happened was misorganization, not something intentional.

We do know, however, that this is but a move made to prevent us from protesting the trade-union bosses by silently leaving the theatre. The President of the People’s Houses , Ilknur Birol, said “After this point, we will consider what you are doing as actions against the People’s Houses” about our sit-in. He said “If you are to criticize the union, where to do it set”. If we, as the struggling workers, can’t protest the union bosses who betray the workers, who sell out the struggles, who form a barricade against class struggle in a festival which takes its name from workers and which claims to tell the story of workers’ struggles, where is the place to do this?

We denounce the invitiation of trade-union bosses who are an obstacle to all struggles to such an event. To all workers and friends of labor we declare that we protest the invitation of trade-union bosses who have betrayed the class to all event taking its name from the class and the struggle, and we announce that we will go to all events participated by the trade-union bosses and protest this treachery. We the struggling workers who gave the platform on May Day to its true owners, believe that only struggling workers and revolutionaries who fight for labor and pay for this should be on all platforms.

Platform of Struggling Workers


devoration1's picture
Joined: 18-07-10
Aug 31 2010 22:22

The original appeal concerning the Platform of Struggling Workers:

A number of militant workers from recent workers' struggles in Turkey, including National Tobacco and Alcohol Monopoly (TEKEL) workers, Istanbul Water and Sewers Department (ISKI) workers, firemen, Sinter metal workers, Esenyurt municipality workers, Marmaray building workers, dustmen, workers from the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) and workers from the ATV-Sabah News Corporation, have come together and established a workers' group called the Platform of Struggling Workers. A group of TEKEL workers themselves had been working towards setting up a committee in order to try to draw the lessons from the struggle that they were involved in and the Platform of Struggling Workers is an important step in their efforts towards making links with other workers, particularly those fighting against the recently introduced 4-C terms and conditions, which are basically a generalized attack on all public sector workers, cutting wages, allowing workers to be transferred, compelling unpaid overtime, giving the management the right to temporarily lay off workers, and allowing arbitrary sackings.
They are appealing for money to help in this struggle. We want to stress that they are not asking for money to feed themselves during a strike. Although this type of solidarity can be important, very often it never gets to the actual strikers involved, and even if it does, it can do little to alleviate suffering amongst the tens of thousands of families affected by a big strike. What they are asking for is money to enable them to organize activities necessary for the struggle. Turkey is a very big country (traveling across it is like traveling from London to Warsaw), and TEKEL, for example, is a company with workers all across the country. Traveling to meetings costs money as does organizing things such as leafleting, fly-postering, and public meetings, and money is something which workers after a long struggle in one of the poorest countries in Europe lack.

Don't be put off if you can't afford much. Remember that Turkey is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and that even a little money can go a long way, for example the price of a packet of cigarettes and a beer in Europe can be enough to send a worker to a meeting in another city.

You can use the Paypal button at the side of the web site to send money directly to the Platform of Struggling Workers.

To learn more about the Tekel workers' struggle, read our news and articles covering the strike .


And the ICC's portal for links concerning the TEKEL strikes from beginning to end: