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ICEM, FNV mondiaal Turkey project mobilizes young unionists to organise

The ICEM’s ongoing Turkey Organising and Social Dialogue Project, supported by the Dutch trade union confederation FNV, took an important initiative toward mobilizing young unionists in starting organizing drives last month. The two-year project saw a seminar on 21-22 October in the Aegean town of Kusadasi.

The workshop was organized at the education and holiday facility of one of ICEM’s Turkish affiliates, Belediye-İş, the General and Municipal Workers’ Union. The hotel is the Grand Belish, which hosted some 7,500 union members with their families in the summer of 2010.

The facility also welcomes ICEM affiliates from around the world (for information on the union’s hotel, click here). “Hosting such an important event for youth organizing at our facility gives us a great honour and motivation,” said Nihat Yurdakul, President of Belediye-İş, at the opening of the seminar. “Thanks to international solidarity and co-operation, active involvement and increasing the union density of young people is a priority for us.

“The ICEM project is a driving force to all of us in this direction,” he added.

With a population of 75 million, Turkey has a workforce of 22 million that includes 16 million men and six million women. An important statistic is that 65% of all Turkish people are under age 30.

But regarding work, four million out of 5.5 million employed in various industries work, on average, over 45 hours per week. For the rest, the average work-week is more then 60 hours. The proportion of workers employed in the informal economy is larger than that of the formal one.

The youth seminar in Kusadasi was attended by 60 young militants, shop stewards, and local officers, with women comprising 40% of the participants.

The seminar also hosted a large group of international participants: Paulo Lage, Sergio Novais, Juvenil Nunes, Fabio Lins, and Nilton Freitas from the ABC Chemical Workers’ Union of Brasil; Liv Christensen and Anders Lapon from Dansk El-Förbund of Denmark; Celil Çoban and Mail Ürker of FNV Bondgenoten in the Netherlands; Philippe Gousenbourger, Youth Officer of International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Brussels; and Dick Blin, ICEM Information, Campaigns, and Pulp & Paper Officer, and Kemal Özkan, ICEM Chemical and Rubber Industries’ Officer, from Geneva.

Guest speakers exchanged their knowledge and experiences with the participants, particularly on youth organizing.

The seminar also gave support and solidarity to a 27-year-old trade union woman named Müzeyyen Acunal, an activist for the Turkish paper and packaging affiliate Selüloz-İş. She was fired for initiating a union organising drive at a paper company in the city of Torbali.

Her situation clearly demonstrates the difficulties that Turkish trade unions face in organising. (For further information, click here to see how you can assist Müzeyyen Acunal.)

As a regular exercise during the FNV Mondiaal project, Turkish trade union expert Üzeyir Ataman, Director of Education and Collective Bargaining of Lastik-İş, also presented union history and the current labour relations situation in Turkey. Later, the seminar focused on Power and Weak Points, Challenges and Opportunities, and Concrete Organising Targets Inside Turkey, with contributions and inputs by participants from different sectors and regions.

Participants also created an e-mail group for continuing communication among future leaders of the unions, which will allow them the opportunity to exchange information, as well as to further solidarity.

“The Kusadasi Seminar gives us great hope and motivation for the future of our Turkish unions,” said Özkan, coordinator of the two-year project. “We now feel more obliged to do more work towards organising young workers, not just in Turkey, but also throughout the world.”

The project will conclude with an Evaluation Seminar scheduled to occur late this month, 29-30 November, in the Turkish capital Ankara. (15 November 2010)