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Turkish coalition of ICEM, IMF, ITGLWF unions forms in Thrace

Turkish union leaders and militants of the Thrace region convened in early February for solidarity and support in a number of cases of industrial discord occurring in the rapidly-growing manufacturing zone. Five affiliates of the ICEM, the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) and the International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) met and organized a demonstration at the Free Trade Zone of Corlu.

The protest was in support of a two-month strike by ICEM affiliate Petrol-İş and dismissal of trade unionists by India-base Polyplex company, a plastics and polyester company. (The ICEM has launched a LabourStart campaign on this dispute; please join the protest now.) 

The demonstration also centered on other trade union infringements, particularly at worksites where organising is underway, and as well on the Turkish government’s recent efforts to modify labour legislation regarding casual, temporary, and precarious work. Thrace is an area of Turkey experiencing a high of foreign industrial investments, ranging from metals to textiles to natural gas, chemicals, and rubber development.

Attended the formation of this regional coalition of trade unions were union Petrol-İş President Mustafa Öztaşkın, Birleşik Metal-İş President Adnan Serdaroğlu, TEKSTIL President President Ridvan Budak, a member of the ITGLWF, Deri-İş President Musa Servi, also of the ITGLWF, representing leather and shoe workers, and the President of ICEM-affiliated Kristal-İş, Bilal Çetintaş, the Glass Workers’ Union of Turkey. These leaders were also accompanied by local branch union leaders of several unions, political party representatives, and NGO representatives.

The five unions cited above pledge to support each other in the Thrace region in ongoing strikes and recruitment drives.

Nearby to Corlu, 12 factories have been targeted for union organizing, but many union activists have been dismissed from their jobs because of their union membership. Besides Polyplex (a prior ICEM report can be found here), factories of Yeşil Kundura (shoes), Disa Otomotiv (an auto supplier), Anakonda (metal fabrication), Astaş Alüminyum (aluminum), and Grup Suni Deri (leather) have been targeted for unionisation, and evidence of that can be found with several tents of picketers to be found in front of the plants. In some workplaces, achievements have been made while solidarity and support activities continue, as does several court cases.

“For many days we have been striking at workplaces individually,” said Petrol-İş President Öztaşkın. “But today all the unions striking in the regional come together. We have unified our powers. We have decided to walk together and to organize joint demonstrations and actions. Our hope is that this bond now starting in Thrace will spread to the whole of the country.”

“Regardless of distinction or which confederation the union belongs,” added Birleşik Metal-İş President Serdaroğlu, “we will defend the rights of dismissed workers.”

Musa Servi, President of the ITGLWF affiliate Deri-İş, said, “Employers will try to exploit by establishing factories in free trade zones where union rights are weak. If we act together, we can change this.”

To cement this bond between ICEM in its sectors, and metals and textiles, ICEM Chemicals and Rubber Industries Officer Kemal Özkan spoke at the 18th Congress of the Turkish Textile, Knitting, and Clothing Industry Workers’ Union (TEKSIF), an ITGLWF affiliate, on 19-20 February 2011 in Ankara.

The Congress was attended and addressed by the President of ITGLWF, Hisanobu Shimada, and one agenda item was to conduct an intensive organizing campaign in textiles and related industries where over two million Turkish workers are employed. The campaign will also include a large support and solidarity with Turkish and international unions.

In his letter of congratulations addressed to Nazmi Irgat, unanimously re-elected President of TEKSIF, ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda said: “We are thankful for active support of the Turkish unions to the work toward creating a joint manufacturing and energy workers’ international. We know Turkish affiliates affiliated to all three organisations will play an effective role and take important responsibilities through support and solidarity.”(28 February 2011)