Since February 15, workers have been meeting in front of the municipal building to call on the administration to give them a wage adjusted for inflation. Activists on the ground expect several other municipal strikes across the Asian side of Istanbul. It appears that Maltepe, Ataşehir, and Kartal municipality workers will be going on strike following the lead of Kadikoy workers. Maltepe workers already called a strike on February 22. The Maltepe municipality president Ali Kılıç, much like his counterpart at the Kadıköy municipality, was spreading misinformation about what they offered workers. While workers are rejecting the claims, they continue to demand a living wage.
It is expected that these strikes will spread in the coming weeks given the major economic crisis Turkey has been facing for the past 2 years. What is unique is that all of these municipalities are controlled by the opposition alliance’s2 leading party, the CHP. Although the party is recognized as the main opposition party to the Erdoğan government, it has been criticized for its weak opposition to AKP’s neoliberal policies.
Strikes are politically essential to test whether the social democratic party CHP is a genuine opposition party and who they will ultimately side with when it comes to workers’ rights. The CHP, much like the AKP, has a long history of compromising workers’ rights in favor of neoliberal policies. The central bureaucracy of the DISK General Service Union, on the other hand, is mostly affiliated with CHP and tends to be more accommodationist with the bosses of the workers it claims to represent. The strike wave of municipal workers in Istanbul, and the responses of CHP and DISK, will shed light on what Turkey might look like for workers in places that are no longer under AKP rule.
The Erdoğan Regime and Organized Labor
Under increasingly authoritarian measures, people who struggle for peace, democracy, labor, environment, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and Kurdish national rights have been met with court cases, punishment, detention, and incarceration. Many deputies and activists of the leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), including former co-chairs, have been in prison for a long time. Indeed, the prisons are full of journalists, writers, artists, university professors, and activists. For example, 67 journalists and media workers are currently in jail according to Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) website. The powers of the Turkish Parliament are at its weakest following the regime change in 2018. This is a direct consequence of Erdoğan’s consolidation of power in the hands of the national government.
Recently, Istanbul once again became an epicenter of protests against the government’s goal to take control of academic institutions. Turkish governmental authorities are attacking the struggle for a democratic university launched by Boğaziçi students against their unjustly appointed university director for political purposes and their detained friends. The government tried to provoke its conservative base by targeting LGBTQ+ students, but this has failed as the socio-economic inequality that continues to deepen under the Erdoğan government continues to shrink the party base due to the immense levels of poverty and misery.
However, the level of immiseration has not led to a major reaction in organized labor until quite recently. The organizational level of the working class remains weak. , the unionization rate was 13.8 percent as of January 2020. But it is around 12.1 percent based on DISK’s data. The workers’ confederations are incredibly bureaucratic. The unions refuse to act until there is a major push by the rank and file.