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Netaş: The Strike that Ended in Victory despite the Ban

On 12 September 1980, the army under the leadership of General Kenan Evren staged a fascist coup in order to crush the rising struggle of the working class. Following the coup, the combative trade unions of workers were closed down and the vested rights of the workers were taken away. The whole society was under pressure. Trade unionists were put in jail, while many vanguard workers and socialists were subjected to torture and even murdered. Put into practice in 1982, “the constitution of prohibitions” made unionisation difficult and strikes virtually impossible. A 10% threshold was imposed as a barrier in the path of workers who wanted to unionise. Even when the workers managed to go on a strike, they were not allowed to set up strike tents. Moreover, it was prohibited for more than 4 workers to be on the picket line. The fascist regime dealt a severe blow to the struggle and achievements of the workers.

On 12 September 1980, the army under the leadership of General Kenan Evren staged a fascist coup in order to crush the rising struggle of the working class. Following the coup, the combative trade unions of workers were closed down and the vested rights of the workers were taken away. The whole society was under pressure. Trade unionists were put in jail, while many vanguard workers and socialists were subjected to torture and even murdered. Put into practice in 1982, “the constitution of prohibitions” made unionisation difficult and strikes virtually impossible. A 10% threshold was imposed as a barrier in the path of workers who wanted to unionise. Even when the workers managed to go on a strike, they were not allowed to set up strike tents. Moreover, it was prohibited for more than 4 workers to be on the picket line. The fascist regime dealt a severe blow to the struggle and achievements of the workers.

Everyone was in despair due the decline of the trade union movement. Most trade unionists and workers were thinking that it was impossible to organise a strike under such restrictive laws. In such a pessimistic atmosphere, Netaş workers carried out a strike that added a golden page to the history of the working class in Turkey.

Netaş factory was established in 1969 in Istanbul’s Ümraniye district. It was a joint venture of the state-owned PTT (The Turkish Post, Telegraph, and Telephone Administration) and a Canadian company called Northern. The factory was producing telephone switchboards and materials.

In fact, the struggle of the Netaş workers had begun in the 1970s. The struggle waged by the Maden-İş Union, which had been formed under the leadership of Kemal Türkler, was the source of inspiration for them. In 1975, they were fired from their jobs because they had resigned from the Tek-Met-İş Union to join Maden-İş. In response, they occupied the factory. In the end, the boss was forced to meet the demands of the workers and recognise their union. Thus, the winds of the struggle of the 1970s began to blow at the Netaş factory as the workers became acquainted with the tradition of struggle.

After the military fascist coup of 12 September 1980, this tradition of struggle continued its existence at Netaş factory. Under the guidance of socialist vanguards, Netaş workers successfully organised the greatest strike of that period. On 18 November 1986, 3,150 workers of Netaş factory went on strike as a result of a collective bargaining dispute. They showed that, no matter the circumstances, no obstacle can prevent the struggle of the workers when they are confident in the justice of their cause.

Because Maden-İş had been closed down since the coup of 1980, Netaş workers were unionised under a union called Bağımsız Otomobil-İş. With their new union, they prepared an 88-clause draft for the collective agreement. During the preparation of this draft, they consulted to the workers’ committees which represented all the workers at the factory. When they first went on strike, the first ban they broke was the one that prohibited more than 4 workers to stand on the picket line. Every day 163 Netaş workers were picketing actively. 500 workers were carrying out duties related to strike alternately. During the strike, none of the workers worked in another job. They said, “We will work for workers’ solidarity, we will organise our own solidarity”. Netaş workers were aware of the importance of the working-class solidarity for the success of the strike. To this end, they were organising their own solidarity events by visiting unions, factory entrances, working-class neighbourhoods and cafes. Families of the striking workers were also providing support. They were calling on their class sisters and brothers at home and abroad to join the solidarity campaign they launched, titled “Donate an hourly wage to Netaş workers”. This call found such a strong echo that, when the strike ended, there was 1 million liras remaining in the solidarity fund in addition to a truck full of aid material. Netaş workers would send all these to the striking Derby workers.

Netaş workers sought to take back at least some of the gains which they lost after the military fascist coup of 1980. They overcame the bans through their decisive struggle and achieved many gains. Despite the new law that limited the bonus payments up to 4 times a year, the collective agreement they signed guaranteed Netaş workers 6 bonuses in a year. In disciplinary boards, workers and employers would have the same number of representatives. The chairmanship would rotate between the parties. Workers were also demanding a 3-month unemployment pay in case of dismissal. Many of these demands are unimaginable for today’s workers.

The success of the strike was not limited to the rights gained during the collective bargaining process. Netaş workers showed that even under conditions of a military coup, organised workers were able to defeat the bosses. They also set an example for many other workers from different industries. Particularly inspired by the Netaş strike were the workers unionised under Türk-İş and Hak-İş confederations, who joined the struggle soon after. Netaş Strike was followed by a series of strikes in 1987. The stage would then be set for the mass actions of the spring of 1989, the struggle of the public workers for unionisation, and the march of Zonguldak miners.

One of the key factors in the success of the Netaş strike was the international support it attracted. At that time, the strike received moral and material support along with solidarity messages from abroad, most notably from Europe. With their high level organisation, combined with the moral and material support provided by workers from many industries and countries, Netaş workers overcame the legal barriers erected by the coup and wiped out the mood of pessimism among the workers.

As today’s workers, what lessons can we draw from the experience of Netaş strike? One lesson that can be drawn is that when we reverse the state of disorganisation, the bosses will not be able to stand up against the struggle of the working class. In the end, they will step back and the victory will be ours. What matters is not the written law, but whether the workers are organised and class-conscious or not. If the workers are organised and class-conscious, they can overcome the barriers erected by the laws, rewrite the laws and achieve great gains. Netaş Strike also sheds light on how to prepare for the collective bargaining processes that are currently taking place in many sectors. In order not to be hit by our lack of organisation over and over again, we must take our share of responsibility. We must give confidence to our colleagues at the factory and get organised. When we start doing this, we will also pave the way for the greater organisation. Let us believe in our power, trust in ourselves, and learn from the experiences of our class!

27 November 2016

UİD-DER Aylık Bülteni

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