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Remembering the Long March of Zonguldak Miners!

Capitalists are on the offensive against the acquired rights of the workers, while they are also trying to make the working class forget its history of struggle. The aim of the capitalists and their government is to deprive the workers of historical consciousness. They do their utmost to prevent workers from achieving class consciousness. They do their utmost to prevent today’s new generation of workers from learning about the struggles of the past. They fear that young workers may become aware of the fact that working class achieved enormous gains thanks to the struggles of the past and that workers represent a huge force when they organise. Serving the interests of the capitalist class, the government seeks to suppress all kinds of organised power of the workers by banning strikes and bringing trade unions under control.

Capitalists are on the offensive against the acquired rights of the workers, while they are also trying to make the working class forget its history of struggle. The aim of the capitalists and their government is to deprive the workers of historical consciousness. They do their utmost to prevent workers from achieving class consciousness. They do their utmost to prevent today’s new generation of workers from learning about the struggles of the past. They fear that young workers may become aware of the fact that working class achieved enormous gains thanks to the struggles of the past and that workers represent a huge force when they organise. Serving the interests of the capitalist class, the government seeks to suppress all kinds of organised power of the workers by banning strikes and bringing trade unions under control.

However, despite all their efforts, they will not succeed in their attempts to erase the struggle history of the workers. Zonguldak Miners’ March is one of such struggles. It represents a milestone in the struggle history of the working class in Turkey. On its 27th anniversary, Zonguldak Miners’ March lays bare, once again, both the power of the workers’ unity and the treacherous role of the union bureaucracy.

The neo-liberal attacks

As part of the neo-liberal economic attacks implemented after 1980, the mines also became target of the capitalists. In line with the changing needs of the capital, they decided to downscale or shut down the mines. As the first step, they depicted the mines as loss makers. To the miners, who had to earn their livings by working in an airless and sunless environment deep beneath the ground, shutdown of the mines meant unemployment and hunger. Having a deep-rooted struggle history, miners did not remain silent despite the ongoing effects of the military coup of 12 September 1980. Resorting to various intrigues and manoeuvres, the capitalist class attempted to shut down the mines. First, Kilimli mine was shut down. It was followed by İhsaniye, Çaydamar and Dilaver mines.

The strike

Organised under Genel Maden-İş (General Mine Workers’ Union), workers stood up against shutdown, downscaling and privatisation of the mines. They were also demanding wage increases. To have their demands met, they went on strike on 30 November. The strike would result in their 80,000-strong march to the capital, Ankara. Miners were calling on their class brothers and sisters to join the strike, saying “We have shut down production. The working class of Turkey should do the same!” On 30 November, the strike banner was hanged at the gate of the Gelik enterprise. The impact of the strike quickly spread throughout other cities and even countries. Shopkeepers and municipal workers also stood in support of the miners. Dockers from different countries, including the Republic of South Africa, took solidarity action by refusing to ship the coals that were intended to be imported to Turkey. In response, capitalist government announced a lockout on 4 December.

Due to the strong grass-root pressure, Türk-İş bureaucracy felt obliged to call for a General Strike, starting on 3 January. Next day, the march to Ankara would begin. The ruling ANAP (Motherland Party) government denounced the strike as illegal and uttered threats to the workers. However, the workers did not back down from their decision. They were chanting, “We have burnt our boats!”

The march is starting

On 4 January, police forces blocked the path of the buses that would transport workers to Ankara. In response, the workers decided to go on by foot. There were also representatives of the bourgeois parties accompanying the marching workers. They had no common interests with workers. They were rather hunting for votes.

With workers from other cities joining the ranks along the march, the number of the marchers reached about 100,000. Neither police and military barricades nor the freezing temperature was able to stop the workers. On 7 January, workers came across a huge barricade which consisted of bull-dozers and water cannon vehicles along with hundreds of cops and soldiers. Workers built a fire in front of the barricades and started to wait along with folk dances and songs. Government forces took 200 workers into custody in an attempt to break the will of the workers.

The ominous role of trade union bureaucracy

In the meantime, union bureaucrats were conducting secret negotiations with the government behind closed doors. Not much later, they told workers that they found a “middle ground” and declared their decision to end the march. Deceived by the bureaucrats, workers found themselves in a state of sorrow as the march suddenly ended halfway to the capital. Because no concrete gain was achieved since the government only promised for another meeting. When the Gulf War broke out a few weeks later, the government used it as a pretext and banned the ongoing strikes. On 25 January, a collective agreement was signed. It was offering too little when compared with the workers’ demands.

The Great Miners’ March did not end as the miners desired. But this march has shown how workers can put fear in the hearts of capitalists and their governments when they rise as one. This march occurred at the beginning of the 1991. The history of working class in Turkey is littered with such experiences. In order to succeed in our struggles today, it is of vital importance to remember these experiences and draw lessons from them.

10 August 2019

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