24 August 2010, Tuesday

Action against UPS at 154 countries

LaborWorld interviewed Turkey's Road Transport Union's (TÜMTİS) President Kenan Öztürk about resistance against UPS as well as other important issues that are recently on the political agenda of Turkey (abridged English version).

KAZIM ŞAHİN kazimsahin@emekdunyasi.net

It has been more than 100 days of resistance against the giant transportation company UPS. 156 workers had been laid off after they joined Turkey's Road Transport Union (TÜMTİS) in order to improve their working conditions, and wages. The campaign against the UPS in Turkey is also supported internationally; last week during the 42nd General Assembly of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), 154 countries decided to support the campaign and to take action simultaneously on September 1st. Turkey's Road Transport Union's  (TÜMTİS) President Kenan Öztürk answered our questions on resistance against UPS, the state of the unionist movements as well as state of world affairs and Turkish politics.

What is the current state of the organization efforts at the UPS? What will be your next move?

We have been working on the UPS campaign for about 2 years now. It is a part of our larger organizational efforts at the international companies. Not surprisingly, as soon as the employers found about our work, they started the lay offs. Right now, 156 of our friends lost their jobs and resistance continues at 3 locations; Kurtköy  and Mahmutbey shipping centers at  İstanbul and at İzmir. There has been increasing support from many other unions, because all unions know very well that giant international companies are taking over the domestic markets in all sectors of the economy, and transportation is also part of this trend. Our campaign started as a part of the ITF project and despite all pressures we did not have a single resignation from our union. Even more UPS workers are joining are union.

Did you get support from other unions and federations? What is their opinion on the UPS resistance?

Like I mentioned before, there is support from other unions, but it is definitely not enough.  Right now there are about 5000 workers at UPS. If we succeed at this campaign, it won't be just for the transportation sector; it will also be a gain for all unions that work in different sectors that are trying to organize against the international companies. In Turkey, within the transportation sector, there are about 30 thousand unorganized workers that work in international companies. They are all watching us, and if we succeed in this campaign, it will for sure lead to more unionization in the transportation sector.  Therefore we are utilizing all are resources despite serious limitations. We give about 500 Turkish Lira for all workers that participate in the resistance; we try to provide food and transportation. The resistance is getting more and more coverage from media everyday.

NO REPLY FROM TÜRK-İŞ (Turkish Confederation of Labour Unions) YET

One of our major goals is to bring together all different resistance movements taking place at different sectors. On the other hand, till now, we only got support from TÜRK-İŞ that amounts to about 25 thousand Turkish Lira.  We met with TÜRK-İŞ representatives yesterday and explained the state of our resistance, and asked for support for the actions we will take on September 1st and September 15th. We demanded that September 1st becomes the day for the solidarity with the UPS workers in Turkey, but we still did not receive any response from them.

You participated at the ITF Congress. There had been some important decisions regarding the UPS campaign here. What is the general international opinion towards the campaign right now?

Till today, ITF supported our campaign by sending petitions to the Turkey's Ministry of Transportation. During the last congress, I participated as a delegate and we did our best to keep the UPS campaign on the agenda of the discussions. After many discussions, all participants agreed for increased support for the UPS campaign. We also mentioned that the petitions did not take us anywhere, and we needed support during in the form of actual, psychical action. ITF General Assembly decided to start solidarity activities at 154 countries on September 1st.  If laid off workers are not hired back, and not given their union related rights after September 1st, the General Assembly decided to launch even a larger scale event on September 15th. If still UPS takes no action, than the events will become more worldwide and more intense and will take place every two weeks till we get what we want.

What do you think about the solidarity among the unions?

Unfortunately most of the resistances take place at the local levels. Attacked unions try to defend themselves, and confederations show limited support. These are especially hard times for the unions due to increased privatization since the AKP government is elected. The local resistances rarely end with success, and there is an urgent need for the unionist movement to understand the importance of mutual support.

How do you see the support for the UPS workers?

UPS workers are determined, despite all pressures; there are no resignations from the union. Our struggle continues, and our members are increasing everyday. As I said before, if UPS workers win, this will be a gain for the all unorganized workers in Turkey. Therefore, I invite all unions to support us. But, I also want to mention that supporting UPS workers does not solely mean to visit the picket lines. We need more action. For example we will have a big rally on September 1st, and we invite all unions to join our rally. Short visits to picket lines are obviously not enough support. So currently, the UPS employer does not feel like " not only UPS workers, and TUMTIS, but all workers' movement is against me". Unionist movement should take some other action like slow down strikes like they did during the TEKEL strike.  Especially the domestic organization of the demonstrations that will take place on September 1st and September 15th at 154 different countries is crucial.

Think about this, there are still many union federation presidents from Turkey that did not make a support visit to the UPS workers.  But during the ITF General Assembly, support came from all 154 countries. For example, on September 1st,  Argentinean public workers  union will stop work for one day, and will also take actions like burning tires in front of their work places to show their solidarity with the UPS workers. In US, there will be one-hour work stoppage, including teamsters, slowdown strike for one day, and rallies in three different regions. In Holland, unions will demonstrate in front of the UPS headquarters. Five Norwegian promised to 7000$ per month, regardless of the length of our resistance.

While your struggle continues, there is a big public debate on the referendum. What is your opinion on the referendum?

The AKP package has nothing to do with democracy. Currently, joining a union is a constitutional right, but employers can violate this right so easily by firing any worker that joins a union. Same way, the police sees no problem at physically attacking workers that simply use their constitutional rights.  AKP's only goal with this referendum is to gain power above different political cliques. Also, saying "no" is even a worse option, because these groups do not even want to be part of a discussion that may bring social change. So, with the support of the bourgeoisie media, we ended up with two cliques within the referendum discussions, and none of them tells anything to the real victims of the September 12th, such as workers, revolutionaries, laborers, and the poor.

The prime minister says " we will face with the history and September 12th" but then ministry of justice says, "September 12th is too much in the past now, no do not need to reconcile with it". So the hypocrisy is obvious here. For our union, there are two dominants opinions; boycott and no. Türk-İş announced that they would be saying no, but we do not pressure our members on their opinions. Both "no" and "boycott" supporters are common among our members.

After a long period of violence, PKK announced ceasefire.  What do you think about the role of the unions to sustain the ceasefire?

Most of the time, we declare our opinions on this issue during our general assemblies. But unfortunately the unionist movement sees itself outside of the Kurdish problem. On the other hand, the problem is directly associated with the problems of the laborers and workers. Unions need to take a more clear position on the Kurdish problem, because the poor and laborers are the actual victims of this war. There is no single son of an army General or a politician that has been directly affected from this war.  It is always poor families' sons that are killed in this war. Also till today, billions of dollars spent on this war came from the tax revenues of the working class people. We support the solution of this problem through designation of democratic rights to the Kurds. We also support the ceasefire. We believe that unions need to be involved more actively in this process and we are already working with some other unions on this.

İstanbul - Labour World