Turkish military attacks glass workers

Security forces smashed a “tent city” outside a glass factory operated by the leading glass producer Pasabahce in Eskisehir, Turkey, and detained 100 union members including two officers of the Kristal-Is union, on Nov. 7.

Workers and their families had encamped outside the 4-year-old factory in protest after Pasabahce fired 350 workers in late September and October for engaging in lawful union organization at the Eskisehir factory.

Turkey’s glass union represents 90 percent of all glass workers in the country, but Pasabahce and the Glass, Cement and Clay Products Industry Employers’ Association of Turkey over the past year and a half have mounted a systematic campaign in an attempt to destroy the union. The employers initially tried to challenge the union by invoking the “10 percent rule” of the Turkish Labor Code, which stipulates that a union has to represent at least 10 percent of all the workers in an entire industry to be certified and have bargaining status. But after the courts held that Kristal-Is easily had that, Pasabache resorted to harsher measures.

In early September, 700 workers at the Eskisehir factory, including contract workers that Pasabache had been employing to weaken the union, became members of the Kristal-Is union. The firm demanded union activists resign their employment. When they refused to do so, Pasabache fired 300 of them on Sept. 27. Pasabache sacked another 50 union activists from Eskisehir in October and three more on Nov. 3, bringing the total number of workers who have been illegally discharged to 353.

Together with families and with aid and support from Kristal-Is, the activists established a tent city outside the factory. Meanwhile, workers inside began a series of sit-down strikes and Kristal-Is members at some 13 of 15 other Turkish glass factories began solidarity protests.

The Nov. 7 military assault on the tent city protest and the detentions also resulted in the holding of Kristal-Is executive board member Polat Akbas and Eskisehir Branch Chairman Ismail Ayer. They and all of the others have since been released.

“Military force to break up lawful assembly and peaceful protest is totally unacceptable in civil society anywhere,” stated Fred Higgs, general secretary of the 20-million-member International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM). “The ICEM calls on the Turkish government to reverse this style of union-bashing and facilitate good-faith dialogue between the glass industry and Kristal-Is.”

Higgs described the escalating glass dispute as “complete and unequivocal retaliation” on the part of the employer. He said these actions violate International Labor Organization’s Core Conventions, all of which Turkey has ratified.

From the International Federation of Chemical, Mine and General Workers’ Unions