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“Beyond the Crisis”

10-12 September 2010, Rethymno, Crete, Greece


IIPPE & Greek Scientific Association of Political Economy

TEKEL Resistance: Reminiscences on Class Struggle

Metin Özuğurlu1

Most of the points raised in this evaluation paper were taken down during the TEKEL
resistance. Here, instead of any factual analysis of the TEKEL resistance, I will suffice with
some theoretical implications and reminiscences. I suppose this choice is also in line with the
basic characteristic of the Resistance itself. Indeed, the TEKEL resistance was an appeal; and
with regard to its style of coming into being, a highly romantic appeal! A romantic appeal
which displayed a high level of performance, which is undreamed of even by the most skilled
simulator in a post-modern era, and which could only have a single message: Remember!

Box: Brief information on TEKEL resistance

TEKEL is already privatized former state economic enterprise, the state monopoly of tobacco and
alcoholic beverages, which cover 12,000 workers employed 43 factories and workplace from 21
cities in Turkey. British-American Tobacco, the new owners, sacked thousands of workers at the
beginning of 2009. The government of Justice and Development Party (AKP) deployed two stages
strategy. At the first, TEKEL workers as public employees were transferred to the state owned
tobacco stores and than forced them to accept precarious employment status in public identified
with the code of 4-C which were formulated by the government as an interim solution to offer
employment for the displaced workers after privatization of state-owned enterprises. TEKEL
workers decided to start resistances against the 4-C status by which their average monthly wages
from 1,200TL (approx. 800$) reduce to 800TL (approx. 550$) and a job contract of 10 months
with no further guarantee of re-newel. They arrived to the capital city of Ankara, occupied the
streets of one of the central squares, and started to live in makeshift tents in the freezing cold of
winter for 78 days, from December 15 of 2009 to March 2 of 2010. For more information, see
Sungur Savran (2010a), and Erinç Yeldan (2010).

Note: Four photographs in this article are picked from photographer Hüseyin Türk’s photo album
of TEKEL Resistances.

1
Associated professor, Department of Labour Economics and Industrial Relations, Faculty of Political Sciences,
Ankara University.

1
Andrew Sayer (2005) starts his book, The Moral
Significance of Class, by saying; “Class is an
embarrassing and unsettling subject”. He is not so
unfair; since in our present-day world probably there
is no other state of sociality like the class which
includes us while, at the same time, so rarely
imposes its own focal characteristics over us. The reverse is probably unthinkable. With our
subjectivities which are embedded in unequal relations of exploitation and power, if it were to
be declared to our faces each and every moment of our daily lives that we were mortals whose
labour are daily exploited and who are always oppressed, we would be living either as
obedient slaves or as rebels! Obedience and revolt, is the name of the less debated study of
Barrington Moore. The full name of the book is Injustice: the Social Basis of Obedience and
Revolt’. There he examines the tragedy of the German working class which ends with
fascism, and the question which he seeks for an answer is this: “Why the people not revolt but
obey?” By a correct strategy, he first goes down to the roots of revolt. TEKEL resistance tents
are so appropriate for remembering those answers which Barrington Moore had once reached.
I will return back to this point.

Those whose fates unite while their lives are being fragmented

Contemporary class studies concentrate on the internal differentiation, fracturing and


dissolution of the class capacity. To shift the analytical interest from similarities and
commonalities to differences has become a methodological obsession in mainstream social
science approach. Yet we cannot explain the current content of the contemporary class studies
only with this tendency. The main reasons of differentiation within the working class are
related to the characteristics of the labour market, both inside and outside of the firm, which
has turned out to be highly flexible. This factor further deepened differences within the
working class and led to their consolidation. This is a fact indeed. But there is another fact as
well: There is a major tendency which horizontally cuts across the segmented labour market
and diversified forms of employment in full and consequently once more homogenizes
differences within the class over a common line of fate. This tendency is precarization of
work. Hence is the point for remembrance: The new working class consists of those whose
destinies are being united while their lives are being fragmented. TEKEL resistance tents
made visible how this class dialectics operate.

2
Learning from Marx (!) that while expanding and spreading they also create their
gravediggers, capitalists have been applying conscious strategies in order to fragment the
class capacity of workers for the last 150 years. Portraits were drawn by social scientists
without delay about these strategies which from time to time gave their fruits. And “working
class typologies” (each of which was at the same time ringing the knell of the traditional
proletariat) at various competence levels left their deep mark in the literature as the most
productive contributions of the social class studies. The above mentioned “de-composed
working class” is the freshest of these contributions. Half a century ago, there was the
“appropriating working class”, together with the ownership of the equity shares; in 1970’s
“affluent working class” was portrayed; during the very same years “labour aristocracy” in the
underdeveloped world too was rediscovered. Together with the neo-liberalism of the 1980’s,
the working class was released from being an object of interest and examination, and the
focus of interest shifted towards the poor and to those who cannot even be a class; i.e. the
under class.

Would you please look at what is being experienced now even before the paints of these
worker portraits dried? The world population faced the sharpest and largest-scale
dispossession attack. Labourers of the world were rapidly pauperized irrespective of Northern
or Southern hemispheres. Degradation and (re) proletarianization did not leave the collars of
wage workers as a whole, starting mainly from the holders of professional occupations. Look
at the destiny that, the focus of the most recent interests (the poor) and the focus of the
previous interests (the proletarian) or with a more concise expression, the Children of Sanchez
and the proletariat of Marx dissolved in one another and were transformed into the one and
the same thing2. The result is: Capital is expanding its own gravediggers while killing the
working class; while capital is defeating, it is also ripening the conditions of its own defeat.

I am indebted to TEKEL resisters for recalling this historical law too. In Resistance Tents I
observed – even it might be too subjective- with admiration, how the TEKEL workers, who
are part of the traditional manufacturing industry workmanship, which has been already
largely liquidated, gave an image so appropriate with the newly emerging worker typology.
The traditional manufacturing industry worker who also forms the backbone of the trade
union movement in Turkey is phlegmatic; s/he decides after long considerations; s/he is

2
For his definition and analysis see. Aynur Özuğurlu (2005) Poverty or Social Reproduction of Labour: Life in
Çöplük District, Unpublished Doctorate Thesis, Department of Sociology, Ankara: METU.

3
subjected to organisational hierarchy, is disciplined; insistently obeys decisions taken and
knows how to sit at the negotiation table. There were remainders of these in TEKEL workers.
However there were also the following: They took decisions very rapidly; the Resistance was
the movement of the trade union organisation, but it did not stop at that point, it also
developed the organisation of the movement; they took their decisions with grass-root
initiative within the movement; they maintained the formal organisational hierarchy of the
trade union (Tek-Gıda İş- Turkish Trade Union of Tobacco and Food Workers) but all of the
resisters potentially became both the spokespersons, activists and mass of the Resistance.

They set the resistance committee in collaboration with their trade union’s formal hierarchy
within the struggle. This committee started to lead the tent movement by improving its
organisational and administrative capacity in the course of resistance. Their resistance place,
namely “tent city”, became in a short time an address of labourer solidarity for organised,
unorganised, collective and individual initiatives generated from every parts of Turkey and
the “tent city” was accompanied by influx of materials as blankets, clothes, foods and medical
goods as well as visitors during the 78 days. Socialist organisations and especially their young
activists who lived together with the workers in the “tent city” played crucial role to carry on
small-scale and detail tasks of daily life. As Sungur Savran (2010b) observes, “The tent city in
Sakarya turned into a Mecca for all kinds of opposition movements and created an immense
impetus for a class consciousness in all, Tekel workers and visitors alike. Everything was
shared, from food to bed to ideas.” In this aura, demands of TEKEL workers were not of the
kind to be put on the negotiation table; is it possible to put rights under negotiation?

In sum, in the TEKEL resistance, we saw the new within the traditional; we heard the first
bullet in the last one. And we remembered the key question of building a united working class
struggle under present day circumstances. The question was this: Can the trend towards
precarious work which is homogenizing the working class without regard to the form of
employment to which it is subjected and without regard to the level of education and skill it
owns, be the organising ring of a united class movement? In TEKEL resistance tents during
78 days almost a “pilot study” for an affirmative answer to be given to this question is made.

The ‘pilot study’ highlights at least two instructive lessons. The first is about dominant trade
union tradition which still seek to class compromise policy with the neoliberal agenda. This
tradition which continues to dominate the Trade Unions Confederation of Turkey (Türk-Iş),
seems to be a vital internal obstacle for generalising sectional or local labour resistances.
TEKEL resisters put massive press by demanding “general strike, general resistance” on the

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top bureaucracy of the Türk-İş who were forced to take decisions together with other workers'
and public employees' confederations as “action programme” as follows: “one-hour work
stoppages every Friday”, “demonstration in Ankara”, “solidarity strikes” and “general strike”.
The result is, however, so to speak, “they crashed but not rained”. Especially right-wing
section of the union bureaucracies spent considerable efforts to nullify each planned action
from where we witnessed the unusual public revolt of the workers against the union
bureaucracy. The second lesson is for socialist movement in Turkey. After a long time,
TEKEL resistance was the first for socialists whose norms and values quickly become
hegemonic within the organised labour movement. The reason is quite simple: During the
TEKEL resistance, left-wing parties and organisations demonstrated enormous efforts in the
line of class-solidarity rather than substituted themselves for the TEKEL workers.

Security of capital is work without security

Without grasping the multi-layered characteristic of the fact of the precarization of work, it
will be also difficult to grasp the embarrassing and unsettling influence that the TEKEL
resistance created. At the first level, precarious work expresses “employment with a certain
time span”, most of which is also informal. At this level precarity is an alternative naming
which means the same thing in empirical terms such as temporary, seasonal and part time
employment. Consequently the concept of precarity at this level is an expression of a certain
form of employment. Yet in front of us there exists a fact which means more than a form of
employment. Here, work is now an activity which is organised according to the profit and
competition priorities of capital and which is directly subjected to market imperatives; and
precarity is completely a requirement of such a characteristic of work. Precarity, thus, gained
a conceptual dimension which directly defines the mode of work as well as being a certain
form of employment.3 This argument will be more understandable when the historical
tendencies of labour and capital are recalled.

Within the labour-capital conflict, the historical tendency of labour is towards the direction
that it is more than solely labour-power, which is its own function, and thus it can never be
reduced to waged workforce. It is because labour power is a commoditized commodity; a
commodity which must be re-conquered each day as commodity. Within this struggle, the
tendency of capital is in the direction of reducing labour as a whole to labour-power; and to

3
For a study where this subject is more comprehensively dealt with see Güven Savul (2008) Güvencesiz
İstihdam, Örgütsel Dönüşüm ve Çalışma Üzerine Etkileri, (Graduate thesis, A.Ü. SBE ÇEEİ Department D,
Advisor: Metin Özuğurlu), Ankara University.

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subject the number, working time, working conditions and wage level of this reduced position
to the market imperatives and firm rationale. When looked at from this angle, precarious
work, in the context of the two contradictory historical tendencies, can also be seen as a blow
to re-shape the labour-capital conflict according to the wills of capital. Thus, work, in the eve
of the third millennium is ceasing to be an activity from which an income, that provides
conditions suitable for human dignity is obtained and which is developed by labour while it is
also self-realizing and it is completely being reduced to a function of the desire of profitability
and competitiveness of the firm/company. In this mechanism the employee is nothing more
than an instrument of such function. If we remember, this is indeed the capitalism which Marx
told us. In this respect, it is not without foundations to see neo-liberalism as the self-image of
capital. In fact, there is no exaggeration but underestimation. In a short time interval, the
reproduction of masses who are being dispossessed and thrown into the workforce market and
those wage earners who are reproletarianized, due to the level commoditization reached, have
been largely subjected to cash nexus. Nevertheless, in the neoliberal era, areas of waged
employment from which such an income would be obtained had been also systematically
narrowed; and in hardly found jobs, work with security had been eliminated. This global
challenge which capital started against labour or with the same meaning, against the human
kind, is not occurring in a vacuum. There are significant achievements which the working
class movement had achieved within the struggles that it entered during the 20th century on
issues that labour does not only consist of labour-power and that not all employment mean
work. Consequently the objective of making the work precarious under the circumstances
which are shortly described here can only be attained by liquidating the achievements of the
working class; and this is exactly the situation. This fact is also conditioning the new class
movement, and the working class movement is essentially posing its own struggle as a
defence of its achieved rights, as a rights’ struggle. While showing that an answer might be
given from this land too against the global challenge of capital, the TEKEL resistance also
reminded the foundations of this rights’ struggle.

Rights’ struggle as a contemporary line of the class struggle

The TEKEL resisters put their demands into the pattern of a rights’ struggle; and moreover,
they also acted in a very appropriate manner with the general knowledge of the rights’
struggle. As it is known, the dispossessed do not have given rights which come by “birth” or
by the sake of “their individualistic nature”. For them a right, from its very start, is something
collective and achieved. Despite the fact that bourgeois scientists tried to rank them secondary

6
by putting the label “positive right” with regard to the workers too, a right is a right with its
full charm; it cannot be made subject to any negotiation; in other words, for the worker her/his
rights are her/his conditions within the struggle. The TEKEL resisters did not make their
gained rights an issue of negotiation either. It was the Government who set the negotiation
table; it behaved like a classic collective agreement party by making partial improvements in
the so called 4-C status [which forces the workers of the privatized state tobacco enterprises to
work under precarious employment conditions without job security and with wage-social
benefit cuts]. The Government who stepped back by giving compromises from its initial
position waited for the TEKEL workers too to compromise and to meet with them at a
“reasonable”. And it tried to achieve this expectation not through the TEKEL resisters but
through the top officials of Türk-İş who were seen as its addressee by the Government. And
indeed there is nothing unusual in this since the TEKEL resisters expressed that they could sit
at the negotiation table only after the acceptance of their rights/conditions and they could
negotiate for instance for their wage levels. In short, the leitmotiv of the fight between the
TEKEL resisters and the Government was directly constituted by the concept of right.

It must be remembered that the concept of right has a charm. This charm is related with the
fact that the concept implies what is fair and what is correct and that it provides its holder (of
a right) a sphere of sovereignty at a certain scale; within that sphere the holder of a right has
freedom, claims, power and immunity. Starting from the 18th century the bourgeoisie had
worn this charm of the concept of right as armour which ensured its own class power. Who
knows, perhaps in the threshold of the third millennium, the charm is changing hands! Hence,
while the capitalistic characteristic of the administrative power is becoming naked at a global
scale, what is left from this armour is a rusty mass of iron. The AKP Government at the initial
stages of the Resistance tried to dispense with the above mentioned charm of the concept of
right. Indeed, Prime Minister Erdoğan himself said, “now this is not anymore a struggle to
search rights” and posed himself as the defender of the “orphan’s right” against the TEKEL
resisters [echoing a saying in Turkish]4. It must be mentioned that the discourse concerning
the “orphan’s right” is a “counter-right” with its full meaning in terms of the subjective rights
approach; the principle is based on the well-known paternalistic “eternal right” approach
which is even more backward than that famous abstract “legal subject” principle of the

4
The term of “Rights of orphans”, rooted in the Islamic faith, is one of the key idioms in discourse of the
mainstream politics in Turkey. This idiom refers an asset which belongs to the entire community, and governor
takes responsibility for its safety. By referring “orphan’s right”, Prime Minister Erdoğan implied that accepting
the demands of TEKEL workers means spending the public budget wastefully.

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bourgeoisie. However, a response to the Prime Minister from his own world of meanings
came without delay. An orphan from the orphanage in Ankara Gölbaşı who was visiting the
TEKEL tents addressed workers with the microphones of the resistance: “We, as orphans
renounce our rights for the sake of TEKEL workers”.

When the bourgeoisie talks about rights, it is considered that the reference is not to its narrow
class interests but to a citizenship status. But when workers start a rights’ struggle they are
given such lessons as, “do you again want to defend your privileges, do you think only you
live in this society”. However, the reality is just the opposite: While the famous abstract “legal
subject” of the bourgeoisie is the generalized form of its own narrow class interest, the
historical and collective subject of the working class is an expression of the common interests
of the society. The contributions of the social sciences disciplines, mainly political sciences
and law, probably have a big part in such reversion of reality. The TEKEL resistance,
independent from the subjective intents of the resisters, deciphered the real content of the
institution of neoliberal citizenship which is now being rapidly introduced by the AKP
government and it once more reminded us the positive characteristics of being a society. The
essence of the institution of neoliberal citizenship is based on pushing labouring classes, who
are producing goods and services, as a class, out of the “political society” (and we can also
call this as the state, as the arena of the struggle between the classes). However it does not
stop here. If it did stop, the public sphere would be only consisted of the form of a “city club”
of the ruling classes. However the contemporary oligarchs have the tendency of making the
social actors, who do not have any intervention capacity over the relations of distribution from
within the political sphere, a jurisprudential component of the political society almost with the
craft of a global “social engineering”. According to this engineering wonder, which is called
governance, those who are pushed out of the political society due to their social class
positions are re-invited over their cultural identities to the very same sphere from where they
are excluded. As it is also especially shown by the Latin American countries’ experiences5,
the aforementioned citizenship project of capital creates the result of not emancipating the
suppressed cultural identities, but making the political society –if the term is appropriate-
classless. Hence the TEKEL resistance, with its symbolic meaning, is also a resistance against
the uprooting of the working class from the political society; and that the Prime Minister’s

5
To give an example, see. Sarah Chartock (2009) Ethnodevelopment in Latin America: Political competition and
making of ethnically-targeted participatory policy in Ecuador, Peru and Guatemala, 1985-2005, (PhD Thesis,
Advisor: D. J. Yashar), Department of Politics, Princeton University.

8
definition of the resistance as an “invasion” is a requirement of the citizenship status which he
wants to settle.

There may be those who find exaggeration in connecting the TEKEL resistance with the
citizenship status. In a country where the intensity of trade union organisation is around the
level of 5%, where half of the employment is informal, where structural unemployment is in
the 15-20% interval and where work in its totality is being precarized as a polish all over
these, it is clear that the comprehensive influence of the collective and individual rights of the
workers would be too restricted. We have to remember that the collective and individual
workers’ rights are the genuine components of the “modern citizenship institution” which
T.H. Marshall had formulated. From here we can reach the following three interrelated
conclusions: Firstly, while the neoliberal agenda of capital is “playing” with the work, wage,
working time and working conditions of the working class, it is at the same time “playing”
with the citizenship position of the class. Thus, as a result of the exclusion of workers from
the political society as a class, the institutionalized distinction between class positions and
citizenship status of the workers, which at the same time constitutes the essence of “bourgeois
democracies”, becomes meaningless and the distance between each of these positions is
closed off in a manner which can be conceived in daily life practices. Example? In field
studies, we frequently started to hear a new pretext for being organised in trade unions. The
pretext is so lean: “in order to be seen as a human being”, “in order to protect my dignity!”
And finally, it might be said that in the eyes of labourers, the rules and norms which
legitimize social inequalities have turned out to be illegitimate and a deep feeling of injustice
and a strong moral outrage have been accumulating for a long time in the hearts of the
dispossessed. When it comes to “moral outrage”, this means that time has come; now I can
return back to Barrington Moore which I promised to “return back” at the beginning of the
article.

The class content of moral outrage

While looking at the TEKEL resistance in the light of the contribution by Barrington Moore,
it would rather be necessary to give the analytical priority to class struggle, as different from
Moore, and thus to revise Moore’s question by revising it with E.P. Thompson.6 The question

6
Form my study where this theoretical framework is dealt with in a larger manner in order to
include the connection of moral outrage and class consciousness see Metin Özuğurlu (2005)
Anadolu’da Küresel Fabrikanın Doğuşu: Yeni İşçilik Örüntülerinin Sosyolojisi, İstanbul: Halkevleri Emek
Çalışmaları Merkezi Yayını.

9
is simple: How do workers become aware of themselves as a class? This question carries us to
the roots of revolt.

Primarily, people take their place in specific conditions of material production (objective class
position) which are independent of their own will. Since these conditions in which they take
their place include antagonistic contrasts, they also constitute the conditions of class struggle.
The issue which must not be neglected is this: These conditions are also surrounded by social
rules and codes which regulate the relations of the ruling and of the ruled and thus legitimize
social inequalities. Together with the breaking down of these rules and codes which legitimize
social inequalities, a feeling of injustice starts to develop and a moral outrage to rise. Justice,
which, among the rules and codes legitimizing social inequalities expresses the values that are
not related with law, has a unique place. Also, among the cultural codes which mediate
workers’ workforce market experiences, notions of justice and right have basic significances.
Two reasons might be given for this: First of all, as different from the relations of
exploitation, feeling of injustice and unfairness are open to daily life experiences. And
secondly, these feelings are attributable not only to labourers but to all who are subjected to
unequal power relations. Thus, the working class is not alone in terms of its feelings of
injustice and rising moral outrage. All collectives who have similar feelings and outrage take
their place in this cultural ground. And the social forms of relations and values which are at
the service of the rulers too exist within this very same cultural ground. Class consciousness
too develops in this cultural ground; distinct tones of class consciousness are related to
different levels of feelings of injustice and moral outrage which can be expressed and
generalized in terms of relations of exploitation. This is a relational process; it points out a
struggle in which values, symbols and codes take place. This struggle is lived as a one in
which labourers fight about themselves and also fight against the opposing class. When
looked at in terms of class consciousness, this process includes transition from a sectionalist
worker consciousness to a united class consciousness; its expression in contrasting terms
against the class of capital; its becoming a consciousness (hegemonic consciousness) which
expresses that its troubles and interests as a class are in fact the basis of the troubles and
interests of the entire society, and finally posing a coherent alternative social design. It is
important to look at these not as stages of class consciousness but as tones/colours of it, and to
know that, within the making of the class, all of these colours can simultaneously exist.
Another important issue which this framework of analysis points out is this: While the
explosion of the moral outrage of labourers might organise itself in the form of a class revolt

10
which is generalized as a nation; it might also organise itself in the form of a revolt of distinct
collective belongings. The second probability often means such results which paralyse the
working class and creation of conditions which prepare its defeat. And occurrence of the first
probability depends upon the fulfilment of the following three factors: (i) reversion of the
values and forms of solidarity which exist in the world of the oppressed, but in fact serve the
rulers; (ii) developing the moral standards of denunciation which would explain and judge the
current relations of exploitation and oppression, and finally (iii) giving effect to the
confrontation of friends and enemies. As long as these factors which Barrington Moore lists
as conditions of social revolt occur, rebellion or revolt of the working class means to be
organised.

The TEKEL resistance was a very teaching laboratory in terms of our understanding on how
the moral outrage exploded outwards in terms of class conflict and how this language of
struggle enjoyed sympathy and support in the eyes of all the oppressed in the society. As it is
known, TEKEL workers constituted a community on whom, forms of solidarity and values
serving the ruling class had a considerable influence. That a majority of them had voted in
favour of AKP is the most commonly known dimension of this situation. And the number of
workers who had engagements beyond the position of being mere voters was not few either.
Also forms of social relations and values such as fellow townsmen-ship, regionalism, ethno-
centrism, nationalism and mainly patriarchy also existed among the workers at considerable
levels. Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of the TEKEL resistance is the fascinating
transformation in this whole set of forms of relations and values which serve the ruling class.
The public opinion and especially the left public opinion conceived this transformation as
“becoming left-wing when being right-wing”. And the symbol of this conception was a phrase
uttered by a TEKEL resister: “[implying Muslim style of praying] now we are communists
five times a day”. Without any doubt this is a great rupture and it is very valuable. But the real
transformation occurred just exactly in the sense which Barrington Moore was searching; the
TEKEL workers who have gender, ethnic and religion/sect based identities and moreover who
bear the entire indications of the identity based political confrontation, almost reconstructed
the identities they posses in terms of labour-capital conflict during the Resistance.

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The Resistance process was also experienced as a
process of building a cultural ground which
relatively emancipated the women (also the men as
long as they could get free of patriarchy) and where
the Kurdish workers could freely express their
languages, the Alevi workers their sect beliefs and
the workers coming from İzmir (an Aegean city)
their love for Atatürk. The workers coming from the Black Sea region played their traditional
folkloric dances together with accompanying Kurdish music; and the Kurdish workers played
their regional folk dances with the company of Black Sea musical instruments. TEKEL
resisters found and revealed this creative symbolism which transformed contrasts into
mutualism. This culture is the working class culture. The identity which emerged out of this
culture is the working class identity. The class identity (unfortunately or fortunately) does not
belong to the same plane with the other social identities; if the knowledge of the relations of
exploitation was open to daily life experience, it would be possible for us to talk about a class
identity within the same plane with the ethnic or religious identities. Just for this reason, when
you wear the class identity, you do not have to divorce from your other cultural affinities. It is
adequate that you redefine the cultural ties you posses in terms of labour-capital conflicts
which condition your material life! Since class is not a fixed stake (or you may call it a ‘fixed
and closed subject position’) but it is a mesh of linkage; its appeal is not an appeal for “be
me”, but “find the self” in you. This appeal has a material counterpart, it is not an invitation
made for intentions. In Turkey where almost a tension of “ethnic civil war” is being
experienced together with cultural identities each of which are being politicized in their own
cups, I suppose this de facto appeal, which has an objective counterpart in concrete life,
underlies the hope which the TEKEL resistance created.

Fight of the class to defend its self-esteem

The fact that this appeal does have a counterpart in the material life conditions is not an
analytical determination, but it is completely an empirical generalization. In the last year, I
participated in field studies in different cities of Turkey encompassing rural and urban
labourers. The class content of the material life conditions are so obvious! I would like to
draw attention to the fact that today in Turkey the explanatory code of the labouring class
behaviour is “fear”. The labourers use this code as something multi-layered. At the first layer,
the fear is for being fired from job and fear for not finding another. And at a deeper layer

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there stands the fear for not being able to fulfil the requirements of the basic role they assume
(being a good son-daughter, a valuable spouse and protective parents, etc.) If it is necessary to
express in terms of psychology, what is under consideration is a great fear such as the “lost of
self-esteem”. The threshold of fear, when it is felt strong, brings together obedience to
authority and unquestioning submission. And another possibility is surpassing the threshold of
fear; Turkey should be prepared to individual and collective forms of this situation which
might also mean surpassing beyond the norms which have a common-sense characteristic. We
know the process which brought the labourers at the threshold of loss of self-esteem:
precarization of work and unemployment. The concurrent existence of this couple already
transformed employment into a moment of unemployment and unemployment into a moment
of employment in terms of concrete worker experience. Frequent job changes are now
widespread; until the 1980’s the people who frequently change jobs (and they were so few to
be shown by fingers) were seen as people “not being able to have a life”. “Being not able to
have” a real life now became the concrete life style of the great majority of the society in
Turkey. Thus as much as the society is forced to be embedded in the market, the relation of
the labourers with life is becoming more and more basted. Thus it is for this reason that the
contribution of the TEKEL resistance which carried the demand to “work with security and a
humanly life” from being a potential into action is so great for the Turkish society. This
contribution, with its shortest expression, is hope! Hope is the most urgent need of the Turkish
society which is drowned by fear for lost of self-esteem. The most significant factor in
TEKEL resisters’ flourishing hope is that they had been resisting against a force such as AKP.
It should not be forgotten that AKP is a government party which presses over whoever
opposing it like a road roller and which creates nearly a feeling of “learned helplessness”
among its adversaries. The TEKEL resisters who stood against such a force by saying “we
shall die but shall not return back” injected hope to the entire society, mainly to the labourers.
And AKP in a highly systematic manner aimed to transform the self-confidence which the
TEKEL resistance started to create among the society into a deep feeling of helplessness.

If the process is examined as a whole, it might be told quite fairly that Prime Minister
Erdoğan, who personally took the ropes in his hand, together with his staff, followed nearly a
warfare tactic against the TEKEL resistance. As the requirements of this tactic, first of all
each of the social, psychological and material supply roads of the Resistance were tried to be
cut off with different tools. Most authorized mouths of the political power, together with their
party organisations, mass media, banks and civil administration pushed and pushed in order to

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injure the personalities of the TEKEL workers and break down their self-esteem. They tried to
break down the resistance by devaluating the resisters and to dissolve the resistance. AKP
really hovered in order to give the message of “supposedly they were to die but not return
back” to the entire society and it did not neglect the tricky strikes. While the TEKEL workers
were removing their resistance tents after the decision of the Supreme Court [for extending
the official time limit of the TEKEL workers to accept passing to 4-C status] Prime Minister
Erdoğan could only tell: “We will never permit such a thing to occur once again”. This phrase
is a clear expression of the moral defeat of the Government Party in front of the TEKEL
resistance.

When the “thing which will be never permitted to occur once again” is closely looked at, a
culture will be seen which the TEKEL workers have built, as it was previously mentioned,
together with their plastic shanties in the Sakarya square of Ankara. This is the working class
culture; in this culture mutual aid is made by making the destinies common and by
constructing a unity of fate; people share their poverty. The liberal-conservative cultural
emulsion of the ruling class is left in failure in front of the class culture which is re-born from
its ashes in the plastic shanties. The liberal wing of the dominant culture tells us to think about
our individual benefits, pay the money if we demand and there is nothing for free, be their
client; and its conservative wing tells that, if you are not a client you are a pauper; be in need
of its benevolence; I will embrace you with my compassionate arms and do not avoid your
prays but especially your votes from me. However the TEKEL resister told, “I am not a poor
person who is in need of aid, I am an honourable person, I am here with my dignity and my
plastic tent is open for those who will unite with my destiny”. During 78 days, that indeed the
class culture is building a society and that culture of capital is dissolving the society became
an observable reality.

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And let the last phrase of this article to be for those who think that AKP is transforming the
society in Turkey towards democratization and for those who get more or less excited from
the “openings of identity”. There is a saying in Turkish such as, “full stomach does not
understand the mood of the hungry”; when the philanthropist traditions of the owners of
wealth are taken into consideration we might look at this folk’s saying with suspect, but what
is quite certain is this: Hungry stomach can never understand the mood of the full!

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