Social Dialogue matters
1860-1923: Pre-republican era
In the Ottoman empire, industrial relations laws or regulations were relatively absent, given the almost feudal character of the Turkish society at that time. Nevertheless, regulations towards the end of the Ottoman empire, regulations regarding health and safety were enacted. Further, the 1909 Work Stoppage Act, introduced a prohibition of strike actions (Aydin, 2005).
The first union, the Amele Perver Cemiyeti (Pro-Workers Union) was formed in 1871 an around 1908 two other unions were formed in different industries (Arslan, 2009).
1920-1950: Atatürk Period – The quick demise of initial openness
Shortly after the foundation of the republic, the initial openness towards civil society organizations of the new elites in Turkey, swiftly changed into hostility and repression of grass-root organizations like labor unions (Mello, 2006: 211). These anti-labor union policies were codified in the 1925 ‘law on the maintenance of the public order’. The 1936 labor law was an exact copy of the labor law in fascist Italy. It banned unions and any kind of strike action (Zürcher, 2006: 252). The 1938 ‘law of associations’ further increased the pressure on labor unions as it prohibited all associations based on family, community, religious or class interests (Kus & Özel, 2010).
1950-1960: Multi-party system – The false promises of the Demokratik Party
With the shift from a single to a multi-party system, radical shifts in the state policies towards unions were announced by the upcoming Demokratik Party (DP). The ruling CHP lifted the ban on class-based organizations in 1946 and adopted the 1947 ‘law of the worker and employer unions and union associations’.This law recognized the right of workers to organize, yet regulated to a far extend how unions were supposed to work and organized. It nevertheless enabled Turkey to join the ILO (Zürcher, 2006: 271).
In an attempt to gain support of the upcoming labor movement, the DP promised to recognize the right to strike and extended organization rights. When the DP came to power in 1950, the promise of recognizing the right to strike was quickly forgotten, yet reforms including the introduction of paid holidays, sick leave and a minimum wage were introduced (Kus & Ozel, 2010).
In 1952 Türk-Is was founded. The ruling DP tried to establish corporatist relations with the confederation and thereby reduce the impact and demands of the labor movement (Kus & Ozel, 2010), yet due to the lack of profound reforms of the DP government, tensions between Türk-Is and the DP government quickly increased.
1960-1980: The 1960 coup and its liberal after-match
The military intervention of 1960, directed at the power concentration of the DP, and it’s presumed plans to put into question the secular character of the republic, led to the introduction of a very liberal constitution in 1960. Consequently, the labor movement grew strongly and significant improvement of social rights were realized. On the left, the TIP (Turkish Labor Party) was founded in 1961, this leftist party had organic ties with the labor activists which founded DISK in 1967. DISK was founded as a split-off of Türk-Is after a strike in a glass factory. The DISK union explicitly rejected the ‘above-party’ politics of Türk-Is and took very explicit and radical political positions.
Street violence between left- and right-wing activists and the incapability of the regime to respond to the problems, led to the military memorandum of 1971. Turkish secret service agents consequently arrested a series of leftist labor activists (Zurcher, 2006, p. 326).
The foundation of MISK in 1970 and Hak-Is in 1976 confirmed the tendency of towards a fragmented labor movement built on ideological differences. These differences led to frequent street violence in the 70ties and the public execution of labor leaders such as the then-president of DISK, Kemal Türkel (Zürcher, 2006: 333).
1980-… : The 1980 coup and the neo-liberal turn of Turkey
As the street violence was one of the major reasons for the 1980 military intervention, one of the primary goals of the military regime was to weaken significantly the labor movement (Asp, 2002, p. 127). DISK and MISK were swiftly prohibited and also Hak-Is had to stop its activities. Türk-Is on the contrary could continue its working. Although MISK and Hak-Is could soon after, restart their activities, DISK had to wait until 1991 until it could openly restart its organization.
The neo-liberal agenda of the military regime and the subsequent ‘motherland party’ governments seriously curtailed union rights in Turkey. The 1983 Trade Union Law (no. 2821) and Collective bargaining, Strike and Lock-Out law (no. 2822) regulate into detail the competences, composition and structure of the labor movement in Turkey. These laws led to a “juridification and bureaucratization of the collective bargaining process and of strike activity” (Yildirim & Calis, 2006, pp. 3-4).
The IMF reform agendas of 1999 directly led to the creation of the ‘Emek Platformu’ (labor platform) which was a informal platform in which all the union confederations could coordinate their actions (for a detailed article click here).
Further reading & References:
Aydin, U. (2005). From the Taft-Hartley Act to Turkish Industrial Relations – Postponement of Legal Strikes: A Legal Borrowing Case. Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, 25.
Arslan, A. (2009) A sociological analysis of labour union and labour union elites in Developing countries: Turkish labour union elites. European Journal of Economic and Political Studies. 2(1).
Asp, U. (2002). The trade union situation in Turkey – an analysis. South-East Europe Review , 3,
Kus, B., Özel, I., (2010) United we restrain, divided we rule: Neoliberal Reforms and Labor Unions in Turkey and Mexico. European Journal of Turkish Studies, 11.
Zurcher, E. J. (2006). Het moderne Turkije. Sun.