Alpkan Birelma / Three Cases of Worker Mobilization in Contemporary Turkey

An abstract of the thesis of Alpkan Birelma for the degree of Master of Arts degree from the Atatürk Institute for Modern Turkish History to be taken September 2007

Three Cases of Worker Mobilization in Contemporary Turkey

This thesis examines three cases of contemporary worker mobilizations with the aim of unionization in Turkey. Special emphasis is devoted to the investigation of the participant workers’ experiences and agency. It is argued that there is an ever-present temptation to objectify and distance the working class due to the unequal power relations in our global society. Thanks to the rise of neo-liberalism at the ideological level and the concomitant rise of post-fordism, this temptation has become even stronger, in line with the fact that the extent of the rule of the capital has strengthened itself. Hence workers’ experiences have become degraded, and their agency neglected.

The investigation of three mobilizations reveals the particular difficulties the workers faced on the way to unionization due to the legal restrictions and the economic conditions as can be seen in high rates of unemployment and low job security. Emphasis is given to the ways in which workers attempted to overcome the mentioned difficulties by way of workers’ agency. The data consists of observations made during the mobilizations and afterwards, and the detailed interviews with the participants. How those workers perceived and expressed their experiences, as necessarily it is, in cultural terms is especially scrutinized, following E. P. Thompson’s inspiring contributions.

This thesis illuminates the workers’ agency, and focuses on the more indigenous worker strategies, cultural practices and active work-group social relations such as the formation of solidarity, cohesion and networks among workers, instead of focusing on the external factors, such as union involvement, or pure economic factors on which conventional works mainly concentrate.

Atatürk Ilkeleri ve Inkilap Tarihi Enstitüsü’nde Yüksek Lisans derecesi için Alpkan Birelma tarafindan Eylül 2007’te teslim edilen tezin kisa özeti

Günümüz Türkiye’sinde Üç Isçi Hareketi Örnegi

Bu tez Türkiye’de sendikalasmayi hedef alan üç güncel isçi hareketini incelemektedir. Hareketlerde yer alan isçilerin deneyimlerine ve özneliklerine özel bir önem atfedilmistir. Günümüz küresel toplumunda isçi sinifini nesnelestirme ve uzaklastirmaya yönelik –daima var ola gelmis olan– bir egilim oldugu iddiasi ile yola çikilmistir. Ideolojik alanda neo-liberalizmin ve ona eslik eden post-fordizmin yükselisi ile bu egilim, sermayenin egemenliginin güçlenmesi ile denk düsecek sekilde daha da güçlenmistir. Bu yüzdendir ki isçilerin deneyimleri degersizlestirilmekte ve öznelikleri yok sayilmaktadir.

Üç hareketin incelenmesi isçilerin sendikalasirken karsilastiklari yasal sinirlamalar ve yüksek issizlik, düsük is güvencesi gibi ekonomik kosullardan kaynaklanan zorluklari ayrintisiyla ortaya koymaktadir. Tezde isçilerin bu zorluklari hangi yollarla asmaya çalistiklarina agirlik verilmistir. Kullanilan veriler, hareketler sürerken ve sonrasinda yapilan gözlemlere ve katilimcilarla yapilan ayrintili görüsmelere dayanmaktadir. E. P. Thompson’in ilham verici katkilarinin izinden gidilerek, isçilerin yasadiklari deneyimleri, zorunlu olarak kültürel terimlerle, nasil algiladiklari ve ifade ettikleri özellikle irdelenmistir.

Bu tez isçilerin özneligine egilmektedir. Geleneksel çalismalarin odaklandigi sendika etkisi ya da ekonomik etkenler gibi dissal etkenlerden ziyade isçilerin kendi stratejilerine, kültürel pratiklerine ve dayanismanin, bagliligin, aglarin olusturulmasi gibi isyerindeki etkin toplumsal iliskilerine odaklanmaktadir.