Redefining trade union and unionism
| | 11-05-2016

Hasan Yalçın YAYLA

Civil servant unionism that has gained momentum with the help of the Law No. 4688 on Trade Unions for Civil Servants enacted in 2001 has experienced a quick change and transformation process at least two or three times more than labour unionism’s historical change and transformation over the last 14 years. It’s possible to assess this short and quick change process in three periods: the period when Kamu-Sen and KESK were authorized, the period after 2010 Referendum on Constitutional Change in which a transition from collective talks into collective agreement occurred and the period when Memur-Sen is authorized.

 With granting union rights to civil servants, state employees did not open up to trade unions since they made the definition of trade union and unionist on the basis of traumatic traces and ideological vicious disputes caused by labour unionism before the 12th September coup d’état.  However, practices and discourses of AK Party governments -which passed that law and have offered legally wide opportunities from the perspective of EU for union organizations by making broad openings in the field of freedoms- triggered the perception that civil servant unionism was different from the labour unionism left in the memories and all trade unions has gained momentum since 2001 and continuously increased their members. 

Since then trade unions would define a new “trade union” and “unionist” on the basis of their own intellectual values and performances they have demonstrated; and the union which was in great demand and offered services in the eye of state employees would have the right to say word and use powers entitled by the law. Namely, everybody would make their own definition.

In the first period of unionism process that we divided generally into three sections after 2001, unfortunately there was not a better performance. The fact that the authorized trade unions and confederations positioned themselves against the government as if they were an opposition party and that the political and ideological biases determined everything in processes regarding rights and gains of civil servants have caused many serious losses. For instance, when KESK was authorized to hold collective talks, even before starting the talks and without any acceptable excuses, by ignoring current situation and the table, they adopted such approaches as saying “We would not sit on the table before these conditions are met, we are against everything you brought to the table whatever you do”, which wasted those years without any gains for civil servants. In that period, while those authorized unions, which adopted ideological attitude rather than unionist one, reinforced their own core and ideological mass, they destroyed the hopes and expectations of other civil servants.  The goodwill of governments that developed a positive position toward trade unions and unionism for the first time in the history of Republic could not be utilized and opportunities could not be turned into gains. According to statistics in the official minutes of Ministry of Labour and Social Security,  gains of state employees during collective talks between 2001 and 2009 was “zero”, which is the biggest indicator of above-mentioned situation. 

When we were in 2010, there was a necessity to change the constitution, which was the biggest obstacle to democratization and liberation of Turkey, and to draw a constitution that ensures emergence of individuals who do not command but serve for their values and people, not question but give account, not divide but unite, not define but express themselves. Although all political parties stressed that need in every environment, unfortunately a joint text could not be drawn up and therefore a 26-article constitutional change was submitted for the public’s approval and accepted on September 12, 2010. A vital gain concerning the working life has been achieved among these amendments; the law on trade unions passed in 2001 was revised and a transition from collective talks into collective agreement occurred. Within this period, unfortunately those trade unions which were authorized before Memur-Sen gave a terrible account of themselves again and once more showed which direction the axis of their union went toward, organizing “No” campaigns against the referendum in which right to sign collective agreement was granted as a constitutional right. Within that period especially Memur-Sen and Egitim-Bir-Sen said “yes” to the changes that would be made in 1982-model constitution, and given the results, they have become the real representative of employees.

With transition from collective talks into collective agreement, the table has become meaningful, the signature has become provision of law; by taking significant steps in the area of civil servant unionism, the trade unions, which have legal status but no effective status, have gained power. Although right to strike was not granted, this big step has become the beginning of a second period in unionism. Though the first period resulted in non-agreement, in the second and third terms 213 gains in total have been achieved with the signatures on collective agreements. By getting new experiences in every collective agreement and building on them, improvement of financial and social rights and more gains have been secured; besides, defining freedoms of religion, conscious and worship at the broadest level through regulations that ensure civil servants serve their Friday prayer comfortably were included into collective agreement texts and a table has been shaped where not only financial rights but also employees’ various problems could be talked and resolved.

Following the union process we mentioned briefly above, the period when Memur-Sen and Egitim-Bir-Sen undertook the power has become the beginning of a new era. This period has become the most important and third term of historical process in civil servant unionism, where the concepts of “trade union” and “unionist” tarnished by those unions -which transferred negative traces of labour unionism into civil servant unionism- has gained meaning again, and such words as right, freedom, value, principle, the oppressed and victim have been turned into a subject.

Those trade unions -which turned union language into a tool for ideological and marginal discourse, used the rights granted by the union law as a tool for insulting and swearing society’s national, religious and moral values- lost their prestige and credibility as well as power in the eye of the society and employees.  

The position where Memur-Sen and Egitim-Bir-Sen took during the period of 28th February, its approach against 27th April e-memorandum, the lines they stood during 2010 referendum and their reaction to global operation carried out against Turkey on December 17-25 have been indicators of  their backbone and position whether they are authorized or not. 

The trade unions whose values and principles have changed in parallel with their chairmen and which have been proxies and gunmen of some people will eventually have to fade from the scene and field as we have often seen examples in recent history. That’s not a wish. Existence of different trade unions in working life and the increase in their number is a gain for employees. However, this will be the natural consequence that this union definition and unionist reflex -which we criticize- would cause.   Therefore, it’s only possible to switch to a new union platform of which good and main example is Memur-Sen and Egitim-Bir-Sen and to place union definition and axis on this platform by the wave of union members no matter which union they are members of.  

Our union has never deviated from the direction which our founding Chairman Mehmet Akif Inan stated in 1992 and has been the voice of the oppressed and victims and the address for pursuit of right, making its line clearer. 

We will continue to ideally defend rights of education workers who made us the largest nongovernmental organization in Turkey, to stand for the people and against tyrants as we have done until now, to  unwaveringly carry out our activities without deviating from our line, standing, mission and vision stated in our founding philosophy.