Socialist Worker

Occupation is a spark?

Issue No. 1812

THE FAR right in Turkey held a demonstration last weekend against the government's proposals to lift the death penalty and ease restrictions on Kurdish speakers. It is a sign of the deepening crisis inside the country. The prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, is putting the changes forward as part of Turkey's bid to join the European Union (EU).

The crisis in Turkey, a key NATO ally, comes as the US is building up for a war on Iraq in the region. Turkey's economy is in a mess. Since last December the representatives of big business have issued warnings to the government about the danger of a 'social explosion'. The media endlessly discuss the possibility of Turkey becoming 'the next Argentina'. Turkey's rulers need a strong government to implement International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies which are hugely unpopular.

Yet the general election in November will not produce this. The opinion polls are so changeable, and often manipulated, that it is almost pointless to try and predict the election results. It is even impossible to tell which parties will be in parliament. They need to get 10 percent of the vote nationally to enter parliament, and many of them may not overcome this threshold.

There has been no majority government in Turkey since 1989. It has been run by two-party or three-party coalitions, with all the instability and weakness that brings. This election will be no different.

The attempt to create a new pro-IMF, pro-war, centre-left force led by IMF man Kemal Dervis and pro-EU foreign minister Ismail Cem appears to have foundered before it even took off. There is huge anger and resentment in the country against the IMF policies the government has implemented for the past three years.

The financial collapse of February 2001 made everyone 50 percent poorer overnight. Everyone knows that the IMF is the problem, not the solution. Yet all the parties promise more of the same policies. The US-led attack on Afghanistan was extremely unpopular here, yet all the parties will happily take part in Bush's next barbarity in Iraq. Outside parliament the country is like a powder keg. Poverty and unemployment continue to rise.

Some 870 workers occupied the small Pasabahce glass factory when the bosses decided to close it down. It is in a working class neighbourhood in Istanbul on the shores of the Bosporus.

The whole neighbourhood is taking part in the occupation, which has turned into a district-wide carnival of the oppressed. Demonstrations of 10,000 or more take place daily. Workers have said on national TV, 'We know they want to close the factory and sell off the land so they can build luxury villas for the rich.'

Another protester said, 'This is what IMF policies mean. We had 3,400 people working here. They have whittled us down to 870 and frozen our wages, and none of that was enough to satisfy them.'

Among the thousands of supporters visiting the occupation were the Istanbul Social Forum Initiative which is building for the European Social Forum in Florence, and the Stop the War Platform. The media are explicitly worrying that this struggle 'might be the spark which sets the country alight'. It may or may not be.

But the fact that the workers themselves and everyone else are talking about sparks and fires shows how real the possibility of an explosion is.

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Article information

Sat 10 Aug 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1812
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