#DirenKazova: the Turkish factory under workers’ control

Published on Roarmag.org, by Joris Leverink, May 29, 2014.

On the eve of the first anniversary of the Gezi uprising, a small group of textile workers explores a radical alternative: occupy, resist, produce!

Diren!Kazova, reads the sign above a small shop and cultural center in Istanbul’s busy Sisli neighborhood. Inside, the floor is made of cobblestones, giving the visitor the impression of arriving at a type of indoor street market. Slogans like ’1st of May!’, ‘Resist Kazova!’ and ‘Long Live the Revolution!’ are written on the stones, scattered across the room. From the walls hang racks full of sweaters, hundreds of them. At first glance they appear to be just ordinary sweaters. That is, until one learns the story behind them. Then suddenly the sweaters turn into symbols of resistance, signs of defiance, and the materialized hope for a more equal society, a more just economy — yes, for a better world even … //

… Resistance and solidarity:

In the weeks that followed the workers were attacked by hired thugs, accused of theft by their former employers and tear-gassed and beaten by the police when they staged a protest on May Day, but none of this could break their determination to fight for what was rightfully theirs. On June 30, emboldened by the Gezi Uprising, the workers moved ahead with their planned occupation of the factory.

First, they tried to sell off the remaining machines in the factory, but soon they were once again attacked by the police. When four of their comrades were taken into custody, the other eight workers who were part of the resistance staged a hunger strike to protest against this treatment by the authorities, who treated them as the criminals and their former bosses as the victims. “The boss stealing our labor, taking away the machines was no crime. But us trying to get a fraction of our dues was a crime,” states Ünal. “The police came to the factory following complaints by the bosses [...]. Again investigations were conducted about us; again we were the accused. No one said a word to the bosses.”

The workers realized very well that the odds were against them, and that their resistance would be met with violence and attempts by the powers-that-be to sabotage their efforts at independently running their factory. Nonetheless, inspired and strengthened by the show of solidarity they received from their neighbors, fellow workers and comrades across the city and across the country, the Kazova workers decided to reopen the factory. They resumed production using the old machinery their bosses had left behind and the few raw materials they had overlooked when plundering the factory.

The first batch of sweaters they produced under workers’ control was sent to the women and child prisoners who had written them letters of support during their struggle. The remaining sweaters were sold at the cafe of the Kolektif 26A in Taksim and at the numerous Gezi forums across the city, which had sprung up after Gezi Park had been evicted by the authorities in mid-June. The money they made through these sales was used to repair the machines that were sabotaged by their bosses.

In order to make their struggle more visible to the public, the workers also organized several public forums and in September hosted an actual fashion show in which a number of public figures — including intellectuals, journalists, actors, academics and music groups — participated. “Fashion of resistance,” the Turkish writer, lawyer and activist Metin Yegin called it, before pointing out the sweet irony of using one of capitalism’s own products as an act of resistance.

Affordable Sweaters For All: … //

… Turkey’s poor labor rights: … //

… A radically democratic alternative:

In the past year, the AKP’s victory in recent municipal elections, the slowing down of the Turkish economy, and last summer’s wave of Gezi protests have only radicalized Erdogan’s government in its fight against workers in general, and the left-leaning labor unions in particular. The government recently tried to prosecute leaders of the KESK, the Turkish public-sector trade union, on trumped-up charges of terrorism. In February, 23 union members were released after one year in prison, while six of their colleagues remain behind bars.

On May Day, the center of Istanbul was again shrouded in clouds of tear gas when thousands of workers, radical leftists and other sympathizers attempted to march on the iconic and thoroughly sealed-off Taksim square. With the celebration of the first anniversary of the Gezi uprisings only days away, the streets of Istanbul and other major cities across Turkey will undoubtedly once more become the stage for a violent stand-off between the AKP’s private security forces (i.e. the national police) and protesters from all walks of life demanding justice, equality and the fall of the AKP government.

In the midst of this ongoing struggle between workers fighting for their rights and a government enthusiastically suppressing all dissident voices, the Kazova workers have come up with a radically democratic alternative: “Occupy, Resist, Produce!” — a battle-cry they adopted from the recovered factory movement of Argentina. Rather than demanding legal reforms that the government probably won’t honor anyway, or demanding a pay-rise from a boss who would rather set the police free on his own employees, the Kazova workers have taken matters into their own hands. Not demanding better pay and working conditions, but taking them; not asking for a better alternative, but creating their own; not fighting just for their money, but for control over the means of production.

“Profit is not our aim,” explains Nihat Özbey, “but rather the exchange of ideas, to create revolutionary solidarity contacts. If we succeed, it will be one of the first times in Turkey that workers have occupied their factory and successfully restarted production under workers’ control.” Whenever they open their new factory, their old colleagues — even those who did not participate in the resistance — will be welcomed back to join the cooperative, where all will enjoy equal pay and equal rights, according to Özbey.

“We won’t be focusing on the past,” he says. And that is exactly the power and the beauty of Kazova’s example. This small group of 11 workers, who have been denied their rightful means to subsistence, have been lied to and have been fooled, tricked, tried, beaten, arrested, attacked, abused and gassed, have never looked back but instead have concentrated on what lies ahead. Through their refusal to give up and their determination to succeed, the Kazova workers are an inspiration to all. Their eventual victory may well mark the start of a whole new chapter of the resistance in Turkey.

(full text).

(Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based freelance writer and an editor for ROAR Magazine. Follow him on TWITTER).


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