Cablegate: Turkey: Mixed Reviews On November 25 Strike

DE RUEHAK #1708/01 3351656
R 011656Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

B) ANKARA 1562

ANKARA 00001708 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The nationwide strike by civil service workers
November 25 drew more participants than expected and reduced the
traffic flow in the country's main urban centers as many workers
stayed home. Ankara airport was chaotic in the morning but ghostly
quiet by late afternoon. Union leaders seem pleased with the
strike's result, while government officials contend this was a
political exercise since the two main organizers have links to the
opposition parties. The main point of contention - whether
International Labor Organization (ILO) treaties reign supreme on
allowing public workers to strike - seems destined to be settled by
the courts. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) The media reported that strike activities occurred throughout
the country November 25, and that the private sector Revolutionary
Labor Unions Confederation (DISK), Turkish Labor Unions
Confederation (Turk-Is), and private sector unions for medical
doctors and pharmacists had announced their support for the work
stoppage. While the highest reported numbers of participants were
in Ankara and Istanbul, clashes between protesters and police
occurred in Corum, and police prevented demonstrators from marching
to the town center in Yozgat. Peaceful activities were reported in
Eskisehir, Balikesir, Erzurum, Canakkale, Tokat, Konya, Bitlis,
Kirklareli, Bursa, Malatya, Hatay, Kayseri, Aydi, Sivas, Denizli,
Diyarbakir, Mugla, Samsun, Gumushane, Van, Elzaig, Tekirdag, Agri,
Mersin and Zonguldak. In Gaziantep, media reports indicated that
workers gathered in the city center to protest the GOT and the USG,
burning U.S. dollars.

Appeal to PM Erdogan

3. (SBU) The leftist-oriented Public Employees Unions Confederation
(KESK) president Sami Evren took part in the strike in Istanbul,
where 10,000 public workers marched from Capa to Bayazit and around
30,000 people gathered in Bayazit Square. Evren appealed to PM
Erdogan to uphold Article 90 of the Constitution, which establishes
the supremacy of international treaties over domestic law. KESK and
the nationalist-oriented Public Workers Unions Confederation
(KAMU-SEN) both believe this article should guarantee the right to
collective bargaining and strikes, through the ILO treaties Turkey
has signed. Evren underscored this, declaring that it was illegal
for Erdogan to threaten the democratic activities of the unions
through state authority.

4. (SBU) KESK legal advisor Ismet Beyli claimed December 1 that
overall participation in the strike had been "very high" -- around
90 percent. He told us the strike was a turning point in Turkey's
labor movement, not only because it was the largest ever of its kind
but also because it included all of the provinces. He said that the
government should ask itself how participation could be so high,
"despite the threat of the state officials." The public had also
been generally supportive of the strike, he said, aside from a few
isolated incidents at some train stations. Beyli said the
government has launched administrative investigations against some
KESK members, asking why the employees had been absent from work on
November 25. Beyli stated that the government "may give
administrative punishments or make deductions in salaries, (but) we
will apply to the Council of State against those practices and we
will win those cases."

5. (SBU) KAMU-SEN President Bircan Akyildiz participated in the
strike in Ankara, where a group of his union members was disbursed
by the police using pepper gas and several people were injured.
Akyildiz said that those Turks longing for a country without any
public employees could now see what such a country would look like.
The union, he said, wants its democratic, economic, social and
political rights. "The knife is at the bone," he added, "we cannot
endure any more." He complained that the same politicians who
"caused our suffering are now trying to silence our voices through

6. (SBU) KAMU-SEN Secretary General Ismail Koncuk told us December 1
that the struggle of public employees to obtain democratic rights
had "echoed all across the country." He said that the participation
was greater than the unions had estimated. He lamented the
pressures and "threats" that many members faced before the strike.
In some places, he alleged that strike participants had been filmed
by security forces and some employees were compelled to explain
their actions to their bosses upon return to work. Such practices
are against international agreements, Article 90 of the Constitution
and basic principles of democracy, he claimed.

GOT: No Constitutional Right to Strike

7. (SBU) The GOT maintained its position that it sees no right to
strike for public workers in either domestic or international law.

ANKARA 00001708 002.2 OF 002

PM Erdogan said the strike was not legal because "there cannot be
any rights that are not mentioned in the laws." Huseyin Celik, one
of the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP)
vice-chairpersons, emphasized that the right to strike is not in the
constitution. Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler echoed this theme,
noting that while he respects workers seeking rights, "if they
attempt acts that are not in compliance with the law, they will be
subject to administrative and disciplinary consequences."

8. (SBU) AKP Vice-Chairman Huseyin Tanriverdi told us December 1
that there was no reason for public employees to strike because
collective talks had already been completed and the unions had
reached agreement on 18 chapters. Tanriverdi argued that demanding
the right of collective bargaining and striking "should not be done
by disturbing the comfort of the citizens. They should come and
discuss these issues at the table." Tanriverdi claimed that the
unions were not pleased with the outcome of the strike since only
two public employee confederations participated and both of those
are aligned with opposition parties -- the Nationalist People's
Party (MHP) and the Republican People's Party (CHP). "This act was
a political act rather than a move to acquire rights," he claimed.
Regarding future steps, Tanriverdi said "ILO norms are our
guidelines and we will provide all rights within that framework."

A Battle for the Courts

9. (SBU) COMMENT: Because this is clearly a case for judicial
interpretation as to whether Article 90 of the constitution, and the
ILO treaties that Turkey has signed, guarantee public sector workers
the right to collectively bargain and strike, it is likely to wind
up in the Turkish court system or the European Court of Human Rights
(ECHR). While a previous case related to the right of public sector
workers to collectively bargain and strike (Demir and Baykara v.
Turkey) was decided by the ECHR against Turkey, the GOT appears
determined not to implement that decision. With close to two
million workers joining the strike on November 25 to demand its
implementation, however, the GOT may decide it needs to reconsider
its stance.

© Scoop Media

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