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Turkish Labour And The Turkish Political Challenge

By       Message Gary Busch     Permalink
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The last election in Turkey opened the political structure for a real competition by other parties with the ruling AKP and may have opened a path for the Turkish labour movement to recover from its current weakness and to assert itself once again in the national debate. In recent years Turkish labour has been weakened by the rise of unorganised workers and the casualisation of employment. The number of Turkish workers subject to precarious work has risen dramatically and the interference of the AKP Government in banning strikes and demonstrations has made an effective labour response more difficult.

The history of the development of Turkish labour demonstrates the difficulties of trying to organise an effective labour participation in the economy under military rule. For a long period of its post-Ottoman history, Turkey has been ruled by a strong military force which, when it wasn't governing itself, exerted a powerful influence on any civilian governments which were formed.

After the Second World War, Turkish politics was dominated by a single political party, the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP) of national hero Ataturk. Ataturk allowed two other parties to form but soon banned them because of their pro-Islamist tendencies. In 1946, the head of the CHP, Ismet Inönu, introduced democratic elections to Turkey. Due to widespread dissatisfaction with the CHP in the four years after its victory the party lost the second multi-party general elections in 1950, and Cel l Bayar replaced Inönu as President. Bayar was the head of the Democratic Party (Demokrat Parti, DP) but the real power within the DP was Adnan Menderes, the Prime Minister. The DP was a moderate right-wing party but whose policy options were constrained by the Kemalist policies of secularism, nationalism and statism and the 1924 Constitution.

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The main differences between the CHP and the DP was in its economic policies; the DP pushed for a privatisation of Turkish industries and was less secular than the CHP. During the ten-year Prime Ministership of Menderes and the DP, Turkish domestic and foreign politics underwent great changes; industrialisation and urbanization accelerated. The Turkish economy grew at an unprecedented rate of 9% per annum. Turkey joined NATO and was the recipient of a great deal of economic support from the Marshall Plan. The economy was modernised; agriculture was mechanized; and there was domestic and foreign investment in transport, energy, education, health care, insurance and banking.

Along with this modernisation of the economy, Menderes restored many of the religious practices removed by Ataturk and the CHP. He reopened and built mosques across Turkey and used religion as a political weapon against his enemies. He expanded Turkey's ties to Muslim states in the Middle East and conducted a purge of Greeks living in Turkey (the 1955 Istanbul Pogrom). Most importantly, the DP announced that the parliament had the right to restore the Caliphate. He established a Commission of Inquiries (Tahkikat Komisyonu), formed from only DP Members of Parliament, which allowed this Commission to take on judicial powers and to issue verdicts, judgements and punishments -- a direct violation of the separation of powers built into the Constitution.

As a result, on 27 May 1960, thirty-seven "young officers" made a coup against Menderes and the DP. Despite international protests, Menderes was hanged on 17 September 1961 on the island of Imrali for violating the Constitution and for massacring the Greeks. On 17 September 1990 he was posthumously pardoned.

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The military ruled Turkey but was anxious to turn the government back to civilians; civilians they could control. The man who fit that role was Suleyman Gundogdu Demirel (who just died in June 2015). Like several other Turkish leaders of his generation, Mr. Demirel was trained as an engineer. He was awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship, a program that brought emerging leaders to the United States for several months of traveling, seminars and classes. He spent years representing the American engineering and machine-tool firm Morrison Knudsen. In 1965 he was elected prime minister with the support of the army; at 40, he was the country's youngest. Turkey in the 1960s was ravaged by political gang fighting and killings. The military stepped in again.

After civilian rule was re-established in the late 1970s, Mr. Demirel served three times as head of the governments. It was during this period that Turkey fell into an economic crisis. Inept handling of foreign debts, compounded by the effects of increasing global oil prices, led to triple-digit inflation, a sharp rise in unemployment and a crash in industrial production. It took a decade for Turkey to make the structural changes -- under the leadership of Prime Minister Turgut Ozal, a former Demirel protege -- that laid the basis for its current prosperity. [i] There were subsequently several more periods of Demirel's leadership, when the military allowed, and he was President for two terms but was kicked out when he tried to change term limits for a third term.

His last years in office were marked by the emergence of Kurdish nationalism, which developed into civil war. He endorsed the military's scorched-earth tactics, which included torture of detainees, the assassination of suspected militants and an absolute rejection of Kurdish demands.

During the 1960s violence and instability plagued Turkey. An economic recession sparked a wave of social unrest marked by street demonstrations, labour strikes and political assassinations. Left-wing workers' and students' movements were formed, countered on the right by Islamist and militant nationalist groups. The left carried out bombing attacks, robberies and kidnappings; from the end of 1968, and increasingly during 1969 and 1970, left-wing violence was matched and surpassed by far-right violence, notably from the Grey Wolves.

On the political front, Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel's centre-right Justice Party government, re-elected in 1969, also experienced trouble. Various factions within his party defected to form splinter groups of their own, gradually reducing his parliamentary majority and bringing the legislative process to a halt. By January 1971, Turkey appeared to be in a state of chaos. The universities had ceased to function. Students emulating Latin American urban guerrillas robbed banks and kidnapped US servicemen, also attacking American targets. The homes of university professors critical of the government were bombed by neo-fascist militants. Factories were on strike and more workdays were lost between 1 January and 12 March 1971 than during any prior year. The Islamist movement had become more aggressive and its party, the National Order Party, openly rejected Ataturk and Kemalism, infuriating the armed forces. Demirel's government, weakened by defections, seemed paralyzed, powerless to try to curb the campus and street violence and unable to pass any serious legislation.

The 1971 military coup was a little different. It was known as the "coup by memorandum", which the military delivered to the government in lieu of sending out tanks, as it had done previously. In a series of military-controlled civil governments the fight against right and left extremism was attempted but with little success. The military put Professor Nihat Erim in power but ruled the country through their control of the National Assembly (the Parliament). [ii]

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In October 1973, Bulent Ecevit, who had won control of the Republican People's Party from degreesnönu, won an upset victory, but the factional fights in Turkey didn't abate. The economy deteriorated, the Grey Wolves escalated and intensified political terrorism as the 1970s progressed, and left-wing groups, too, carried out acts aimed at causing chaos and demoralization. In 1975 Demirel replaced Ecevit but nothing changed. Finally, in 1980, the military made another coup.

On 2 September 1980 the army intervened again when the Chief of the General Staff General Kenan Evren took over direct control of Turkey. For the next three years the Turkish Armed Forces ruled the country through the National Security Council, before democracy was restored. This National Security Council (Milli Guvenlik Kurulu, MGK), headed by Evren declared a coup d'etat on the national television channel. The MGK then extended martial law throughout the country, abolished the Parliament and the government, suspended the Constitution and banned all political parties and trade unions. They invoked the Kemalist tradition of state secularism and in the unity of the nation, which had already justified the precedent coups, and presented themselves as opposed to communism, fascism, separatism and religious sectarianism. [iii]

A reform of the economy was undertaken by Turgut zal, who succeeded with a neo-liberal policy guided by the IMF. The foreign exchange rate was allowed to float freely. Foreign investment was encouraged. The national establishments were encouraged to involve joint enterprises with foreign establishments. There was an improvement in the Turkish economy.

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Dr. Gary K. Busch has had a varied career-as an international trades unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political intelligence consultant. He was a professor and Head of Department at the University of Hawaii and has been a visiting (more...)
 

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