BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TEXTILE WORKERS’ UNION
The industrialisation process in human history first emerged in the fields of spinning, weaving and clothing. In parallel with this development, the first workers’ organisations and common struggles emerged among textile workers.
Developments in Turkey also followed a line parallel to the developments in the world. From the mid-1800s onwards, there were occasional strikes by workers in the first weaving and clothing factories established in Turkey (then the Ottoman Empire).
The 1908 Revolution was the culmination of these strikes and organising movements. Subsequent bans, restrictions and repressions aimed to keep the labour movement unorganised and ineffective.
In 1946, a law amendment lifted the ban on establishing “class-based associations”. This paved the way for unions to organise more easily.
Textile workers once again showed themselves as the leading force in union organisation. Unions were established in various cities, especially in Istanbul and its districts.
First steps towards unity at national level
Due to its position as the centre of industry, Istanbul came to the forefront more in this organisation process. In 1950, various efforts were made to unite the multi-part structure.
Some district and basin-based unions united to form the Textile Industry Workers’ Union. However, after a short period of time, disagreements caused new problems. The name of the union was changed to Istanbul Mensucat and Knitting Industry Union.
In 1951, first the two big unions merged under the name of Istanbul Textile and Knitting Industry Workers’ Union. Then, with the participation of unions in other cities, the Federation of Textile and Knitting Industry Workers’ Unions of Turkey (TEKSİF) was founded on 2 December 1951. The number of members of the new structure gathered under the federation was around 28 thousand in the first years.
The “right to strike”, which was among the promises of the Democrat Party before the elections of 1946 and 1950, was forgotten after it came to power. New repressions started to come to the agenda. During this period, the Federation organised various campaigns. The use of domestic cotton, the wage increase campaign in 1953 and the “right to strike campaign” organised with Deri-İş Union in 1956 can be counted among these. All these activities increased the pressure of the Democratic Party on the trade unions and its efforts to transform the unions into institutions affiliated to itself.
In 1951, the Federation joined the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions and became a member.
During this period, the Federation signed a collective labour agreement covering seven textile factories in Istanbul. This agreement, which was signed at a time when the right to collective bargaining did not yet exist, became a source of hope for the workers in the sector.
Disagreements and divergence
Some differences of opinion within the Federation from the past gradually became apparent. On 10 August 1965, a clear distinction emerged from the very formation of the General Assembly of the Federation. Some delegates were prevented from attending the general assembly.
The Federation President Bahir Ersoy, who later also served as the Minister of Labour, and the delegates from Istanbul objected to the fierce discussions that took place. Seyfi Demirsoy (who later became the General President of Türk-İş), who was the President of the Council, did not accept any objection and did not implement the decision of the Ankara Labour Court.
Forty-two delegates, including Bahir Ersoy, Rıza Güven, Sabri Tığlı and Yunus Kara, left the general assembly of the Federation. Many delegates then filed a lawsuit for the cancellation of the general assembly. The headquarters of the Federation improperly removed 18 executives in Istanbul from the Federation membership.
In the face of all these unlawful and undemocratic behaviours, on 21 October 1965, a new union was founded under the name of Istanbul Textile Workers’ Union.
A new beginning
The other founding members of the union were Hüdaverdi Talay, Orhan Seyfi Soysal, Mehmet Altınbilek, Ömer Karaaslan, Fait Gültekin, Orhan Çokdiker, Tayyar Öncü and Mehmet Çağdaş.
The union held its first general assembly on 21 November 1965. The new management, chaired by Rıza Güven, quickly mobilised to expand the organisation.
Two years later, in 1967, the local court cancelled TEKSIF’s General Assembly. The Istanbul Textile Workers’ Union decided to continue on the new path.
In 1966, the union management took part in the efforts to form a new confederation with the participation of some unions, notably T. Maden-İş, Lastik-İş, T. Gıda-İş, which opposed the trade union understanding of Türk-İş.
In 1968, at the General Assembly, the name of the union was changed to Textile Workers’ Union (TEKSTİL) and the target for a national organisation was raised.
TEKSTİL’s organisational success was further enhanced when it joined the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey, or DISK, in 1975.
Young and dynamic cadres meeting with experienced managers reached a very large mass with an approach based on democracy and freedoms.
Especially in this period, the defence of the principle of referendum in determining the authorisation for collective bargaining in the workplace, the election of workplace representatives, and the participation of members in collective bargaining agreements caused workers, albeit from different views, to gather in Tekstil.
Another factor that came to the fore especially in the 1979-80 period in terms of TEKSTIL was the organisation in the biggest enterprises of the country in the sector, especially in Sümerbank. In almost all workplaces, collective bargaining authorisations were obtained through referendums in the workplaces and won with high rates.
In order to prevent the growing power of TEKSTIL, many methods of attack and intimidation were tried; armed attacks were made against our members and executives, and our branch buildings were bombed.
By 1980, organisation had increased in workplaces of almost every scale, the number of organised workplaces in the group collective bargaining agreement alone reached 77 and the total number of dues-paying members reached over 80 thousand.
12 September; a coup against the working class
On 12 September 1980, a military coup d’état was carried out, which turned out to have been planned in advance and was implemented entirely to protect the interests of capital.
The parliament was dissolved, martial law was declared all over the country, the activities of trade unions were stopped, hundreds of executives and members of democratic mass organisations, trade unions and political parties, especially DİSK and its member trade unions, were imprisoned.
DİSK and TEKSTİL executives were kept in prisons for more than 4 years under “war conditions” and were deprived of their right to a fair trial in addition to the tortures they were subjected to.
After the 12 September 1980 coup d’état, new laws made with the participation of the employers’ organisations and Türk-İş created a system with bans and thresholds and built a wall in front of organisation.
In 11 years, our members were de-unionised at gunpoint or forced to join other unions.
Hopes rose again
All kinds of pressure, intimidation and destruction efforts were overcome with a principled, consistent, faithful and strong struggle, and DİSK and its member unions resumed their activities after 11 years with the reversal decision.
In the extraordinary general assembly convened on 15 December 1991, amendments were made to the statutes in accordance with the new laws. With the 6th General Assembly held on 8-9 February 1992, the new management was determined.
The struggle started with faith and determination yielded positive results in a short time, the number of members increased rapidly, the thresholds were overcome and applications for authorisation for collective bargaining started. At this very stage, unions affiliated to Türk-İş and Hak-İş tried to block us by objecting to our collective bargaining authorisation. These efforts backfired and harmed them too. After a while, this mistake was abandoned.
As Tekstil overcame the obstacles put in its way, it grew its organisation and started to attract attention with the collective bargaining agreements signed.
In 1995, when the Turkish Textile Industry Employers’ Union refused to compromise in the group collective labour agreements, the three unions in the sector agreed to take a common stance. However, when first TEKSIF and then Öz İplik-İş broke the agreement, TEKSTİL continued the struggle on its own. After 52 days of strike with the participation of more than 10 thousand members, the targets were reached and the food package, which is still applied today, was won thanks to our union.
With the Law No. 6356, which was published and entered into force on 7 November 2012, leather workers joined our line of work.
As one of the 3 unions with collective bargaining authority in the sector, our union maintains its effective and respected position in the sector and follows a continuous and regular growth policy with new organisations.
Since the date of our union’s joining, we have taken part in the Board of Directors of DISK in every period, and two of our general presidents, Rıdvan Budak and Süleyman Çelebi, were elected as the General Presidency of DISK.
Ahmet Bahri Ersoy, also among our executives, served as the Minister of Labour, Sabri Tığlı, Rıdvan Budak, Süleyman Çelebi, Ömer Fethi Gürel became the voice of textile workers in the Parliament as MPs on various dates.
Alaatin Büyükdere, Rıza Güven, Rıdvan Budak, Süleyman Çelebi and Kazım Doğan have been the general presidents of our union since its foundation.
Our union, which is a member of DISK at the national level and IndustriALL European Trade Union and IndustriALL Global Union at the international level, continues to be the hope of weaving, garment and leather workers as an independent, democratic, strong and effective class organisation.
The history of our union was written with the determined, honourable and faithful struggle of thousands of textile, garment and leather workers.
Heavy prices were paid for this cause.
We honourably commemorate those who contributed…