The industrialization process in human history first appeared in the fields of spinning, weaving and clothing. Parallel to this development, the first workers’ organizations and common struggles arose from within the textile workers.
The developments in Turkey followed a parallel line with the developments in the world. From the middle of the 1800s, the strikes of the workers in the first weaving and clothing factories established in Turkey (the Ottoman Empire at that time) were witnessed from time to time.
The 1908 Revolution was the year when these strike and organizing movements reached their peak. The ensuing bans, restrictions and repressions aimed to leave the labor movement disorganized and ineffective.
The ban on association, which lasted until 1946, came to an end with the amendment of the law. Textile workers once again showed themselves as the leading force in union organization. Unions were established in various cities, especially in Istanbul and its districts.
Due to being the center of industry, Istanbul came to the fore more in this organization process. By 1950, various studies were brought to the agenda for the unification of the multi-part structure.
Some district and basin-based unions united and established the Textile Industry Workers’ Union. However, the disagreements that followed soon caused new problems. The name of the union was changed to Istanbul Mensucat and Knitting Industry Union.
First steps towards unity
In 1951, the two major unions in the industry united under the name of Istanbul Textile and Knitting Industry Workers’ Union. After attempts to include the union in other cities, the Turkish Textile and Knitting Industry Workers’ Unions Federation was established on 2 December 1951. The number of members of the new structure gathered within the federation in the first years was around 28 thousand.
The “right to strike”, which was among the promises of the Democratic Party before the 1946 and 1950 elections, was forgotten after it came to power. New pressures began to emerge. During this period, the Federation organized various campaigns. The use of domestic cotton, the wage increase campaign in 1953 and the “right to strike campaign” organized with Deri-İş Union in 1956 can be counted among these. All these efforts increased the pressure of the Democratic Party on the unions and their efforts to turn the unions into subordinate institutions.
The Federation became a member by participating in the establishment of the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions in 1951.
During this period, the Federation signed a collective bargaining agreement covering seven textile factories in Istanbul. This agreement, which was signed at a time when the right to collective bargaining was not yet available, became a source of hope for the workers in the industry.
The oppressive practices of the Democratic Party came to an end on May 27, 1960, when a group of young officers seized power. The Constitution, which was prepared in 1961 with the participation and contribution of trade unions, went down in history as Turkey’s most democratic constitution.
With the Laws No. 274 and 275, union organizing, collective bargaining and the right to strike provided much wider opportunities. With the expansion of freedoms, textile workers, along with almost all business lines, entered into a widespread organization and an active struggle.
Differences of opinion and separation
Some differences of opinion from the past became increasingly evident within the Federation. A clear distinction emerged from the very formation of the Federation General Assembly held on August 10, 1965. Some delegates were prevented from attending the general assembly.
The Istanbul delegates, especially the Federation President Bahir Ersoy, who later became the Minister of Labor, objected to the fierce debates. Seyfi Demirsoy, who was the Chairman of the Council (later became the Chairman of Türk-İş) did not accept any objections and did not implement the decision of the Ankara Labor Court.
42 delegates, including Bahir Ersoy, Rıza Güven, Sabri Tığlı and Yunus Kara, left the general assembly of the Federation. Then they filed a lawsuit to cancel the general assembly. The Federation headquarters illegally expelled 18 administrators from the Federation.
The impositions and unlawfulness in the General Assembly revealed and made clear the differences of opinion within Türk-İş on one side and the Federation on the other. On October 21, 1965, a group of textile workers under the presidency of Alaaddin Büyükdere made an application for the establishment of a new union under the name of Istanbul Textile Workers’ Union.
A new start; Textile Workers Union
The other founding members of the Syndicate, which was formed under the chairmanship of Alaaddin Büyükdere; 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. Rıza Güven was elected as the Chairman and Yunus Kara was elected as the Secretary General. The new administration quickly mobilized to expand its organization.
Two years later, the lawsuit filed for the annulment of the Federation’s general assembly in 1967 was concluded. The court canceled the Federation General Assembly. This new situation was not enough to turn the Textile Workers’ Union and its new management from its path after the process. Because the understanding formed in Türk-İş and the Federation and the union line and understanding in the establishment of the Textile Workers Union did not match in any way.
The Textile Workers Union gained trust among the textile workers, and the name TEKSTİL gave the workers enough power to join the struggle. Within 10 years, TEKSTİL has made a big leap forward and has included textile workers in many cities.
DİSK membership added strength
TEKSTİL’s organizational success increased even more when it joined the Turkish Revolutionary Workers’ Unions Confederation, or DİSK for short, in 1975.
In fact, TEKSTİL has always been in a close line with DİSK, which was founded in 1967, and had struggled together with DİSK. In this sense, although membership was delayed, the realization of membership in the end provided a great morale boost to the Union.
With the DİSK membership and the solidarity of the DİSK member unions, the organization grew like an avalanche in TEKSTİL as in every other field. A young generation of trade unionists came to the fore in the struggle, and as a result, Çerkezköy Branch President Rıdvan Budak was elected as the Textile General President at the union’s general assembly held in 1979.
The new and young team of the union increased the number of its members to more than 80 thousand in a short time. Only the number of organized workplaces in the group collective bargaining agreement reached 77. TEKSTİL has now become a focus that determines the working and wage rules in the industry.
Another factor that came to the fore in terms of TEXTILE, especially in the 1979-80 period, was the organization in the country’s largest enterprises in the sector, notably Sümerbank. Collective bargaining authorizations in almost all workplaces were obtained by holding a referendum and winning at high rates.
In 1980, when a disagreement occurred in the group collective bargaining agreement, TEKSTİL went on strike with thousands of workers in 77 workplaces. The strike, which continued with success and enthusiasm, ended with a blow to democracy and freedoms on the morning of September 12.
September 12 coup and legal struggle
On September 12, 1980, there was a military coup, which turned out to be pre-planned and was implemented entirely to protect the interests of the capital.
The parliament was dissolved, the democratic process came to an end, martial law was declared throughout the country, the activities of the trade unions were stopped. Hundreds of democratic mass organizations, trade unions and political party leaders, especially DİSK and its affiliated unions, were put in prisons.
Almost all of the head office and branch managers working in DİSK and our Union were among the victims of this unlawful detention and arrest process.
Under the leadership of our union, all strikes in our line of business, including the strike in which hundreds of workers participated, were banned.
While the management of DİSK and its member unions was transferred to trustees, first Türk-İş and then Hak-İş were allowed to operate. Our members were forcibly transferred to unions affiliated with these confederations.
Our administrators were kept under “war conditions” in prisons for more than 4 years, and the courts were administered according to the chain of command, not the law. In the lawsuits of DISK and its member unions that lasted for 11 years, DISK and its member unions stood tall, did not get discouraged, and continued their struggle for democracy and freedom on every platform.
Textile that gets hope again
All kinds of oppression, suppression and destruction efforts were overcome with a principled, consistent, faithful and strong struggle. After 11 years, the struggle resumed after the DİSK trial ended in acquittal in 1991.
Although we have no members left, our vehicles have been rotted and our assets melted down, a new march has been started to put DİSK and TEKSTİL back on their feet without being intimidated. Years later, in 1992, our general assembly was held, and Rıdvan Budak was re-elected as the Chairman.
The banned and barred system brought by the new laws made with the participation of employer organizations and Türk-İş after the coup of September 12, 1980 could not prevent the organization of our Union. Organizational efforts were initiated in many provinces, quickly and with great effort. In particular, we wanted to be cut off by the objections made by the unions of other confederations to the workplaces where we were newly organized at that time.
Nevertheless, all kinds of obstacles were overcome, thresholds were passed, and after a short time, our Union became the second largest union in its sector.
In the 9th General Assembly of DİSK, which convened in 1994, the Chairman of our Union, Rıdvan Budak, was elected as the General Chairman of DİSK. At the same general assembly, Gaziantep Branch President of our Union, Muzaffer Subaşı, became a member of the DİSK Board of Directors.
The existence and line of our union also started a new era in the business line. The strikes one after another, the successes achieved in collective bargaining with a consistent policy led to the participation of new and large workplaces in our Union.
Deputy Chairman Süleyman Çelebi was appointed to the vacant position after our Chairman Rıdvan Budak took office as an Istanbul Deputy in the General Elections in 1999. In the following period, Çelebi continued this duty until the 11th General Assembly held in 2007.
At the General Assembly held on September 8-9, 2007, Rıdvan Budak, who was invited by the demand and insistence of our entire organization, was elected as the Chairman. Muzaffer Subaşı was appointed as the General Secretary of our union.
The Secretary General of our union, Muzaffer Subaşı, is still a member of the DİSK Board of Directors, where he was elected consecutively in the 13th and 14th General Assemblies.
At the 12th General Assembly of our union held on March 5-6, 2011, Rıdvan Budak was elected as the General President, Muzaffer Subaşı as the General Secretary, and M. Nuri Toprak, Mustafa Ali Utku and Şadi Bal as the members of the board of directors.
Our union currently maintains its place among the largest and most effective unions in the sector, and follows a policy of continuous and regular growth with new organizations.
With the Law No. 6356, which entered into force in November 2012, weaving is on the way to become the hope of leather workers, along with ready-made garment workers.
Our Union, which is a member of DİSK at the national level and a member of the IndustriALL European Trade Union and the IndustriALL Global Union at the international level, continues to be the hope of textile and leather workers as a strong and effective class organization.