The Tuzla Shipyards in Istanbul entered the spotlight last year with the back-to-back deaths of five workers in 12 days. Most recently, on May 18, a 31-year-old welder, Murat Caliskan, was sacrificed in the drive for profit.
With his passing, the number of workplace deaths at the shipyards has increased to 96 — 25 have occurred under the watch of the current labour minister.
The LIMTER-IS trade union responded with strike action over February 27 and 28. Despite heavy repression by the state, the strike was successful and the union began to enforce the right to a 7.5 hour working day. Due to continuing deaths however, LIMTER-IS is calling for a new strike on June 16.
The Tuzla Shipyards area, employing around 45,000 workers, is an exploitative hell where both legal and illegal neoliberal practices are given free reign. The shipyards' main work has been up to 90% outsourced to large and small subcontracting companies. These sub-contracting companies, by passing work down to new outsourcing firms, have created a chain of exploitation.
Worker deaths are a result of conditions such as a 13-14 hour working day, insufficient safety precautions, a lack of insurance and a general environment of precariousness. The practice of outsourcing operates as a barrier to the organisation of an important section of the workers. The union authorised to undertake collective bargaining agreements, DOKGEMI-IS, comprises only permanent workers and cannot represent outsourced labour.
As a result of its struggle, LITMER-IS has faced severe repression. In the late 1990s, the union's offices were bombed twice. Suleyman Yeter, a union education expert arrested in 1999, was tortured to death in custody. Scores of legal cases have been brought against the union's leaders.
These assaults have not caused the shipyard workers to yield and since the turn of the century, thousands of workers have participated in demonstrations and stop-work actions. Participation in the strike of February 27-28 was around 60% and 5000 workers demonstrated.
The campaign for justice for the Tulza Shipyard workers is demanding that: laws relating to heavy and dangerous work be applied; a 7.5 hour working day and 37.5 hour working week be immediately honoured; Saturday and Sunday be paid days off; those responsible for workplace murders be tried; an infirmary, doctor and ambulance be fully provided; workers' insurance be paid by the main firm on top of wages; wages be increased and payment be guaranteed by the main firm; decent working conditions and food to be provided, as well as tea breaks; bus services from the shipyards to the workers' neighbourhoods be provided.
Other demands include that the system of outsourcing be abolished, that the main union be allowed to represent workers in all shipyards. The workers are also calling for an independent commission to inspect, test and enforce regulations at the shipyards.