Resistance upheaval and the new working class in Turkey from labour process to society

Employment relations in Turkey have been experiencing significant upheaval. In 2010, there was a significant movement of resistance by workers in the tobacco and alcoholic beverage industry. This was followed in June 2013 by the ‘grand uprising’ of millions of Turkish people, which, prompted by an environmental concern, transformed into an explicit anti governmental (AKP) movement that lasted for many months. Almost a year to the day, May 13th 2014, workers were again mobilised following a mine blast in Soma, a small town in Western Turkey. The accident at the Soma mine left hundreds of workers trapped underground for many days, of which 301 were reported to have died after a 4 day rescue operation. The ongoing unrest in the country after June 2013 was transferred with all of its anger to the Soma incident. Drawing on a longitudinal programme of research and secondary analysis this paper considers the extent to which recent mobilisation in Turkey constitutes a new regime of working class struggle. The burgeoning struggle by Turkish people has focused attention not just on government policy, but for wider call for a redefining of the Turkish state. The AKP government has for over a decade pursued a meticulous and aggressive policy of neoliberalism, often implemented in an obscurant and oppressive way (Boratav 2013; Cosar & Ozdemir 2012; Gurcan &Peker 2014; Oguz & Ercan 2015; Ozugurlu 2011). The paper adopts an historical materialist analysis of the processes of capitalist accumulation and class struggle in Turkey (Wood 1986; Harvey 1977, 2012, 2014). The composition of the working class is assessed by analysing contemporary employment relations in the country under successive AKP governments, paying particular attention to mapping out contemporary working class struggles. The recent struggles are used as a platform to critique the future economic strategy (2014-2023) of the Turkish government. This strategy purports to offer future economic growth and prosperity and a means to overcome recent structural problems in the labour market, such as high unemployment and underemployment, through an employment model predicated on `flexicurity` (NES 2014). Drawing on secondary analysis of quantitative data the paper challenges the future economic strategy. An analysis of employment indicators relating to precarity, poverty, proletarianisation and inequality uncovers deep structural problems in the Turkish labour market and employment relations (Standing 2011; van der Linden 2008) that reveal the limitations of flexicurity. Analysis of employment data shows growing impoverishment and proletarianisation in Turkey. Recent mobilisation has made it clear that Turkish workers are prepared to challenge the government as a working class, bridging different points of contention across society to a focal point of critique against the government. The paper contends that the government’s economic strategy far from bringing increased prosperity to Turkish society is only likely to generate further and large scale working class struggle and in doing contains significant contradictions. By exploring such contradictions, the paper shows how working class formation is developing in Turkey and how such working class struggle can seek to challenge the economic imperialism of neoliberalism.
33rd International Labour Process Conference , Atina, Greece (2015)


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Citation Formats
B. Özoğlu, “Resistance upheaval and the new working class in Turkey from labour process to society,” presented at the 33rd International Labour Process Conference , Atina, Greece (2015), 2015, Accessed: 00, 2021. [Online]. Available: