Tekel workers decide to continue demonstrations

(Source: Today's Zaman. 7 January 2010)

Workers dismissed from Tekel, Turkey’s alcohol and tobacco monopoly, decided on Wednesday to continue their demonstrations, which have now entered their 23rd straight day, in protest of factory closures.

The results of a vote conducted among workers countrywide revealed that some 8,150 out of 8,180 valid ballots were cast in favor of continuing the demonstrations.

Following the final vote count, the Union of Tobacco, Alcoholic Beverage, Food and Related Industry Workers (TekGıda-İş) Vice President Servet Budak thanked the workers, emphasizing that they will continue their struggle until a favorable solution can be found.

Workers went to vote early Wednesday in Ankara to decide whether to continue their protests. Gathering outside the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş) headquarters early on Wednesday, 1,282 Tekel workers went to the polls with red and white ballots. Some union representatives had been urging the workers to vote to continue the protests. The results showed the entire 1,282 had voted in favor of continuing the protests.

Having lost their jobs due to factory closures in the wake of the monopoly’s privatization, the employees started a protest in Ankara on Dec. 15. They wanted the government to find positions for them with other state institutions or enterprises and institute a six-month suspension on the closure of any further Tekel factories. In response to workers’ demands, the government recently announced that the workers could benefit from a public employment program under Article 4-C. The government said it had extended the term for temporary employment to 11 months from the previously stated 10 months per year. Evaluating the government’s offer, the workers decided to go to a vote.

The voting, which started at 11 a.m., ended within a few hours, with the count starting soon afterwards. The results of the poll are expected to be revealed to the public today.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the poll, TekGıda-İş Secretary-General Mecit Amaç said they have respect for the workers’ decision, adding, however, that the workers should keep in mind that the government is reluctant to resolve the issue. “If the workers are ready to agree to the government’s offer, then we will understand and do not have any objection to this end.”

The union officials said some 11,000 Tekel workers from 43 Tekel workplaces in 21 provinces were able to vote in support of their colleagues who had been dismissed. Prior to the vote, officials outside the Türk-İş headquarters addressed the workers who were carrying placards that read “Red vote for surrender, white vote for resistance.”