Turkish Industrial Relations at The Crossroads: Revisiting the History of Industrial Relations in The Early Post-War II Period

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In this paper, it is purported that the consensus reached by the trade unions on the necessity of the right to strike from the mid-1950s onwards initiated a peaceful class struggle between Turkish labor and the state, which gradually steered the
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  1 Important note : This is the submitted version of our paper to be published in International Labor and Working-Class History Volume 93, Spring 2018. Page and DOI numbers are yet to be confirmed. TURKISH INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AT THE CROSSROADS: REVISITING THE HISTORY OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS IN THE EARLY POST-WAR II PERIOD Didem Özkiziltan Aziz Çelik Abstract The 1961 constitutional reform recognized the right to strike and granted other rights and freedoms related to the collective actions of labor in Turkey. Conventional wisdom holds that Turkish trade unions became independent of the state power with class-based interests only after this reform. Across mainstream literature, this is considered, in historical institutionalist terms, as the first critical juncture in Turkey’s industrial relations. This paper provides a critical account of the institutional continuity, development, and change that took place in Turkey’s industrial relations starting from its establishment as a republic in 1923 until the end of the 1950s, by considering the socioeconomic and legal-political environment during these years. Considering the historical evidence employed, and under historical institutionalism, it is argued that the first  2 critical juncture in the country’s industrial relations occurred in 1947, when the ruling cliques permitted the establishment of trade unions. In this paper, it is purported that the consensus reached by the trade unions on the necessity of the right to strike from the mid-1950s onwards initiated a peaceful class struggle between Turkish labor and the state, which gradually steered the industrial relations towards the second critical juncture following the promulgation of the 1961 constitution. Introduction: Reinterpreting the history of Turkey’s industrial relations from a historical-institutionalist perspective The 1960s, the beginning of which witnessed a full-scale military coup in Turkey, set the stage for some remarkable transformations in the political, economic, and social arenas, which resulted in significant advancements in the field of industrial relations. Politically, the country adopted a new constitution, which delivered a more pluralistic and liberal democracy, thus granting workers a series of collective labor rights and freedoms, including the right to strike. This, for the first time in the Republic ’s  history, placed labor on equal footing vis-à-vis the state and employers. Economically, the country was involved in import substitution industrialization, which required increasing labor numbers in the factories. In parallel, socially, Turkey witnessed a rapid  3 phase of urbanization accompanied by an on-going process of proletarianization, unprecedented in its history. All these almost simultaneous changes facilitated workers’ ascendance to the politico-economic domain as a powerful interest group in Turkey and introduced a greater dynamism to the country ’s industrial relations. 1   According to a widely-held consensus amongst scholars of Turkish industrial relations, 2  the initial years of the 1960s represent, in historical institutionalist terms, a critical juncture that marked the beginning of a new era in the history of Turkey’s in dustrial relations, during which labor redefined its class-based interests and maneuvered to strengthen its position vis-à-vis capital and the state. However, historical evidence suggests that progress achieved in this era has its roots in pre-1960 period, especially during the two decades preceding the 1960s. The early post-World War II era, which is widely referred to as the multi-party period 3  in the Turkish political literature, witnessed the lawmakers’ adoption of the Trade Unions Act No. 5018 in 1947, which regulated the establishment of trade unions in Turkey for the first time in its Republican history. Following this, trade unions emerged as worker representatives in work-related matters, exercised the legal rights granted to them, and pursued national-level interests of the working-class, all of which helped them establish their presence in the country’s politico -economic domain and gain valuable experience in the class struggle. 4    4 Despite the multi-party period having set the stage for the trade un ions’ emergence as actor s in the Turkish industrial relations, until the early 2000s, most studies on Turkey’s labor -capital relations ignored the importance of this period in explaining the post-1960 industrial relations landscape. 5  Koçak also emphasized that most of the early research conducted on Turkey’s labor movement history overemphasized trade unions’ actions in the political and economic sphere from the early 1960s onwards, following the country’s transition to a more pluralist dem ocratic order. 6  Indeed, by giving prominence to the post-1960 years, this body of literature overlooked the workers’ and their trade unions’ untiring perseverance for recognition of the right to strike from the mid-1950s onwards and their role in institutional development, continuity, and change in the institutional history of Turkey’s industrial relations. For instance, according to Talas et al . , “ the 1960 military coup represents a milestone in Turkish trade unionism. It would not be an exaggeration to argue that trade unionism started in a real sense in this period.” 7  Similarly, for Güzel, during the years preceding 1960, “ trade unions were only involved in social assistance activities and they left out economic and political . . . activities. ” 8  In a similar manner, Kutal stated that: “ Turkish trade unionism could not display the expected development in the 1950 – 1960 period, it could not go beyond a trade unionism that was limited in rights, extremely weak in  5 finances, open to pressures coming from the political power and lacked any character.” 9  One important consequence of this historical fallacy has been the wide acceptance of the idea that the collective rights and freedoms the working-class enjoyed in the post-1960 period were granted without their having to fighting for them. 10  For example, Dereli argued that the pro-labor philosophy of the 1961 constitution was the result of the coalition established between the intelligentsia and bureaucracy during the 1960 coup. 11  Berik and Bilginsoy purported that the post-1960 gains for labor were the mere outcomes of political, economic, and legal changes that came into place in the period independent of any struggle waged by the working-class. 12  In a similar manner, Keyder, asserted that: “Neither through increas ing wage demands nor as a political force was organized labor active during the 1960 transformation . . . The right to unionization, collective bargaining and strikes, obtained by the workers . . . handed out to workers in accordance with the requirements of the new model of accumulation. ” 13  However, a body of recent research has undertaken the mission of enriching our knowledge and understanding of Turkey’s labor history. Indeed, the turn of the twenty-first century witnessed, as Çetinkaya and Alkan aptly put it, “a spring in the studies on the history of Turkish working class. ” 14  This blooming academic interest in the labor history
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