Turkey: Workers energetic during strike at Renault factory

Anadolu Agency spent time with workers who have been on strike since May 15 at Renault factory in Bursa

Turkey: Workers energetic during strike at Renault factory

BURSA, Turkey 

As in football stands, a group of 30 workers jump up and down merrily chanting slogans.

But this is no Galatasaray-Besiktas derby. This is the scene of a strike in one of the largest auto factories in Turkey. 

Since May 15, activity in the French car manufacturer Renault factory - in Turkey’s northwestern province of Bursa - has been hampered by a strike. One that immediately spread to other companies such as Fiat’s affiliate company factory Tofas and automobile part suppliers in other industrial zones of Turkey as well. 

Workers demand higher salaries as well as the withdrawal of their union, the Turkish Metal Labor Union, which they believe has not represented their interests.

“We have no union with us, everybody is free,” says 34-year-old worker, Murat, whose name has been modified, on Saturday night in Renault’s car park, in which numerous workers and some of their families are gathered.

They stand guard around the Renault factory, which about 900 of their colleagues - according to Tuncay, a worker whose name has also been modified - have been occupying since May 15.

 “Our company cards are blocked so we cannot go inside and our friends are refusing to go outside," says the 31-year-old, who adds that there are about 2,000 people in the car park.

Tuncay has been working for the French company for almost eight years. He says that he has been waiting in the car park since the start of the strike.

The factory building is surrounded by a garden, which itself is enclosed by a two-meter high fence separating the occupiers from their supportive colleagues in the car park. 

Once in a while, a group wanders out of the factory building prompting a wave of applause in the car park.  

Some of the workers emerging from inside the factory head to the fences to speak with family members and receive food or a change of clothes.

Every now and then, a chant or a voice rises above the others from a corner of the car park and all respond.  

“Renault, resist!” they cry referring to themselves. Some even wear makeshift T-shirts with the slogan.   

The car park has become home to the many of the strikers. Tents have even been pitched in one corner. Street vendors provide much-needed food and refreshments. Some workers sit in circles on the asphalt playing games. Children run around, goofing off.    

The workers have designated a group in charge of security. A checkpoint blocks access to the car park where the workers are located but occasionally a journalist or two is allowed in. 

“I have been here for the last nine days and there have been no incidents,” Tuncay says. “Even police officers waiting around here are thanking us because we are providing security and being peaceful.”

He also reveals that Renault provided food and drinks to the workers during the first four days of the strike but has since ceased to do so.

“It’s not with company management that we have a problem but with the union,” he added.

“No one should perceive this [resistance] as political; this is entirely non-union - an unorganized social movement,” says Tuncay. “There are no political slogans here.”

He mentioned that some politicians wanted to visit the factory but they were “kindly” not allowed unless they “removed their party badge.”

Turkey is in the middle of a campaign for parliamentary elections taking place on June 7.

The strike at the Renault factory began after news spread that employees working for German auto manufacturer Bosch had reportedly received a significant pay raise.

The strike at Renault caused a domino effect prompting workers from other companies in Turkey to do the same.

Although workers in certain companies have returned to work, namely at Turkish carmaker Tofas where a deal with management was reached Saturday,  Renault’s employees said that they would continue their strike until their demands are met.

One worker representative told Anadolu Agency that a meeting with management would take place Monday evening.

Operating in Turkey since 1969, Renault has a production capacity of 360,000 vehicles a year, according to the company’s website.

“If we do not work, the production in Europe will also be stopped because parts to complete cars come from here,” explained Tuncay.

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