Since the beginning of the year, spontaneous strikes and protests against the high cost of living and for higher wages have erupted in various parts of Turkey. The AKP government had previously increased electricity prices by 50 percent for households and by 100 percent for larger companies. With an inflation rate of officially 48 percent – independent researchers* even assume 114 percent – the prices for daily shopping have risen massively and literally caused the camel to overflow.
Shopkeepers who had to close their shops hung their utility bills in the window and wrote: “We were robbed.” In many places, people took to the streets and demanded that price increases be reversed. Economic and financial policies in Turkey have been leading to massive impoverishment of the population for months, and there is still no political solution in sight.
Also at the turn of the year, the minimum wage was increased by around 50 percent to 4,250 lira (275 euros). According to a study by the trade union confederation DISK, in Turkey in 2021 57 percent of workers received a wage that was only up to 20 percent above the minimum wage. In comparison, in Germany it was just 4.8 percent of the workforce.
In Turkey’s private sector, this number is even higher and is currently estimated at 72 percent. Since the minimum wage had been raised relatively sharply by the government, many companies decided not to pay 10 to 20 percent more than the minimum wage, as was previously the case. As a result, this was changed from a lower limit to a general wage that takes neither work experience nor level of education into account.
The strikes in various sectors such as textile production and delivery services were also directed against this. From the beginning of the year to mid-February, the research collective Emek Çalışmaları recorded 65 strikes. Success has already been achieved with 29, others are ongoing.
In addition, there are struggles for the right to unionize, as is currently the case at the company Yemeksepeti (Eng. food basket). The company employs motorcycle couriers to deliver food at home and dominates this market in Turkey. During the pandemic, which brought about long-term lockdowns, the delivery service’s profits soared. In addition to higher wages, workers are now demanding better protection for couriers and less time pressure during deliveries.
The Yemeksepeti Workers’ Committee (Yemeksepeti İşçi Komitesi), which not only organizes couriers but also workers in the warehouses, has been fighting for the right to unionize since the Ministry of Labor allowed collective bargaining. However, the court hearing is still pending. Since Yemeksepeti belongs to the Berlin-based company Delivery Hero, there have already been rallies of solidarity with the colleagues in Turkey in front of the headquarters there.
The management of the Migros supermarket chain took particularly tough action against the strikers in a warehouse in the Esenyurt district of Istanbul. They also demanded an increase in wages. A short time later, water cannons drove into the depot and around 250 workers were arrested and then released. Subsequently, a boycott campaign developed against the company, which is also supported by celebrities such as pop singer Mabel Matiz.
The strikes and actions are part of spontaneous protests against the political decisions of the AKP government. Elections are due in Turkey next year, and the opposition alliance Millet Ittifaki, led by the CHP, is hoping to replace the AKP government.
Instead of large-scale mobilizations on the streets or in the factories, however, the opposition relies on political persuasion through press releases. Although the trade union confederation DISK is now organizing rallies in which it also speaks out against the increase in electricity prices and for higher wages, individual DISK unions are also criticized for having negotiated inadequate collective agreements for their members.
It is currently not foreseeable whether the wildcat strikes will lead to larger protests of political proportions. However, they are a clear expression of growing dissatisfaction with the economic policy of the AKP and an encouragement for other workers to fight for higher wages as well.