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The legalization of unions under the Trade Union Law of 1947 paved the way for the slow but steady growth of a labor movement that evolved parallel to multiparty politics. The principal goal of unions as defined in the 1947 law was to seek the betterment of members' social and economic status. Unions were denied the right to strike or to engage in political activity, either on their own or as vehicles of political parties. In spite of these limitations, labor unions gradually acquired political influence. The Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions (Türkiye Isçi Sendikalari Konfederasyonu -- Türk-Is) was founded in 1952 at government instigation to serve as an independent umbrella group. Under the tutelage of Türk-Is, labor evolved into a well-organized interest group; the organization also functioned as an agency through which the government could restrain workers' wage demands. The labor movement expanded in the liberalized political climate of the 1960s, especially after a union law enacted in 1963 legalized strikes, lockouts, and collective bargaining. However, unions were forbidden to give "material aid" to political parties. Political parties also were barred from giving money to unions or forming separate labor organizations.
The labor movement did not escape the politicization and polarization that characterized the 1960s and 1970s. Workers' dissatisfaction with Türk-Is as the representative of their interests led to the founding in 1967 of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Trade Unions of Turkey (Türkiye Devrimçi Isçi Sendikalari Konfederasyonu -- DISK). DISK leaders were militants who had been expelled from Türk-Is after supporting a glass factory strike opposed by the Türk-Is bureaucracy. Both Türk-Is and the government tried to suppress DISK, whose independence was perceived as a threat. However, a spontaneous, two-day, pro-DISK demonstration by thousands of laborers in Istanbul -- the first mass political action by Turkish workers -- forced the government in June 1970 to back away from a bill to abolish DISK. For the next ten years, DISK remained an independent organization promoting the rights of workers and supporting their job actions, including one major general strike in 1977 that led to the temporary abolition of the military-run State Security Courts. By 1980 about 500,000 workers belonged to unions affiliated with DISK.
Following the 1980 coup, the military regime banned independent union activity, suspended DISK, and arrested hundreds of its activists, including all its top officials. The government prosecuted DISK leaders, as well as more than 1,000 other trade unionists arrested in 1980, in a series of trials that did not end until December 1986. The secretary general of DISK and more than 250 other defendants received jail sentences of up to ten years. Meanwhile, the more complaisant Türk-Is, which had not been outlawed after the coup, worked with the military government and its successors to depoliticize workers. As the government-approved labor union confederation, Türk-Is benefited from new laws pertaining to unions. For example, the 1982 constitution permits unions but prohibits them from engaging in political activity, thus effectively denying them the right to petition political representatives. As in the days prior to 1967, unions must depend upon Türk-Is to mediate between them and the government. A law issued in May 1983 restricts the establishment of new trade unions and places constraints on the right to strike by banning politically motivated strikes, general strikes, solidarity strikes, and any strike considered a threat to society or national well-being.
The government's restrictions on union activity tended to demoralize workers, who generally remained passive for more than five years after the 1980 coup. However, beginning in 1986 unions experienced a resurgence. In February several thousand workers angered by pension cutbacks held a rally -- labor's first such demonstration since the 1980 coup -- to protest high living costs, low wages, high unemployment, and restrictions on union organizing and collective bargaining. A subsequent rally in June drew an estimated 50,000 demonstrators. Since 1986 workers have conducted numerous rallies, small strikes, work slowdowns, and other manifestations of dissatisfaction. By the early 1990s, an average of 120,000 workers per year were involved in strike activity. Türk-Is has mediated these incidents by bailing detained workers out of prison, negotiating compromise wage increase packages, and encouraging cooperative labor-management relations.
Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.
Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Turkey was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.
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