This time, the girls, the resistance, and human pride will win!

This time, the girls, the resistance and human pride will win!
Novamed: The story of a strike

September 17, 2007
Solidarity campaigns are underway with the Novamed workers who have been on strike for a year. The editor of the Women’s magazine of the Petroleum Workers’ Union, Petrol-İş, Necla Akgökçe, gave a brief history of the women’s strike,and talked about the important features of this resistance and its current situation in the following interview.

Could you please tell us how this strike developed and the conditions surrounding the women’s labor in the Antalya Free Zone?

Necla Akgökçe: Our friends at Novamed were demanding a reasonable wage, a workplace respectful of women’s rights and to exercise their right to be represented by a union. Their wages were the lowest in the entire Free Trade Zone. Due to the sexist nature of the labor market women’s wages are always lower then men’s.

Furthermore, because of this, the average wage is dragged down in the areas where the women’s employment is high. This is precisely what is happening at Novamed. Here, it is usually the women who do production while men are employed mostly in the technical jobs like repairing of the machines etc. They have around 15 men of which 2 are participating in the strike. The rest are working. The women work in delicate production line on the conveyor belt. As you know, women are better with their hands in certain jobs. That is why they preferred women for these positions. The work conditions of these women have been widely discussed before. They really are subject to the exploitative mechanism of the international capital which does not recognize any rule or regulation. The girls know their rights as women and also as human beings. They are well aware their rights are being violated. Their rights have been violated by forcing them to be in a waiting list to be allowed to become pregnant by the management, or, not being allowed to use the bathroom, or, denial of their demand for gloves and masks when working with dangerous chemicals. However, their rights are being violated mostly by their constant systematic humiliation, in short, mobbing. Their prides have been hurt badly.

The employers are not budging. They think because they are a multinational corporation, the whole world is theirs. For them, Turkey must be their colony. You have trade unions in many countries in Europe, but not here. They have been striking for a year now, and this strike, in reality, have also benefited those who are not participating. This practice of waiting list for pregnancy permissions was immediately removed by the management as soon as they became aware of the union organizing drive. This practice is the violation of the most basic human rights of a woman. While during the organizing drive they took away the masks from the girls and while they had distributed WW II masks for protection against chemicals before, now there are some developments in this area.

Last Sunday, in a headline interview in the national daily Radikal, the Italian boss Antonio Raffa said the girls were lying and they were investigating the issue. But we know those “investigators” only talked to those still working and did not speak to a single worker on strike.

We went to the location as representatives from the union’s Women’s magazine. The women told us (there were two of us) about the pregnancy permissions in a quiet place where they could not be heard. They were embarrassed talking about it in public. At this stage, the multinational is not giving any concessions. The girls and the union is resisting. People, men, women from all around the world and Turkey are supporting us and are sending messages of solidarity. Our hope is that this time the resistance and the human pride will win.

The most important feature of this strike is its being a women’s strike. From our strike tent to the way we struggle to the forms of solidarity, this characteristic is evident. Even how they organize is feminine. The women held home visits and organized others at homes. Even how they were able to resist this long is a feature specific to women.

We welcome with joy all solidarity and support we receive from feminists, political parties, and the women’s organizations of the trade unions. I tend to think the girls are happy for all these activities for them. We are the women and we are on top of the chain on the multinationals’ exploitation order.

81 of the 82 striking workers are women. While these striking women struggle on the picket line, they also fulfill their ‘social responsibilities’ at home at the same time. Have you had a chance to observe the changes in these women’s lives during the course of this strike?

Necla Akgökçe: Of course the traditional gender roles continue as they were before. It is not easy to eliminate the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor that goes back centuries. A women who can go out or work can not be the same as before especially if she has now also lived the experience of a strike. You know, they say, strike is a school. For many women here, it truly has become one. Those girls who were shy or couldn’t talk or didn’t even know what the right to organize meant when I arrived here for the first time are now able to express themselves assertively and are aware of their rights. A girl who at first said she would not join the union because of fear from her older brothers is on the very front lines today. Many girls who had to get permission from their parents to leave home before are now coming to the picket line at night. You know, you can not oppress most of these girls easily any more.

There is support for the strike in its first anniversary even from international groups such as ICEM. Can you extrapolate on that?

Necla Akgökçe:The ICEM (International Chemical Energy and Miners Union) is like the global counterpart of our Petrol-İş union here. From its first inception they too have exerted effort to make this strike a success. Last March, there was a signature collection campaign for support within the ICEM. Our friends from all over the world sent solidarity messages to the women working at Novamed. The American Steel Workers’ Union, all by itself, was able to collect hundreds of signatures. Last August ICEM general secretary Manfred Warda and the German IGBCE’s (Chemical, Mining and Energy Union) international representative Michael Wolters visited us to show solidarity. They were even able to go inside the factory. They were very impressed by the resistance of the girls. They went back to Europe with the belief that something must be done and now they are doing whatever they can.

Furthermore, the head of the Women’s section of Verdi, the largest union organized in the service sector, sent a solidarity message through the German Immigrant Women’s Association. In the past, there were other messages, again from Germany, IGMetall Union’s Women’s section among many more. Many women here in Turkey and abroad are aware that in Antalya some women are resisting to defend their honor and labor. But this support needs to be reflected in the media. Some authority must get this information out. This strike must go beyond Petrol-İş union at this time. The girls must win and return back to work, but standing taller. The girls’ victory also means victory for all those women and men who oppose the current state of affairs, who are struggling upstream, and who object and resist. We all need hope. And we all need solidarity, joy and happiness for all.