“Tell us about the history of your organisation, then?” said Esin. I had a few hours before my departure. Our rally was over and she said we could visit some places in the city. I said, “no thanks”. It was OK for me just to hang around at the picket-line in front of the Mersin International Port’s main gate. Esin was my local interpreter and a dedicated supporter of the dispute. More than 200 workers were unilaterally dismissed by the company, MIP for joining the union. The picket-line was set-up on the first day of the conflict on 5 January 2009 and was maintained throughout.
Solidarity between the dismissed workers and those who retained their jobs was unbelievably solid. At shift changes, the workers would leave the premises chanting slogans (top photo) and be greeted by the people at the picket-line. Various local and national groups supported the dispute both morally and materially. Because MIP was a privatised port where PSA from Singapore held 50% of the share, our task was to put the pressure on the management internationally. And we did.
Still they refused to meet with the union in Mersin and so I visited them instead. MIP could not turn down an international visitor. My meeting with the English CEO went on for two hours. I warned him that international solidarity will not go away.
A couple of weeks after my visit, the conflict reached its climax. The MIP tried to replace the dismissed workers and existing employees permanently by changing the sub-contractor. They failed as the picketers physically stopped the scabs from entering the port. The police was called-in and the mayor intervened. The CEO now had to meet the union.
In the end, the union won the reinstatement of all dismissed workers in several phases. That is quite a rare event in Turkey. Esin told me later that they discussed amongst themselves and let the ones with more financial difficulties go back to work first. That was such a touching episode. To me, it showed the potentials of working class solidarity.
That sunny afternoon in April, I did my ‘teach-in’ about the history of my organisation with emphasis on mobilisation of solidarity. And I enjoyed the interaction that followed with those sun-burnt faces who kept the picket-line for 200 days (photo below). I must thank Esin who suggested to do this because it prompted me to develop my history lecture module which is often quite well-received.
Having said all this, I learnt more from these folks in Mersin what workers’ solidarity means in practice. I had never seen such strong bunch of people ever in my life.