Monday, August 04, 2008

The Youth Movement in Turkey

An interesting article found in

Unemployment, poverty, no social security, a reactionary education with fees, deprivation from basic rights and freedoms and the oppression and terror that accompany all this shape the circumstances that Turkey’s ruling classes present to the youth and hold them in.

The exploiting ruling classes want a youth that does not think, discuss or rebel, that is individualistic, indifferent, indolent and agnostic, running after instant “happiness”. That is why they use all the tools and opportunities at their disposal, from the media and press organs to sports, fashion, music etc. in a very systematic way. Already struggling with a bulk of multi-dimensional problems, the youth is at the same time held under an ideological-cultural bombardment in the real sense of the word.

Labour Yotuh

Parallel to the increase in over-working, unemployment, poverty and doubt of the future; drug abuse, prostitution and all kinds of tendencies towards degeneration and corruption are also specifically encouraged among the youth. Research shows that the level of drug abuse among the youth has reached such horrifying numbers as 25-30 per cent. 

The youth of Turkey is waging a fight for their today and tomorrow surrounded by all these problems and under these circumstances.

Below; we will try to summarise the state and the problems of the youth sections of Turkey as well as the past and present of the youth movement.

The student youth

Universities and the higher education institutions in Turkey are almost held under a siege. Both the reactionary-chauvinist content of the education policies and the arrangements made for physical control have reached striking levels. There are textbooks the contents of which have not been updated for decades and hence are the projection of the scholastic understanding of the Middle Ages. Education is based on elimination and on a parrot-like understanding. Academic life is practically ran under a martial law, with all the plainclothes and official police forces, security cameras and special security units. Investigations and prosecutions on students, ‘disciplinary’ actions such as exclusion from school for a definite or indefinite period of time continue to be common practices.

While the education system is being “restructured” according to the needs of the day, steps are being taken in order to transform the universities, already hand in hand with the business, into companies and to surrender education to the private sector completely. While the right to free education is being liquidated step by step, the field of education is gradually being dragged entirely into capital relations, in other words, into relations of exploitation and profit.

There are a total number of 14 million students in Turkey in primary, secondary and higher education. Education’s share in the budget is continuously decreasing every year. In the 2004 Budget this proportion has receded to 2.3 per cent. On the other hand, a huge amount of money is flowing into private education institutions under the name of incitements and donations. Even as of now, students’ families cover important portions of the education expenses.

According to official figures there is a shortage of 366 schools, 15 thousand classes and 74 thousand teachers in secondary education. 30 per cent of secondary school students leave their education for various reasons. Average number of students per class differs from 50 to 94.

Only 15 per cent of students attain the right to go on to universities.

The working and the unemployed youth

The total number of young workers in Turkey is about 7 million, 1 million of which is comprised by children aged 5-14. The number of young workers who benefit from apprenticeship training is around 250 thousand.

Those employed in industrial sites and Organised Industrial Regions (OIR) constitute an important section of the young workers who are commonly employed in all sectors, such as agriculture, industry and the services. The industrial sites and the OIRs, which are based on the exploitation of the labour of young workers, have become very widespread in Turkey especially throughout the last 10-15 years. Hundreds of thousands of workers are employed in some of these industrial areas where hundreds and thousands of small and medium size enterprises are gathered together. All these areas can literally be called as “young workers’ hell” due to extremely long hours, very low wages, drastic working conditions and prevention of trade unions from these areas.

Only 15 per cent of young workers have social security. The number of unionised workers in Turkey is about 800 thousand, and the rate of unionisation among young workers is much below the national average, with even lower rates among those who are employed in the industrial sites and OIRs where joining a union is a reason for an immediate dismissal.

A great majority of the young workers work for even less than the minimum wage, which is 210 dollars a month. Their average working hours is 12-13 hours a day. However, it is not an exception for this to increase to 16 hours a day or 36 hours non-stop as they often are forced to do so in the textile sector. Flexible working has become a rather common practice.

The other side of over-working is the high rate of unemployment, which is the direst problem for the youth in Turkey that has a very young population. Official statistics put the rate of unemployment 22 per cent. The youth forms the main body of the reserve army of the unemployed. An extremely intense circulation of workers takes place especially in the industrial sites and the OIRs. It is common practice to work for a few months of the year and be unemployed for the rest.

The period of 1960-80

The mass-based organisation and struggle experience of the youth in Turkey -Turkish, Kurdish and other ethnic minorities- actually falls to the second half of the 20th century. The period from the mid-1960s to the military coup in 1980 holds a special place in the organisation and struggle of the youth. This is a period when democratic, anti-imperialist and socialist ideas have become widespread among the wide sections of the youth. It can be said that the youth created an independent and democratic mass organisation and tradition of struggle within this period. This is the period when professional and academic mass organisations became important centres of the anti-imperialist and anti-fascist struggle. It is also in this period that opposition to the repression on the Kurdish people, the demand for their ‘right to self-determination’ and the slogan ‘the unity and brotherhood of the peoples’ have been appropriated by a relatively wide section of the youth.

The youth also took progressive steps in this period in uniting its struggle with the struggle of the working class, and became an important dynamic of the popular movement.

Despite all its deficiencies and weaknesses, some characteristics of the youth movement of that period continue to set an example and be the source of inspiration to the youth of today: characteristics such as determination to struggle, solidarity and the commitment and devotion to the cause of the people.

The aftermath of the 1980 coup

The military coup of 12 September 1980 dealt heavy blows on the youth movement as well as the workers’ and the mass movement. Fascism and the junta eradicated all the de facto and legal rights and freedoms that the youth had gained to that day through their struggle, and dispersed all the mass-based professional and political organisations of the youth. Thus, the youth had their share of this dark period of terror during which hundreds and thousands of people were taken under police custodies, crammed into dungeons, tortured and murdered.

The workers’ actions and acts of resistance began to appear as of the mid-1980s, which also led to mobilisations among the university youth. Though in the beginning it was limited to the awakening sections of the university youth, actions for demands such as ‘autonomous and democratic university’ and ‘freedom to organise against the uniform association law’ began to take place at universities. Thus, the veil of “silence” hanging over the universities due to the dark fascist terror was torn to pieces.

It is necessary to underline the militant attitude of the Kurdish youth that constituted the main body of the developing Kurdish national movement throughout this period.

The efforts of the youth to struggle and get organised spread among the various sections of the youth, especially the working and the unemployed youth. These efforts became widespread around different demands and forms of organisation, and have come to the present day, laying the foundation of a new era of struggle.

Today, many student organisations with different functions and characterisations, such as research-investigation groups in the fields of literature, philosophy, economy, etc., culture-art and sports clubs and student unions-councils are present in the universities and in secondary education. A great part of these kinds of organisations are, as necessitated by the law, under the control of the school-university administrations. Parts of the student youth have clustered around such organisations. The progressive and socialist sections of the student youth also take part in these organisations. These sections of the youth are making every effort to turn these organisations into platforms of discussion of the problems and demands of the youth, and activities along these lines are held despite all their anti-democratic and controlled structures. In fact, such organisations in question are in the position of carrying out this function in spite of the laws-regulations and all the pressures. However, an overwhelming majority of the student youth is still unorganised.

At present, ‘free, scientific and democratic education’ is the most important demand of the student youth. Among other slogans that summarise the central demands of the student youth are ‘no to the commercialisation and privatisation of education, an autonomous and democratic university, abolishment of all bans on the Kurdish language and the right to education in the mother-tongue, and the abolishment of all the bans on the freedom of thought and organisation’.

As a fundamental base of the youth movement, the working and the unemployed masses of the youth bear a great potential of struggle today. Revolt against the conditions they are forced to live in and the inclination to surge into the struggle for their own problems and over their own demands is consolidating by each passing day. In the period we have left behind, many actions have taken place for the improvement of the working conditions, unionisation and for better wages, especially in the sweatshops and factories in the industrial sites and the OIRs, that are in the situation of being “exploitation havens”. More and more of such strikes and acts of resistance, a great majority of which are illegal, are being witnessed. The youth form the main body of these actions demanding the right to get unionised with thousands, tens of thousands of workers from the weaving, textile and the metal sectors participating in many cities around the country, from Istanbul to Ankara, Izmir and Usak. 

Besides the situation in their working lives, the working and the unemployed youth masses are also orientating towards organisations rising from solidarity, social, cultural and sporting needs, within the districts and the suburbs where they live. These places also serve as environments in which the young people gather together and discuss their common problems, their demands and the ways of finding solutions or search for ways of acting together.

Among their prominent demands are the ‘demand for jobs, the eradication of all obstacles for unionisation, the shortening of working hours and an income sufficient for leading a humane life’.

The anti-war and anti-imperialist struggle and the youth

Following the September 11, there are plans to make Turkey one of the fundamental bases of the “restructuring” operation led by the US imperialism and centred on the Middle East. This is the reason why the US and its collaborators have been running various manoeuvres in order to drag Turkey to the forefront of the occupation, both before and after the occupation of Iraq.

If US imperialism and the collaborating capital circles and government have not been able and are not being able to drag Turkey into the Iraqi occupation and the process of the restructuring of the Middle East as befitting the interests of the imperialists; the anti-US and anti-war reactions of the people and the youth of Turkey lie at the foundation of this.

Before the occupation of Iraq, the youth held demonstrations and actions in many provinces around the country against the occupation and Turkey dispatching troops to Iraq. At the same time, it was the youth that formed the great majority of the participations in the general protest manifestations that were organised at the time. And it was this reaction put forward by the wide masses of the people and the youth that played a determining role in the “dispatch of the Turkish troops to Iraq” not being approved in the Parliament.

Boycotts with 100 per cent participation and massive protests took place around many universities and high schools on the first day of the Iraqi occupation. Demonstrations on the streets and universities protesting the occupation continued throughout the first year of the occupation, with a bigger manifestation held on the 1st anniversary of the occupation. Preceding the ‘NATO Summit’ held in Turkey in June 2004, an extensive campaign was held on a national scale which aimed to protest this summit and the occupation, and which helped the promotion of demands such as the eradication of all US military bases around the country and Turkey getting out of Nato. Protests were organised by the youth especially in the suburbs. And the youth took part in great numbers in the demonstrations that were held in many places around the country, especially in Istanbul as the Summit approached. It could easily be said that this was the first time Turkey witnessed anti-imperialist youth demonstrations in such masses after 1980. This period has been one in which anti-imperialist struggle and demands have become more widespread and gained strength among the youth sections.


The Labour Youth is the youth organisation of the Party of Labour (EMEP), which is the party of the workers and labourers, fighting for the abolition of all kinds of exploitation and oppression. The Labour Youth was been established in 1996 and has been a resolute advocate of the interests and demands of the working and the unemployed youth, and the student youth sections since then. It organises in universities, secondary education institutions, industrial sites, suburbs and villages, in all areas of production, education and settlement, and among all youth sections, taking the working youth as its basis.

Having held three Conferences since its formation, the Labour Youth organises by electing all its administrating organs on the basis of democracy from the base to the top. Having groups and organisations at different levels in around 60 cities, including the Kurdish regions, the Labour Youth is an important force with significant influence with its thousands of members and the broadness of its organisations.

The Labour Youth encourages the professional, academic and trade union organisation of the youth in all the fields it is organised and holds activities to establish mass organisations among the sections of the youth and to expand the anti-imperialist and anti-fascist mass struggle of the youth.

The bourgeois liberal, religious orientated, nationalistic and chauvinistic currents and their extensions among the youth have no alternative, other than the dark scene offered by the ruling classes, to present to the youth which is surrounded by ever growing and deepening problems in relation to their present and future. The Labour Youth sees the emancipation and the future of the youth linked with that of the working class and the labourers. Thus, it acts with the understanding of uniting the youth struggle with the working class struggle for political power. The Labour Youth, is the mass organisation of the youth that is inclined towards struggle for their demands, that is searching for a way out and an alternative to the one offered by the system, and who want to struggle for a world without exploitation and oppression, where it is possible to live a humane life. 

The Labour Youth, holding a daily and broad educational and organisational activity according to the demands and needs of all the working, unemployed, student youth sections, Turkish and Kurdish, has become a fundamental dynamic force of the youth movement ever since its formation.

The Labour Youth publishes the bimonthly magazine Genc Hayat (Young Life), a supplement of Evrensel (Universal), the only daily workers’ newspaper in Turkey. It is also working to render the publications that come out from universities and secondary education institutions to have certain qualities so they can serve the struggle along the lines of the demands and needs of the youth.

The Labour Youth sees itself as the inheritor of the progressive, revolutionary and socialist struggle accumulation and tradition of the youth on the national and international scale. We believe that strengthening the relations and solidarity between the youth struggles of different countries and between the professional-academic, democratic, anti-imperialist youth organisations with socialist characteristics have gained even more importance in this period we are going through. And while we declare our readiness to act with this consciousness and fulfil what is required from us, we also call upon all concerned and progressive forces to have a more active role along this direction.

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