This book provides a political-economic and sociologically grounded understanding of the transformation of work relations and labour movements in Turkey. By offering a historical and a bottom-up account of trade union activism based on interviews with union activists, we fill a major gap in research into the development of Turkey’s labour movements under neoliberalism. How has neoliberalization affected working-class capacities in Turkey, or more precisely, the power of the Turkish working class to organize and struggle for its collective interests? What are the peculiarities of Turkey’s integration into the neoliberal economic landscape in terms of the transformation of the labour movement since the 1980s? Why and how has the ascendancy of Turkish–Islamic conservatism with a neoliberal fervour led to the subordination of working-class movements? The main argument of the book is that the peculiarity, as well as the underlying causality of the subordinated state of Turkish trade unionism, lies in the geographically specific political-economic and cultural transformations of Turkish capitalism since the 1980s. These transformations find their fullest expression in the rise of culturally legitimized paternalistic labour relationships, conservative and nationalist trade unionism, and other religious-clientelist networks in a neoliberal context. We argue that all of these factors—culturally legitimized paternalistic labour relationships, conservative and nationalist trade unionism, and other religious-clientelist networks—complement the dispersing effects of neoliberal developments such as trade and financial liberalization, privatization, and flexibilization of labour markets on labour movements.
The value of our book can be summarized in three main points. The first point speaks to the theoretical contributions of our book. We claim to make original theoretical contributions by applying Leon Trotsky’s theory of combined and uneven development to the area of working class studies and developing the scope of Erik Olin Wright’s class capacity analysis based on Trotskian concepts. The second point relates to the relevance of Turkey and its working class as the object of study. Increasing international attention is being directed to social and political conflicts in Turkey. This country is going through one of the most turbulent and contentious periods of its history since the foundation of the Republic in 1923, especially following the Gezi Park protests in 2013 and the failed military coup attempt of 15–16 July 2016. As demonstrated in our book, working-class movements in Turkey are far from representing the periphery of social and political struggles, which is why the course of social and political conflicts in Turkey cannot be fully understood without substantial knowledge on the development of working class struggles. The third point concerns the empirical contributions of our book. The book presents original data drawn from semi-structured interviews with union organizers, and is supplemented with data from international databases and secondary sources in Turkish and English. As such, our book provides a rich account of Turkey’s union activism and working class struggles by combining political sociological analysis with historical and political economic contexts. Our contributions take on a greater relevance considering that the monographic English literature on Turkey’s working class and labour movements is scarce. Even scarcer is the literature covering the neoliberal era since the 2000s, which is the main focus of our book. What makes this book even more interesting is that the book’s coverage is extended from traditional unions to social unionism and the case of white-collar workers.