Several interesting and important issues have been discussed among participants. Usually these groups consisted of participants from two countries only and they dealt with a specific topic in which both countries were specifically interested. Besides, a happening was organized by Dutch and Turkish participants, and an interactive exercise was set up for all participants. Below is a brief summary of the main topics participants have been discussing during the exchange programme in Turkey.
Brazil – Russia
The two Brazilian and Russian participants, all working in the metal sector, discussed their experiences with organizing at the company level, specifically in the automobile sector.
Moreover, the participants elaborated on the importance of the participation of some Russian Ford workers at the “International Committee of the Workers at Ford”, which was held in Taubaté, São Paulo, Brazil (2006), and was attended by workers from Venezuela, Mexico, USA, Russia and Brazil.
This meeting demonstrated the different situations encountered in their countries and how the workers were organized. The Brazilian experiences made the Russian workers question the actions of their local union (in 2006 still part of FNPR), which did not advocate the interests of workers. Russian Ford workers decided to organize themselves and create their own union so they could actually represent the workers. Shortly after the union was created, several other employees of other companies decided to join this new union.
Brazil – Turkey (1)
The Brazilians explained the Turkish participants how the organization of trade unions functions in Brazil, and shortly, how we realize a production mapping at the workplace. The Turkish workers, of whom the majority was working in Danone, shared their problems at the workplace with the Brazilian activists. The Brazilians inquired on the need to form a worldwide Committee of Danone workers, since the company is located in several countries, including Brazil, and if possible, the Brazilians offered to make contact with the Brazilian Danone workers for a global mobilization.
Brazil- Turkey (2)
Brazilian and Turkish women at the same time discussed the issues of female workers’ situation in both countries. The Brazilian participant is also a member of the women’s collective of the Brazilian trade union in her city and defends female workers’ rights.
The Turkish participants shared with her the data of a research on how society sees women’s work.
Many respondents, among them even women, said that women shouldn’t work outside the home because she has the responsibility for the household and the children. Also region in Turkey influences the negative idea towards the public exposure of women.
Young women in Turkey are also the first to be dismissed during the financial crisis, and their wages are lower than those of men. Brazil witnesses similar developments. The feminist movement in Turkey is new and only recently started to disseminate information on international treaties on protection of women and to approach the Global Women’s Demonstration. Despite the repression and the strong power of patriarchy Turkish women struggle every day for changes, for basic rights like to choose their spouse, to work outside and to study.
The Brazilian participant published an article based on this discussion, which is published in Portuguese on August 10 at the website of TIE-Brazil and TIE-Netherlands (http://www.tie-netherlands.nl/node/1936 )
Belarusian participants asked Brazilians to elaborate on the situation in their country.
They first discussed the general political and economic situation in the Brazil in which unions have to operate. Brazilians explained that during the right wing government of Fernando Cordoso, people were acting as individuals and not as a collective. However, since 2002, with the government of Lula, the situation changed. Social movements got the opportunity to participate in negotiations and to influence decision making. Lula is able to act as a mediator between the very poor and the rich people in Brazil.
The current political system opens more opportunities for trade unions as well. Trade unions have representatives in all the companies. Many directors are present at the shop floor level. They are directly working at workplace level, resulting in better possibilities to negotiate and knowledge about what happens. Trade union activism in Brazil depends on the motivation of people to become a member. The establishment of positions within the companies helps to stimulate increasing membership. Now 85% of the working population is member of the CUT. People see the importance of being organized and collectively working towards goals.
Furthermore, they discussed the attitude of youth in Brazil vis-à-vis unions. Brazilians argued that young people had a rather neoliberal education, so they tend to think that they can achieve their goals through individualism. However, nowadays youth increasingly gets aware of the importance of unions. Trade unions are trying to touch every social aspect of the lives of youth in Brazil.
Finally, the Belarusians were curious to know how Brazilians managed to organize themselves during dictatorship. Brazilians responded that the military dictatorship in Brazil ended in 1985. Lula was an important person at the time and represented many people. If they would kill him, he would become a martyr. Apart from the trade unions that were related to the state, there were autonomous movements created by the workers, which were able to organize strikes independently from the state unions. These started to discuss a new union movement in Brazil.
Turkey – Netherlands
Dutch participants discussed with Turkish members of the union Tümtis, among whom the representative of employees in supermarkets, about the differences between the Turkish and the Dutch system regarding unions and labour rights, with a special focus on the supermarket sector. In both countries, the supermarket sector includes mostly young workers. In Turkey, around 90% of the young employees in supermarkets is members of a union.
Participants first discussed the differences in forming a union at the workplace. In Turkey, more than 50% of the workers need to be committed to becoming a union member in order to set up a union in the company. Then, membership is included in the labour contract. Many companies are against this arrangement. Therefore, the required number of committed employees need to be obtained first, before membership is applied for. Companies often increase the number of employees, in order that obtaining commitment of more than 50% gets more difficult. Employees are often fired as a result of being committed to union membership.
As union structures and laws differ a lot between the two countries, also the advantages for workers to become a member of the union are different. In the Netherlands every branch has a collective agreement, which applies to all employees in the sector. In Turkey, on the contrary, the collective agreement applies only to the employees who are member of a union. In Turkey, labour conditions such as a workweek of 40 hours and no dismissal without valid reason mostly apply union members only, while in the Netherlands these apply to all workers. In Turkey, unions provide for financial support to their members, for example for rent or health care. In the Netherlands, this type of financial support is provided by state institutions. In both countries juridical support is provided to its members, but while in the Netherlands this is used in cases of conflicts with the employer, in Turkey members can also ask support to the union for rather private issues such as divorce. While Turkish union members enjoy more direct benefits as a result of their membership, in the Netherlands members enjoy the same labour rights as non-members. The Dutch union thinks employees should become members because of conviction. This explains why union membership of youth in both countries differs and so do strategies to include more youth.
Belarus – Turkey
Belarusians and Turkish participants discussed differences in structures and arrangements regarding trade unions in both countries.
Belarusians elaborated on the functioning of the independent trade unions in Belarus. They showed the Charter and the collective agreement to their Turkish colleagues.
The Turkish participants elaborated on the way workers have to organize in order to form a union (as is mentioned above, see exchange Netherlands – Turkey). They added the information that in case a company has two unions, the collective agreement is signed with the union with the largest membership and the second union can submit proposals to include in the collective agreement. The conditions in the agreement apply to the members of both unions.
Solidarity action for dismissed UPS workers
In April UPS workers in Izmir, Istanbul and Ankara signed up for union membership. Since then, UPS and its subcontractors dismissed several workers. In June, during the Young Workers Gathering, more than 70 members had been dismissed. Members of TÜMTİS arrived at the Young Workers Gathering in Seferihisar and asked for solidarity. At the camp, the participants collected support letters in all languages present, which were all put together in a box. On June 24, two buses full of participants from all countries drove to the UPS office in Izmir to express their support to the fired workers. The box with support letters was ‘symbolically’ offered to UPS to be delivered by UPS at the UPS head office in the US.
Additionally, information was shared between Turkish and Dutch participants about the situation of the dismissed workers, in order to set up actions in the Netherlands, and give media attention to the subject. In the Netherlands, the participants together with other activists of FNV Bondgenoten have been giving continuity to the solidarity action through local actions and happenings.
Interactive discussion among all participants
Besides the small exchanges, some interactive exercised were realized, in order to stimulate discussion between all countries, centred around a fixed set of issues. The most interesting opinions and visions were expressed during the ‘statements game’ in which participants were asked to take their position vis-à-vis well defined statements and to explain their position when they were asked to. Through the use of a ball, the exercise encouraged the participation of all participants. Some of the most interesting statements, arguments and opinions are highlighted here.
Statement 1: Young people are not interested in trade unions
The participants were almost equally divided on this statement. However, when it came to explaining their positions, most of them shared the same opinion: youth lack the right information on unions. A Russian participant argued that youth are definitely interested in unions, but that they often lack information in order to join. A Belarusian participant added that, in their case, as the independent trade union is not able to provide sufficient information among workers, and as newly employed workers are obliged to subscribe to the state unions, they get disillusioned on joining trade unions. Also the Dutch agreed that lack of information among youth is the main reason for them not to be interested.
Statement 2: New media is only good for information; but not as a tool to “organize” young workers at the workplace
Also this statement was ground for an active discussion. The great majority of the participants were in favour of new media, such as facebook, twitter and youtube, as these are means through which people all over the world can be reached and inspired. This way, they can join actions or express support in a different way. Besides, as was the argument of a Brazilian participant, when the mainstream media are in the hands of rightwing parties, the new media can be used to broadcast important news items about unions. Only three people were keeping their position against the use of new media as a way to organize young workers. Their main argument was that face-to-face contact is necessary in order to gain confidence and to encourage people to organize. Media is not able to make this personal connection. Generally, other people agreed that direct contact is more effective for organizing, but kept saying that new media opens important opportunities for union activism as well.
Statement 3: Only young people can organize other youth
The majority of the participants disagreed with the statement. The strongest position was from a Russian participant, who argued that trade unions need experienced people to organize youth, which are usually older people. Yet, many agreed that, with a few exceptions, it is better that young people themselves organize other youth. A Brazilian participant explained that, in the case of Brazil, a cultural gap exists between the leaders of different generations, due to the different political setting in which they grew up. Youth would therefore be better than elderly able to organize other youth. A last interesting comment came from Belarus. It was argued that youth is usually defined as persons between 18 and 35 years old. That means that an enormous age difference can exist between young leaders and young workers. According to her, ‘young’ leaders are often older than 35 years, and they are not able to represent people of 18 years old, because of the age difference of 17 years.
Statement 4: leaders need experience and training to be good leaders
This statement was proposed by one of the participants and developed from the discussion around statement 3. Again, while some highlighted the importance of experience, which mostly elder leaders have, others think that youngsters are rather enthusiastic and open to new ideas. Youth furthermore should get the chance because they represent the future. However, a great part of the participants kept agreeing with the statement that leaders need training and experience in order to work effectively. A compromise was proposed by one of the Dutch participants who argued that young people are perfectly fit to be good leaders, but it is very useful to have a network, the right contacts and the right information in order to work effectively.