Labour Resistance to Privatisation in Turkey: Limits and Barriers

Ahmet Zaifer


Privatisation is not simply a market-based process. Instead, privatisation is a class-contested process. The structural imperatives of capitalism and interests of global actors are contested and shaped by specific class struggles and the particular materiality and history of the state in any one time or location. While capitalists and state authorities generally promote privatisations in Turkey in the post-2001 crisis era, organized labour has been unable to collectively assert power to its benefit. The resistance of organized labour to privatisations turned out to be local, relatively mild and dependent to the strategies of other actors.
I see five limits (or barriers) of organised labour’s resistance to privatisation in Turkey. First and most importantly, the organized labour did not have the sufficient means to develop capacity to make compromises and establish contradictory unity with non-governmental organisations, the new working class -urban workers engaging in precarious forms of work, dispossessed people and the rural poor- and the progressive elements from the opposition parties. Only a direct political and combined confrontation of the organized labour and popular forces (as the different fractions of Turkish capital did to promote privatisation) will lead to defence of public enterprises and innovation that can pave the way for more substantive democratic alternatives. Second, organised labour was separated from the centres of resistance within the state apparatus. This undermined the capacity of the organised labour to fight against legal-institutional reforms that made the state apparatus more conducive to privatisation. Third, there exist the ideological barriers dividing the labour confederations to more actively cooperate with each other. Fourth, some labour unions confined their reactions to privatisation to the discourses (for example, preferring national buyer over foreign) of domestic capital groups. Fifth, the systemic hold of neoliberalism has severely undermined the capacity of labour to construct substantial public sector alternatives to convince popular masses that there are alternatives to privatisation.

Dr. Ahmet Zaifer
Girne American University
Faculty of Political Science
University Drive, Karmi Campus, Girne, Cyprus
Email Address:

Labour - Political economy - The State - class struggle - limits - neoliberalism - privatisation