National projects, foreign capital and Turkish workers

Turkey today is split between two groups of people. The first group is selling fake “local and national” products by trying to facilitate foreign investment. This first group affirms its nationalism through street bullies and mafia bosses. The second group of people are those who are subjected to violence by official forces while seeking their most fundamental rights. It is a country divided between foreign and local capital.

On August 11, 2011, three Spanish nationals walked into Istanbul’s Beyoğlu notary’s office number seven. Their names were Miguel Alejandro Ruiz Dealbert, Maria Cristina Ruiz Dealbert and Pablo Marcos Ruiz Dealbert. They wanted to sign the main contract for the company they had formed with capital of 50,000 Turkish Liras in the presence of a notary public. Their notarized contract was later published in the trade registry gazette. This new company was named Baldur Süspansiyon Üretim Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş. (Baldur Suspension Production Industry and Trade Incorporated). The three Spaniards with the same surname had a one lira share each in the company while all of the remaining shares belonged to the Spanish company “Muelles y Ballestas Hispano Alamenas.” The new company was to produce parts of motor vehicles, primarily spring and suspension components. A couple of months later, Baldur Süspansiyon’s capital was increased to 2.6 million liras. At Gebze Çayırova, near Istanbul, at the Organized Industrial Zone Şekerpınar, it produced suspension components and other parts for motor vehicles, particularly for trucks. There is not much information in Turkish on their website; most of the information is in Spanish, but we are able to learn from the website that they have become leaders in the sale of the suspensions for the most trucks sold, especially the 700 model. Its customers include capital giants such as Mercedes, Volvo, MAN, Renault, Isuzu and Nissan.

We will come back to Baldur Suspension, but let us return to the year 2011 first. 

In the summer of 2011, at the same time that the Spainards were buying Baldur, representatives of Systemair, the Swedish giant in the air conditioning sector, were in acquisition talks with the Turkish air conditioning company HSK. HSK was an SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) founded in 1981, right after the military coup of September 12. It grew with the help of the “opportunities” that were part of the former President Turgut Özal’s economy. While everybody was downsizing in the 2001 crisis, due to HSK’s investments, it had reached such a level in the 2010s that it attracted the attention of global capital. To cut to the chase, after a period of flirting for two years, the Swedish Systemair bought 90 percent of the shares of “our” HSK. The name of the company became Systemair HSK. Until 2018, their production site was located in Istanbul’s Hadımköy.    

In August 2018, the first exchange rate shock was experienced in an economy in crisis. On September 20, 2018, the company moved to their 28,000 square meter new factory to Gebze Dilovası, to the Machinery Specialized Organized Industrial Zone, and there was a spectacular opening ceremony. The governor of Kocaeli, Hüseyin Aksoy, was present. The consul general of Sweden, the country that watches European democracy, Therese Hydén, was there. The Swedish CEO of the company, Roland Kasper, and local executives were all there. Ribbons were cut; speeches were delivered. The governor emphasized the meaning of the new investment worth 15 million euros while the Swedish CEO highlighted Turkey’s geostrategic significance. “Local” executives, the Ayça and Ayşegül Eroğlu sisters, pointed to the “plans they made in line with Turkey’s 2023 goals.”   

At the end of 2018, Turkey’s situation was quite clear, but when investments, gains, and profit were considered, the issue of “democracy and law” were “in their proper place” as not to attract the attention of the respectable Swedish consul general. On September 20, 2018, the then-Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak announced the New Economic Program (YEP) for the next three years. The head of the minor partner of the ruling alliance, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, declared on the same day that they would not nominate a separate candidate for the local elections in Istanbul but would support the AKP candidate. Again, on the same day, CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu’s jail sentence was announced. He was arrested after his parliamentary immunity was lifted. 

For this moment, while winter tales such as “legal reform,” which say that “investment will only come if there is rule of law,” and “our place is in Europe, and the EU will force Erdoğan to reform,” are currently at their peak, it is actually the correct time and place to focus on these two companies in detail.   

The reason for this is that the company Baldur Suspension, which was made with 100 percent Spanish capital and Systemair HSK, which has 90 percent Swedish capital, are two of the three factories that fired or placed on unpaid leave all the workers that took part in an attempted march from Gebze to Ankara on November 24; the march was subjected to police violence. (The third factory is again in Gebze Dilovası, named Özer Elektrik A.Ş.) 

As one of Europe’s champions of democracy, the Swedish-funded Systemair HSK placed 46 workers on unpaid leave and dismissed two workers without compensation on the morning of October 16. The 46 workers were members of a trade union while the other two workers were supporting them. On October 15, they received authorization from the ministry to organize under the Birleşik Metal İş Union. They had reached a majority. The Spanish-funded Baldur Suspension company, similarly, fired the workers who had switched from the Türk Metal Union to the Birleşik Metal İş Union on just the day after they had gained their authorization. The third company, Özer Elektrik, also conducted the same cleansing operation on the workers who organized through the Birleşik Metal İş Union. 

All of this was done while the lie that “firing workers is strictly banned because of the pandemic” was circulating. These workers were not paid the compensation they were owed; they were threatened and intimidated.    

These workers were laid off their jobs without their rightful compensation because they were exercising their constitutional right to join a trade union. When these workers in the metal sector wanted to march to Gebze from Ankara, where their production facilities were located, they encountered first police barricades, and then violence. A total of 109 workers were beaten and detained. One can see from the photographs of the incident that the laborers pursuing their basic rights and the system’s police officers are very clearly on the opposite sides of the country’s polarization. These images demonstrate the division in Turkey.

The police, with their shields, batons, handcuffs and detention busses, confronted the workers who were fired without any compensation under the ongoing circumstances of the pandemic. The prosecutors who question these workers, the governors, interior ministers, and presidents who order all of this to protect the interests of the Swedish, Spanish and Turkish capital are all given the label “local and national,” but the protesting metal workers, one of which had to wish their child happy birthday through a video they shot inside the detention bus, are the troublemakers, are they?

The lead actor in this worker slaughter, Systemair HSK, a short while before the spectacular opening of its factory on September 20, 2018, sold 650 air conditioning central units and 7,200 fan coil units to the third airport. It also sold 10 closed and 10 open-type cooling towers to Okmeydanı and Göztepe hospitals as well as air conditioning and ventilating systems to eight city hospitals that are under construction. It had also taken on the ventilation systems of 8 double-tube tunnel crossings, which makes 16 tunnels, on the North Marmara Highway. Among these tunnels is the 4.2 kilometer-long T-2 tunnel, the one that Erdoğan was very proud to open. In addition to those projects, the company sells air conditioning systems to defense industry projects, mining sites, shopping malls and large-scale housing projects. When one considers city hospitals, the third airport, highways, the defense industry and construction, they all sound like very familiar “business” fields, don’t they? A global corporation is present that has integrated itself into all of these areas, one that enjoys advantages from profitable state bidding processes. This level of cooperation gives them the courage to fire the worker who opts to become a member of a union. A collaborative law enforcement force and its series of directors are also in the picture as they exert violence on workers who want to march to seek their rights.    

Turkey today is split between two groups of people. One group is selling fake “local and national” products; they are also marketing the arrangements made to facilitate foreign investment and property rights for foreign capital as “law reform.” This first group also affirms its nationalism through street bullies and mafia bosses. This is an environment in which representatives for capital dictators need a divided society in which one half considers the other half the enemy. The second group of people are those who are subjected to violence by official forces while seeking their most fundamental rights. It is a country divided between foreign and local capital, which grows by selling air conditioning units to highway tunnels, airports and hospitals, and laborers who are dismissed from their jobs for the “peace of mind” of that capital. When the latter objects this, they find the police force of nationalism and religion confronting them.  

By the way, the laborers, beyond all these liberal narratives, are rediscovering a path that belongs to them. “Marching to Ankara” is becoming a natural tendency for labor forces to confront the heart of the bourgeois state when all those other pursuits for rights fail — and if there is a light at the end of this darkness, its source must be this