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50 Years in Struggle; Kemal Yılmaz,

The 10th Congress Tümka-İş, the All Paper and Cellulose Industry Workers’ UNION, was held on 15-16 October and it paid tribute to Kemal Yilmaz, the president of Tümka-İş who retired at the Congress after a sterling 50-year career in the Turkish labour movement.

The Congress elected Ergün Tavşanoğlu to succeed the storied UNION leader, while İlhan Özel was re-elected as the General Secretary.

Comrade Yılmaz started work in the rubber industry in Turkey and was a member of another ICEM affiliate, Lastik-İş, the Rubber and Plastics Workers’ UNION. While a regional officer for the UNION in the 1970s, he represented workers at factories defined in the paper industry. It was then that Tümka-İş was established and he became the first President of the pulp and paper UNION in the mid-1970s. He was also eleceted to the Executive Committee of Confederation of the Progressive Trade UNIONs of Turkey (DİSK), and during the military coup d’etat of the 1980s, he was imprisoned for his trade UNION activity from 1980 to 1984.

After DISK re-started activities in 1991, he again took the lead in organizing paper workers under the umbrella of Tümka-İş. He organised workers at several paper companies, including Procter & Gamble, Kimberly Clark and Europackaging. At the Congress nine days ago, the Tümka-İş Executive Committee praised his achievements and committment to Turkish workers, and pledged that the banner and work of Kemal Yılmaz will never be scaled down.

Delegates to the Congress discussed important legislative matters inside Turkey, as well as the country’s paper industry in Turkey, particularly impacts from the financial crisis. According to official figures, employment in the industry DROPped down from 34,075 in 2007 to 33,850 in 2008. By the end of 2008, however, Social Security Agency statistics showed an improvement and that has gradually improved to where in April 2011, employment was at 37,696 in 1,930 workplaces.

The Congress demonstrated its determination to organise in the post-crisis environment and precarious employment created through subcontracting was tagged as the main threat in UNION recruitment.

This 10th Congress of Tümka-İş coincides with proposed mmodifications to Turkish trade UNION law to correct some of the deficiencies seen by the ILO. One specific modification relates to the paper sector in defining the exact number of sectors in which trade UNIONs can operate. The proposed modification reduces the number of sectors from 28 to 18.

If passed into law, the paper industry would be merged with the wood industry sector. This would require Tümka-İş to have to a Congress within a year of enactment to harmonizing its statutes with new provisions of the law. Tümka-İş and its national labour center, DİSK, find the proposal inadequate, and demand far more democratic measures in order to assure paperworkers the ability to enjoy freedom of association and other trade UNION rights.