No boss for workers who ended up owning their factory
by Anadolu Agency
ISTANBULJul 12, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Anadolu Agency
Jul 12, 2015 12:00 am
A tiny textile factory, noisy with the sound of machinery, sits on the third floor of a building in Istanbul's working class Rami neighborhood. The seemingly everyday workplace has one important difference - there is no boss overseeing the workers. "Everybody is equal and there is no boss here," Aynur Aydemir, 33, told Anadolu Agency (AA).
Two years ago, Aydemir was in the workforce at Kazova - an Istanbul-based textile company that had operated for nearly 50 years - who were owed four months' wages when they were suddenly sacked without severance pay. Rather than accept the injustice, the workers picketed the factory for more than two months before occupying the premises and, using the machinery left behind by their bankrupt employer, began manufacturing and selling clothes under their own initiative. Their action was all the more remarkable as none were members of a union or had ever taken part in a protest or industrial action before.
"I would never have thought of going to a demonstration or protesting anything," Serkan Gönüş, 42, said. The father-of-three, who had worked at Kazova for more than three years, was the first person to set up a tent in front of their old work site in Istanbul's busy Şişli district in 2013. After picketing the factory, the workers drew attention to their plight and raised vital funds by organizing a fashion show that attracted around 2,500 Istanbulites. A second show earlier this year helped them to gather the money to finally pay for the machines they acquired from their former employer as well as help fund a move to new premises after the old factory was bought up.
Four of the original workers were joined by two new recruits, who became known as the "Free Kazova" group - Aydemir, Gonus, Muzaffer Yiğit, 43, Şenay Yamak, 38, Yaşar Gülay, 47, and his 21-year-old son Yunus - to begin full production. The workers have been producing and selling their own clothing line over the Internet and in seven shops across Turkey ever since.
Aydemir explained the differences between working life under her former employer and now. "There is no loading time," she said, referring to the busy working conditions of ordinary textile factories. "[Before] if you couldn't complete the job on time, you would get a scolding from everyone. Not here."
Turkey is one of the world's biggest textile producers but the country's more than 1 million registered garment workers face conditions of long hours and poor pay. Neşet Erdoğan, of the Textile, Knitting and Clothing Industry Workers' Union (TEKSİF), said unregistered employment conditions within the industry lent themselves to substandard working conditions. When unregistered workers are included, the number of people employed by the industry more than doubles, he told AA.
These unregistered workers receive no health or holiday benefits, and most earn the minimum monthly wage of TL 949 ($352). According to Erdoğan, most of Turkey's unregistered textile workers are women.
But poor conditions were not the only reason Kazova workers were unhappy with their previous employment. "In the past, I was just told what to do," Gönüş said. "If black and yellow were chosen for the production, even if I didn't like it, I had to make it as it was ordered. But today, we choose colors together and we work with whatever color we want."
The Kazova premises are now decorated with graffiti and banners, many proclaiming the new company's motto "Jumpers without Master." Their clothing lines carry labels reading "100 percent cotton, 100 percent wool, 100 percent free work."
As well as selling to the Turkish market, the Kazova workers have branched out internationally thanks to the quality and affordability of their goods. "We sell our products at the most affordable price, TL 50," Gönüş said, adding that the same garments could be sold for 10 times the price if they carried a designer tag.
Although the company has the potential to produce more than 800 jumpers a month, they manufacture an average of 300 to 400.
"Maybe none of us earn enough here, as we are in debt because we had to make the payments for our former employer's machinery, but this process has taught us a lot - we are more conscious now," Aydemir said. "All of us own this place."