Workers at the DESA leather factory who had been fired for engaging in unionization activities staged a demonstration Saturday on İstiklal Street in the Beyoğlu district of İstanbul, delaying traffic in the area. Photo: Todays Zaman, Nov. 17, 2008
Earlier this year, reports Labourstart, hundreds of workers at the Turkish leather manufacturer DESA — which produces for Prada, Louis Vuitton, Mulberry and Nicole Farhi — joined a union.
The reaction of the company was fierce: 44 union members were sacked, and 50 more compelled to quit the union. Nevertheless, the workers have stood firm, holding daily protests outside the factory. Local police have been called in to arrest them, and bribes offered to union leaders to call off the demonstrations. Families have been threatened. One union leader has been threatened by the company and her eleven year old daughter narrowly escaped a kidnap attempt.
Workers at DESA need a union urgently. They complain of poverty wages, long hours and terrible health and safety conditions. You can safely bet your last dollar that they cannot afford to dress like the affluent folk who buy their products or the model who adorns their employer’s web site, pictured below.
Labourstart has asked that we send a message to DESA’s customers — the luxury fashion brands — telling them that we support the DESA workers in their struggle.
Sitting in Canada, where we think we have enough of our own problems, one might wonder why this particular struggle is important or noteworthy. It may be a bit old-fashioned, but I think every time working people organize a union to advance their interests their struggle is important.
In Canada, we have forgotten how the struggles of labour paved the way for old age pensions, labour standards, unemployment insurance and universal health care. In very real ways, the advances and setbacks of labour in Canada have presaged social progress or devolution, as the case may be.
Every success labour achieves, wherever it occurs, makes it easier for working people in this country to defend and advance their interests. Every sweatshop that is transformed into a reasonable employer makes it that much harder for sweatshop operators everywhere.
The fight of the DESA workers is particularly noteworthy. Here they are, working for crappy wages to put luxury leather clothing on the backsides of the rich and the pampered of the earth. As soon as they try to improve their situation, the company and the state conspire (on behalf of the aforementioned rich and pampered) to stop the union drive through firings, intimidation and violence.
It’s an old story for students of labour history in this country. It is a common story, world wide. So, please, do your bit to make sweatshops unfashionable: click on this link and express some solidarity.
“Labour Behind the Label” has published a detailed account of the DESA workers fight. Their site provides a wealth of information on garment workers’ efforts worldwide to defend their rights.