Workers of Istanbul
A Socialist Workers' Union during the Second Constitutional Era
Stefo Benlisoyout of stock
This book presents the possibility of an alternative horizon that does not surrender to the competitive conflicts between different nationalisms at the sunset of the Ottoman Empire, through the activities of a group that can be considered the first socialist organization of Istanbul. Mainly composed of Greeks, the Socialist Center of Turkey, which carried out a unique effort to organize a working class in the Meşrutiyet (Constitutional Monarchy) Istanbul, and the fortnightly newspaper O Ergatis (Worker), which it started to publish in June 1910, are at the center of this study. This socialist group, which carried out a significant workers’ activity in Istanbul in the short period of its existence, played an important role in the emergence of a new strike wave in the imperial capital, and succeeded in creating a generation of labor activists that would be active in both Turkey and Greece in the following years.
From the first May Day celebrations in Istanbul to international conferences, from discussions of socialism in the Ottoman parliament to efforts to build grassroots workers’ organizations, from reader meetings to strikes, from Bomonti’s child workers to the first socialist women’s organization, from social democracy to anarcho syndicalism, from Bulgarian socialists to IWW militants, from Istanbul to Thessaloniki, to Sofia, Athens, Berlin and even Chicago, the Socialist Center of Turkey constitutes the first step towards an experience that will spread over a wide basis.
In Workers of Istanbul, barber’s apprentices, carpenters, bagel makers, printers, shoemakers, tailors, umbrella workers, teachers, port workers overflow from the pages of Ergatis into the mills, workshops and streets of Istanbul. As the perpetrator and witness of the workers’ movements and organizations of the Constitutional Era, they reveal a forgotten page in the “tradition of the oppressed.” “Workers of Turkey, Armenians, Jews, Greeks and Turks, give your hands, unite in your trade unions as socialists; because only then will you be able to defend your glorious interests.” (Ergatis, issue 3, 25.07.1910)