Technological Development and Labor Relations in the Turkish Automotive Sector

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Ulas Tastekin


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2021)


"The game itself is changing, not the rules!" In January 2021, the head of the Turkish Industry and Business Association evaluated the world economy's fate in the post-pandemic era with these words. In this new layout, the target was clear: "to be one of the leading countries of the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a developer, not the market, of next-generation technologies." In the same event, World Economic Forum chief, Klaus Schwab, praised Turkey's efforts in digital growth and pointed out the regional leadership in boosting the benefits of a digital revolution as the primary target. Despite such enthusiastic conversations, the industrialization performance of Turkey during the neoliberal era has been relatively poor. Accordingly, the sectors that positively contribute to the country's trade balance were labor-intensive "low" and "medium-low" technology sectors, except for Motor Vehicles. So much so that, motor vehicles sector has been one of the leading exporters in the late 2000s for the Turkish economy.
On the other hand, it is also attested that this did not end the Turkish automotive sector's dependency on foreign partners or outsourcers in strategic decision-making and supply processes. This being the case, it can be proposed that industrialization in Turkey in the post-1980 environment is characterized by a mode of capital accumulation based on surplus extraction via suppression of labor rather than a meaningful recovery of industrial activity. Pursuing this proposition, the four sections of this study deal with technological development and its impact on labor relations in the Turkish automotive industry.
The first section lays out the historical development and structure of the Turkish automotive industry. In this respect, it is suggested that Turkey is specialized only in the final stage of the sector, and this undermines the capacity to generate added value and employment. As a result, the oppression of the labor in the industry appears as the main conduit for the maintenance of capital accumulation. Thus, the second section investigates the deterioration of the working conditions, whereas the third one is allocated to the establishment of symbiotic trade-unionism in the industry. In the fourth section, I try to discuss the probable implications of the current structure for the fate of digitalization in the industry. The previous studies on the industry, news, reports and official documents were extensively utilized in the research scope. Furthermore, some grassroots activists were interviewed in order to delve into the labor relations in the sector.
At the dawn of discussions over various hegemonic initiatives in industrial development, including but not limited to Manufacturing USA, Industrie 4.0 or DeDigital by Germany, Society 5.0 by Japan, Made in China 2025, and I-Korea 4.0; such a study dealing with the linkages between technology, industry, development, and conditions of the working classes would make sense and be on time to discuss possible routes of the industry in Turkey.

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