Turkish unions march for May Day 2106. Photo: KESK
As death returns to May Day protests, Turkey is sliding back into dictatorship
We – and colleagues in the Turkish trade union movement – have been writing about the struggles of the Turkish trade union movement on Stronger Unions for years. At one point, things were getting better. Marches on May Day commemorating the dark days of the 1977 massacre in Istanbul’s Taksim Square when 42 demonstrators were shot dead by police went from being banned from the Square to being allowed back in.
The lure of EU membership helped trade unions take to the streets peacefully, and labour law began to move in the right direction. But over recent years, things have been getting worse. The Turkish state has used everything – internal terrorism (including against trade unionists demonstrating for peace), a growing democratic opposition and now the chaos over the border in Syria – to justify a move towards intolerance, repression and state violence. May Day has been a regular flashpoint, with 2013 marking the turning point.
Although the western press often report individuals who are arrested and sacked, trade unionists are suffering en masse. The International Trade Union Confederation has reported that 1,390 union members have been placed under investigation for participating in an event calling for peace and democracy. Some 284 are in exile or have been transferred, 403 have been forced to retire, 102 placed under investigation and 97 have been charged with “insulting the President”. Earlier this year, state violence came to industrial relations, as French car company Renault used the police to break up striking protesters, and my colleague Sean Bamford reported just last month on the new Turkish labour law which would increase employment insecurity.
This May Day, death returned to Taksim Square as a demonstrator was killed by one of the police trucks as water cannon were turned on protestors. Some 200 trade unionists were arrested as police used water cannon and tear gas to stop people reaching the square, the traditional May Day rallying point once again declared off-limits by the authorities.
This industrial-level state repression has become all too common in Turkey. 56 trade unionists from the public sector organisation KESK were tried in 2014 for allegedly belonging to illegal Kurdish organisations.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow commented on the latest news that:
“The government seems to be intent on crushing unions and depriving workers in Turkey of their legitimate rights, enshrined in international law. This is not the behaviour of a democracy, and will seriously damage living standards and ultimately undermine Turkey’s own domestic economy. The exercise of power and control over people’s lives seems to be more important to the authorities than the well-being of the people of Turkey.
“We call on President Erdogan to cease the harassment and repression of those who are simply seeking peace and respect for human rights, and to drop the planned labour law changes which will leave working people at the mercy of employers with no way to defend their rights and build a decent life for themselves and their families.”