Solidarity with Turkish teacher unions
This Easter, the NASUWT 2016 International Solidarity Award went to the Turkish teachers’ trade union Egitim Sen, for its bravery in standing up for justice, democracy, labour and trade union rights and for the right to quality public education despite Turkish government attempts to crush the union.
Egitim Sen has shown courage and resolve, and has not shrunk from the fight. The union has suffered from the sectarian and ethnic hatred directed at Kurdish people. Over 10,000 of its members are currently being prosecuted following protests the union organized to condemn the two October 2015 ISIS terror suicide attacks in Ankara that killed over 100 innocent people, 22 of them members of KESK (a Turkish public sector union confederation which belongs, like the TUC, to the European Trade Union Confederation) and Egitim Sen.
Just over a month ago, I accompanied the NASUWT National President on a two-day fact-finding mission to Ankara, organised with Egitim Sen, to learn about the situation affecting teachers, children and the state of education in the south east of Turkey.
We received a briefing from the Egitim Sen General Secretary and President on the current crisis in the south east of the country, and took part in a press conference dealing with the need for an immediate cessation of violence; a call for peace, dialogue and the resumption of negotiation; respect for trade union and human rights including children’s and teachers’ rights to safe and secure education and health services.
We met with the Turkish Human Rights Association, the Turkish Medical Association and with 7 leading activists of Egitim Sen who travelled from various conflict-hit areas. We also met with a group of academics from Turkey’s universities, both public and private, hearing about their Academics for Peace initiative that was signed by 2,214 lecturers and university professors. The petition generated wide publicity both within and outside Turkey after a Turkish security force crackdown on those who dared to sign the petition which called for peace while criticising the government’s heavy military response.
The NASUWT delegation held a further meeting with the Political Officer of the British Embassy in Ankara who pledged support for the rights to freedom of expression and the rights to freedom of association.
Military curfews have been imposed by the Turkish state since July 2015. A few hours before the imposition of curfews, the Turkish Ministry of National Education ordered thousands of teachers from over 19 cities of the south east to attend training courses depriving hundreds of thousands of young people and children of fundamental rights to secure and unhindered education. The military, police, and special operation forces subsequently used evacuated (empty) schools as headquarters and dormitories.
Several members of Egitim Sen were subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention and even death, while thousands were ordered to appear before a court hearing accused of aiding terrorism. On 20 July 2015 a member of Egitim Sen was killed and several injured by police while taking part in a protest organised by the union calling for the immediate cessation of violence and resumption of peace negotiations. Furthermore on 5 January 2016, Mevlüde Ketani, member of Egitim Sen Diyarbak?r branch No. 2, was severely wounded by a bullet that bounced from the window of her apartment on the 8th floor while she was trying to relocate her children to a safer place. She is still in a critical condition.
NASUWT is actively considering a range of actions to provide solidarity with Egitim Sen. NASUWT is also working to lobby our global union federation, Education International, to call on the ILO to investigate trade union violations by the Turkish state that have been an ongoing issue since 2011; and further to push for the organisation of an international teacher trade union mission to visit the south east as soon as possible.
We have also contributed financially to support the excellent work of Egitim Sen in the provision of education to child refugees in Turkey who escaped ISIS terror and violence in Syria.