RELATIVES of around 150 miners, missing after the deadly mine explosion at the privatised Soma mine in western Turkey, are maintaining a permanent vigil at the site of the disaster.
They are refusing to move, while the whole of the Turkish labour movement took strike action yesterday after Prime Minister Erdogan dismissed their anger over the mining disaster, and said that it was a natural disaster and no one was at fault.
The blast caused the pit in Soma to collapse on Tuesday, while 787 miners were underground. So far, 282 bodies have been found. Union officials said the recent privatisation of the mining sector had made working conditions a lot more dangerous.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was booed and jostled by angry workers during his visit to Soma on Wednesday, while angry strikes and demonstrations erupted in cities all over Turkey immediate after he had spoken.
In 2010, after another mining disaster, he said that ‘unfortunately, this profession has this in its destiny’. On Wednesday, he said: ‘We have witnessed one of the biggest work accidents in our recent history.’ Erdogan said enquiries would be launched into the causes of the disaster, but insisted that ‘such accidents happen’.
He also downplayed the seriousness of the disaster, comparing it to other mining disasters elsewhere, saying ‘204 people died in the UK in 1862 and 361 people in 1864’. He lectured: ‘There is something in literature called work accidents.’
Workers in their tens of thousands reacted immediately and took to the streets in Ankara and other cities clashing with riot police and demanding the resignation of the Erdogan government.
The head of the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey, Arzu Cerkezoglu, told journalists that several major groups of unions were on strike and marching on the Ministry of Labour.
The statement by another trade union group, the Public Workers Unions Confederation, said: ‘Those who pursue privatisation . . . policies, who threaten workers’ lives to reduce cost . . . are the culprits of the Soma massacre and they must be held accountable.’
The Soma mine was privatised in 2005. An MP from Turkey’s opposition CHP party has accused the government of rejecting a recent proposal for a parliamentary inquiry into mine accidents in the area.
Police used tear gas and water canon to disperse between 3,000 and 4,000 protesters in Ankara’s downtown Kizilay Square, as well as thousands of demonstrators in Istanbul.
The IndustriALL Global Union, whose members work at the pit, called the deaths of the mineworkers ‘carnage’. It added: ‘Turkey has possibly the worst safety record in terms of mining accidents and explosions in Europe and the third worst one in the world. As recently as 7 January 2013, eight mine workers lost their lives in another mine-related accident, which the President of the Genel Maden-Is union correctly labelled as “a killing of mine workers”.’
‘The Turkish government and employers have responsibility for this carnage,’ said Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL Global Union’s assistant general secretary. ‘When governments fail to protect their citizens, it is not merely irresponsible; it is a breach of one of the most fundamental duties entrusted to any government.’
According to the official records, in 73 years more than 3,000 miners have been killed in Turkey.
Erdogan has played a major role in massive repressions of the working class and the middle class in Turkey.
At home, he is the leader of the military police dictatorship that keeps the ruling class of Turkish bosses and bankers in power. Abroad, has been in the vanguard of the movement to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, in order to destroy that anti-imperialist country and hand it over to imperialist agents.
His role has been reactionary through and through. In fact his foreign policy of massive repressions in Syria, is an extension of his home policy of massive attacks on the working class, the middle class and the Kurdish people.
The Turkish trade unions must now call an indefinite general strike to bring down the Erdogan dictatorship and bring in a workers and small farmers government that will embark on building socialism at home, and on liberating the Middle East from imperialism and its agencies abroad.