THE AFL-CIO trade union federation in the USA has given its support to the Turkish trade unions and workers and youth who have been struggling against the Erdogan dictatorship.
Its statement said: ‘Over the past few weeks, Turkey has been rocked by unrest.
‘The protests were sparked by peaceful resistance to the destruction of Istanbul’s Gezi Park in Taksim Square, the only green public place in central Istanbul, which was going to be turned into a shopping mall and historical recreation of Ottoman Artillery Barracks.
‘A harsh response from the state, characterised by extreme police brutality, has ensued in response to what have become the largest demonstrations the country has seen for decades. Protests have now spread to 77 cities in Turkey.
‘For years, tensions have been growing between women and gay rights groups, environmentalists, secularists including trade unions and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which controls the government.’
Engin Sedat Kaya, a labour activist in Turkey’s textile sector, said: ‘These protests represent a great accumulation of anger against the government’s increasingly repressive policies and its bans on abortion, on alcohol and anti-democratic policies against trade unions and workers.
‘It is even a reaction to the extremely arrogant tone in Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s speeches.
‘For 20 days, demonstrators have faced excessive beatings with police batons and rifle handles, excessive use of tear and pepper gas, water cannons shooting water laced with chemicals, flash bombs, rubber bullets and allegedly real bullets. So far, five have died and 7,000 have been injured.
‘On Sunday, a funeral was held for Ethem Sarisuluk, a working-class labour and political activist and an Alevi, a religious minority in Turkey, who was killed last week by a police bullet that was recorded on video.
Police attacked his funeral attendees with water cannons. Sarisuluk’s case has been deliberately suppressed from media coverage and his family was not allowed into his autopsy.
‘The extreme reaction by police to the initial protest in May has sparked a mass movement in civil society against authoritarianism and for democracy.
‘The labour movement has played a prominent role in this movement in recent days by mobilising its members to action to preserve the rights of citizens in an evolving Turkey.’
The Confederation of Public Workers Unions (KESK) and the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), along with three professional organisations of architects, engineers, doctors and dentists, have carried out one-day work stoppages to demand an end to police violence.
In Istanbul on Monday June 17, police did not allow DISK’s march to take place into Taksim Square.
The Council of Global Unions, which brings together 11 global union federations and represents hundreds of millions of workers worldwide, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Erdogan that cited both the current violence and the bloodshed of this year’s May Day celebrations in Istanbul and said, ‘The global union movement is concerned that your government has turned violent repression into a regular practice. Such brutality is unacceptable.’
The Istanbul Gezi Park protests have been coordinated by a broad coalition called Taksim Solidarity, which is composed of 117 different constituent groups, including trade unions.
This prominent stand has not gone without retaliation. Prime Minister Erdogan told hundreds of thousands of supporters at a government-organised rally outside Istanbul on Sunday that the protesters were manipulated by terrorists.
Erdogan also has criticised foreign media and has vowed to identify one by one those who have terrorised the streets.
The president of the Turkish Medical Association reported that five doctors and three nurses had gone missing on Saturday after treating injured protesters.
Amnesty International has launched a campaign against incommunicado detention of protesters. Lawyers were detained en masse last week when they tried to stop the first massive police attack on Taksim Square.
Despite promises from the Turkish government to respect a court decision that stopped the construction of the shopping mall in Gezi Park, police invaded the Taksim Square and Gezi Park en masse.
Subsequently, extreme violence has consumed the streets of Istanbul and other cities across the country. Military police, or jandarma, have joined the civilian police in the attacks.
The DISK and KESK union confederations have played a major role in the demonstrations that have captured the world’s attention this May and June.
Already, KESK held a one-day strike on June 5, criticising the government’s terrorist response to peaceful protests. DISK also struck, and DISK organisers have been at the centre of the Gezi Park protests.
For decades, these two union confederations have supported respect for fundamental human and labour rights in Turkey.
KESK, in particular, has been a leading voice for equality and respect for Kurdish rights in Turkey. As a result, it has experienced constant government raids in recent years.
Both the leadership and rank-and-file members have been and continue to be detained under false charges of promoting terrorist propaganda.
That is why this protest movement is such an important struggle for Turkey’s labour unions.
It is not just Gezi Park that is at stake, but also the ability of Turkish civil society to thrive free of government intimidation.
Indeed, according to many veterans of the Turkish labour movement, workers’ rights in Turkey stand to rise or fall with the fortunes of the Taksim Square protesters.
Turkey’s trade unionists stand in solidarity with the protesters in Taksim Square, because ‘we have stood-down these authoritarian practices, tear gas and rubber bullets so many times ourselves in the past’, said Eylem Yildizer, a 10-year veteran of both the labour and political movements in Turkey.
‘This is a turning point for young people active from the beginning of these protests. ‘We will not stand silent and be victims of these government attacks. ‘These protests give new meaning to the way we form a nation. It is only the beginning of what we can achieve. We want freedom for everyone.’
The AFL-CIO supports these Turkish labour federations’ call for an immediate end to the brutal police crackdown in Turkey.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a letter to Prime Minister Erdoan supporting the demands of the unions.
l Meanwhile, railway unionists in Tokyo on Thursday 13 June protested against a lockout nearly 5,000 miles away, of American dockworkers who load grain onto ships headed for Asia.
With signs calling the aggressive employer a ‘Merchant of Death’, Japanese workers rallied outside the headquarters of Marubeni, owner of Columbia Grain, which locked out members of Longshore (ILWU) Local 8 in Portland, Oregon, in May.
‘If you continue Columbia Grain’s operation in such a way,’ wrote the railway union Doro-Chiba and a Japanese labour federation in a letter to Marubeni executives, ‘you will be faced with bitter condemnation and outrage from workers not only in the United States but also all around the world.’
The unions also called out two other Japanese companies.
Mitsui is the owner of United Grain, which locked out ILWU Local 4 members in Vancouver, Washington, in February, and ITOCHU is part of the cartel that owns EGT, whose pitched battle with ILWU Local 21 members in Longview, Washington, two years ago captured national attention – but ended with the union accepting inferior terms. Now the other grain shippers want the same deal.
Longshore workers and allies in Kalama, Washington, staged a picket-by-boat last month, briefly preventing the docking of a ship that had been partially loaded by scabs in Vancouver. The ship eventually reached shore, but Local 21 members used plastic sheeting to segregate the union-loaded cargo from the scab-loaded, hoping Japanese dockworkers would recognise it at the other end of the trip:
‘Our rank and file were compelled to remind these greedy companies that they can’t simply load a ship with scab labour and expect it not to be marked and protested wherever it goes throughout the world,’ said one member.
Last Thursday’s protest seems to prove those words true.
Doro-Chiba (National Railway Motive Power Union of Chiba), a small leftist union, began developing solidarity with the ILWU during its 2002 contract struggle with the shipping companies, since ‘we were also confronted with the same attack of privatisation, outsourcing and casualisation,’ said H.
Yamamoto, secretary general of Doro-Chiba’s International Labor Solidarity Committee.
Doro-Chiba leaders believe it’s no coincidence the grain companies’ assault on West Coast dockworkers, seeking the kinds of loosened work rules and staffing standards EGT got, comes at the same time as the push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
TPP is a huge expansion of NAFTA that would include Japan, the US, and many other Pacific Rim countries.
Labour activists from the three NAFTA countries (Canada, Mexico, and the US) rallied against TPP in December at the British Columbia/Washington border, saying NAFTA – now two decades old – has worked out terribly for workers and the environment: For instance, the American oil and gas company Lone Pine Resources is suing the Canadian government for $250 million over Quebec’s moratorium on fracking in the St. Lawrence Valley.
Tina Turner-Morfitt, an AFSCME member in Salem, Oregon, said the flight of jobs overseas also puts downward pressure on wages and standards in the jobs that remain.
Members of Japan’s National Coordination Center of Labor Unions and a student federation also participated in the Tokyo protest.