Turkish workers demand rights protection in Labor Day

Turkish workers demand rights protection in Labor Day
# 02 May 2010 00:48 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. About 300,000 workers and their supporters celebrated International Labor Day in Istanbul’s central Taksim square for the first time in 33 years, calling for protection of union rights, APA reports quoting Xinhua News Agency.
Union members, men and women, old and young, marched into the square from the north, south and east chanting slogans and holding up signs advocating workers’ rights.
After passing security checkpoints, they gathered in the square where they listened to speeches by union leaders on workers rights.
A declaration prepared by the Revolutionary Workers’ Unions Confederation (DISK) and the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions stated: "We are in solidarity for our rights and freedom against every kind of oppression. We stand together for social justice, equality, independence and our union rights."
Istanbul, the largest city in the country, has a total population of 16 million. The financial crisis drove the unemployment rate to above level of 13 percent in the country. Lots of young people are unemployed.
Specifically, the declaration demanded those guilty of the events of 1977 be found and brought to justice, a humane minimum wage, an end to unemployment, lifting of obstacles to unionizing and the protection of worker’s severance pay, among others.
Labor Day celebrations in Taksim square were banned after 1977, when nearly half a million had gathered in the square and unidentified assailants fired at the crowd causing chaos resulting in 34 deaths and 136 injuries.
Mustafa Altunay, a member of a textile union, was 17 at the time when he was caught amidst the chaos. Standing at Kazanci slope on Taksim square, he told Xinhua "Right on this spot we crawled our way to safety. There was so much violence, I still cannot get that day out of my mind." Altunay added the fault lay in how violently the police had reacted.
Celebrating labor Day in Taksim square has since become an issue of contention for labor unions, and there has been much tension between the unions and the government with violence breaking out in previous years.
Last year police had allowed 5,000 people from the Revolutionary Workers’ Unions Confederation and Public Workers’ Unions Confederation to gather in Taksim. However, 108 people had been detained and eight injured, including two officers, during clashes in the periphery.
This year, the government granted permission to gather in Taksim square and Saturday’s celebrations were organized by six labor confederations, which appointed 4,000 workers to assist the police in providing security.
DISK President Suleyman Celebi said: "We are glad the government stance has changed 180 degrees. We will be celebrating May Day in freedom and joy."
Security was a concern for May day, with 6,000 additional police being brought in from other cities bringing the total number police on duty for the celebrations to 22,500. The event passed mostly in an air of celebration.
Retired teacher and founder of the Education Workers Union’s Sakarya branch Suleyman Pekdemir told Xinhua this was a big day for all workers of the world and for Turkish democracy, but that it had not been easy to reach this point.
"Today’s workers owe a debt of gratitude to all the worker friends of ours who have fallen in this square," he said. However, Pekdemir added, "Gathering in the square isn’t that important itself, what is important is the protection and development of workers’ rights."
Ibrahim Ozmen, a carpenter and member of the Turkish Communist Party told Xinhua that being able to assemble in the square was the result of decades of work by the socialist movement and not some generous grant by the ruling Justice and Development Party. He added that he did not see assembling in Taksim square "a victory," saying the Turkish working class still had a lot of work ahead.
Except for a brief event where the president of the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions Mustafa Kumlu was not allowed to speak by disgruntled workers and had to be taken away for security, the event passed in an air of celebration. Many workers were dancing, and supporters were sitting at nearby Gazi park enjoying the free public concert by Timur Selcuk and the Ruhi Su Chorus.
Even foreigners arrived to express solidarity with the workers. Benoit Monjabone, a student from France, was also in attendance and told Xinhua is was a great opportunity to be able to support the Turkish workers.