Written by Özgür Altin (RED Movement)
Friday, 13 June 2014 22:33
According to the official announcements, 301 mine workers lost their lives in an accident due to the ignorance of the boss and the government in the main coal basin of Turkey, Soma on 13th May.
In the early times after the accident occurred, the government’s spokesman tried to disassemble the numbers in order to prevent action against the government and its party AKP. The Prime Minister Erdoğan and the government only declared that they were deeply in sorrow and announced three days of national mourning. Doing that, they aimed to prevent anger against the government.
In order to win much more money, the bosses always try to exploit their workers densely and organize their company on basis of this rule. A worker who wants to earn his/her life has to do all jobs because he needs salary.
The Soma accident (murder) was not only an accident that happened in Turkey. After privatization of the coal mine the number of accidents has been increased. During the period of twelve years of AKP government spreading irregular and unsafe working conditions eight big mine accidents happened and 135 miners lost their lives. The last three accidents happened in 2010 (two times) and 2013. These accidents were the clue of the murder at Soma. Many workers have died in accidents, but the Erdoğan just said that “they are mine workers and mine workers should be aware of accidents, it is normal, it is not a surprising event” and “death is the destiny of coal miners.” After every accident all responsible institutes explain that they are investigating and that all the responsibles for the accident will be punished. But later on everything is forgotten by the government, the media and the trade union.
In the Soma’s murder the government was caught red-handed. Before the accident, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yildiz controlled this company himself and said that this mine area had a high standard of safety at work. The Boss Alp Gürkan said that in case of emergency there was a rescue chamber. Unfortunately, after the accident all saw the reality. No rescue chamber, no recovery plan, no intervention team, no drilling plans. No enough gas detectors. Workers who survived explained that before the control day, the control team called the company and gave information about which day and what they control.
Workers were forced to enter the mine without enough training. Also the team leader forced workers to excavate more coal. The mine workers trade union is closely linked with bosses and explained that the accident happened because God desired and the Company had no faults.
Flexible working, privatization, sub-contractor working has been destroying job safety for years. With all neoliberal transformation of working life all workers turn into slaves of their jobs. This transformation prepared a base for workplace accidents. In the mine this transformation occurred by means of subcontracting or outsourcing. In spite of the mine being a hazardous area, the private sector ignore job safety, aiming at more productivity and profit.
The control mechanism of state doesn’t work because they are not independent from the government and the bosses. After the privatization of the mine sector the state agency responsible for the mines regulation failed to do its duty. The Ministry of Labor which is responsible for the guarantee of the worker’s lives, for the fiscalization to eliminate lawlessness and to increase the number of inspection officers failed as well. On the contrary, the number of inspectors was reduced from ten to five in 2013. The Minister of Labor, Faruk Çelik, explained that this reduction is due to use efficiently and actively the public funds. It is clear why government is responsible for the Soma murder.
The job health and job safety Act (n. 6331), which passed in 2012 is not enough to prevent job deaths. According to this law, the specialized experts who are responsible for all job health and safety are not independent from bosses. Instead of being independent from the bosses, they work for them because the employers give them jobs and pay their salaries. Also, because of the high unemployment rate of graduated students from universities, most of whom are young, apply to this position. Precautions were only put on paper in the Soma murder.
Being afraid of street mobilization and class solidarity, the government has prevented lawyers, trade unionists, socialist parties’ members etc from entering in Soma. But, in Soma itself, thousands of family members and co-workers gathered outside the hospital seeking for information. When Erdoğan visited the area of the disaster, workers and their relatives denounced him as a “murderer” and “thief”, damaging his car with fist and stones. Prime Minister Erdoğan had to escape into a supermarket. Erdoğan infuriated victims’ families by denying any responsibility to the press and cynically declaring: “Accidents occur in mines. These are ordinary developments. There is something like labor accidents in literature. This is part of the nature of this business.” One of his advisers, Yusuf Yerkel, kicked a demonstrator being held on the ground by police.
The leftist labor organizations called a rally on 14th May in İstiklal Street near Taksim Square. Twenty thousand people attended this demonstration but the police attacked demonstrators with tear gases and water cannons. Anger is growing in Turkey and reaching working class because all workers referred the accident as “murder” or “massacre”. The working class know the reason: the ruthless exploitation of the working class.
At first the Turkey’s biggest trade union confederation Türk-İş remained unresponsive. Later, to prevent the anger against the trade union bureaucracy getting out of control they called protests and work stoppages. The DISK (Confederation of Revolutionary Unions) and KESK (Confederation of Public Workers Unions) called one day (24 hours) of solidarity strike.
A joint statement from DISK and KESK, which was also signed by the chamber of engineers and architects TMMOB and the medical association TTB, reads: “Hundreds of our brothers working in Soma mines have been forced to work in inhuman production process in order to make maximum profit since the matter of promoting workers’ health and safety measures are considered in accordance with the pros and cons of expenditures. It means they have been left to die since the beginning. Who has carried out the policies of privatization and been promoting subcontractors, who has intended to kill workers in order to reduce the costs and who has encouraged them are the perpetrators of the Soma massacre.”
In İstanbul, several thousand trade union members wanted to start a march but the police forces blocked them. After a long negotiation and sit-down protest, the police had to allow the march. In Ankara, around a thousand people from various trade unions gathered to march to the Labor Ministry and chanted “The fires of Soma will burn the AKP” and “AKP murderers”.
In Izmir, near Soma, 20,000 workers demonstrated on Wednesday against those responsible for the disaster as part of a 24-hour strike. The demonstrators were attacked by the police with water cannons and tear gas. DISK leader Kani Beko had to be hospitalized. Demonstrations were also held in other cities in front of police water cannon with slogans “It is not an accident, it is not fate, it is murder”, and “Our hearts are burning in Soma”. “Miners did not die; they were killed.”
Protests spread out in other cities and factories. Metal and automobile workers held work stoppage. High school students organized activities to show solidarity with the Soma miners. Three days later the Ministry of Education banned all actions in high school buildings. University students showed big resistance against all kinds of prevention and repression. Mine engineering students in the İstanbul Technical University (İTÜ) occupied their faculty demanding the break of all relation with the Soma coal miner’s boss who is a member of the scientific advisory board. The presidency of ITU accepted students’ demands and the occupation was terminated. Occupation of university buildings spread to several universities, and it’s widening.
The working class is moving slowly for now. With the demand of banning the subcontract working and secure jobs they held meetings, sit-down protests and work stoppages and started to organize.
High school students who are friends of Berkin Elvan (15 years old boy killed by the police – by a teargas bullet) held a small demonstration in Okmeydanı on 23rd May. The police attacked this small demonstration with water cannon and tear gases. Finally, the police officers used their guns to disperse demonstrators. During this clash Ugur Kurt, who was not even involved in the protests, died. Uğur Kurt was shot in the head as he was attending a funeral at a cemevi, a religious and cultural center of the Turkish’s Alevite minority. After Uğur Kurt’s funeral, thousands of people once again occupied the streets and encountered police forces. A second death of a 42 years old man, Ayhan Yılmaz, happened during the evening clashes.
31st May is the first anniversary of Gezi demonstrations. A massive police force of around 25,000 was deployed on Saturday to prevent demonstrators from reaching Istanbul’s central Taksim Square. The demonstrators had assembled to commemorate the first year since the beginning of the Gezi Park protests, which began as an environmental protest but rapidly developed into a confrontation against AKP government. On Saturday, the police, equipped with 50 water cannons and helicopters flying overhead, cordoned off Istanbul’s central Taksim Square and the surrounding Gezi Park. The Ferry services were halted across the Bosporus in the afternoon to prevent passengers from crossing from the Asian to the European side of Istanbul, where Taksim Square is located. The subway was also closed. Small groups tried to protest, but police forces attacked them violently with plastic bullets. 186 protesters were detained.
Every day, in every part of Turkey, we are witnessing police attacks. Protests have now reached the Southern part of Turkey, Lice. Riots have been lasting for ten years.
The only solution of government is to prevent anger by reppression, by using police, teargas and water cannons. The AKP’s government is afraid to be overthrown by protests. Prime Minister Erdoğan is mentioning the elections in every speeches. “If you don’t want me, enter political life, set up a party and win the elections. Otherwise, when you occupy the streets my police must do its duty.”