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Workers Insist on Taksim Square

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ordered the Minister of Employment and Social Security, Faruk Çelik, to make May Day a public holiday.

However, no mention has been made as to whether workers will be allowed to gather in Taksim Square, central Istanbul. In the last two years, attempts to enter the banned area were met with police violence.

Trade UNION federations have demanded the use of the square for years, pointing out that the police, for instance, is able to march there in Police Week.

The Trade UNION Confederation of Revolutionary Workers (DİSK), the Trade UNION Confederation of Public Employers (KESK) and the Türk-İş trade UNION have all called for the square to be opened.

Workers in different sectors who have been on strike also want to gather in the square to give voice to their problems.

Strikes at atv-Sabah

Mete Öztürk, an employee of the atv-Sabah newspaper group who has been on strike since 13 February, welcomed the announcement that May Day would be a holiday as “a great gain for workers.” However, he added, “The government should not expect us to give up on Taksim.”

When the atv-Sabah group had been taken over by the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF), Turkey’s Journalists’ UNION (TGS) had organised at the workplace and achieved a collective agreement. However, when the group was bought by the Turkuvaz Group, pressure on the trade UNION was increased and trade UNION members were dismissed.

Ten employers went on strike on 13 February when negotiations for a collective agreement stagnated. It seems that they will celebrate 1 May on strike.

Öztürk said that the public holiday “will not turn the lives of workers into a bed of roses.” He called on the government to prevent employers from putting pressure on employees who organise in trade UNIONs.

Other workers who have been striking in front of factories for a long time have also called on the government to stop their bosses from obstructing trade UNION activities.

“Why do workers need to take a day off work for May Day?”

At the DESA factory in Sefaköy, Istanbul, veteran striker Emine Arslan said that she really wanted Labour Day to be a holiday.

DESA is a leather manufacturer that supplies internationally known designer brands such as Prada, Mulberry, Louis Vuitton, Aspinals of London and Samsonite.

On 3 July 2008, Arslan was dismissed from her work there for becoming a member of the Deri-İş leather workers trade UNION. She sued her employers for her job and won the case.

She asks why it is that workers in Turkey, compared to those abroad, have to work on more holidays. She also asks why workers who braved the dangers of losing their jobs by gathering on 1 May in the past also had to face police violence.

Commemoration of 1977

Referring back to the “Bloody 1 May” of 1977, when 35 people were killed by unknown perpetrators at Taksim Square, she added, “We will remember them and be in Taksim again on 1 May.”

113 days of striking, the striking workers at the Gürsaş factory are on their 113th day.

Cihan, who lost his job after becoming a member fo the United Metal-iş metal workers’ trade UNION, also welcomed the news that 1 May would be a public holiday. However, like the others, he demands a law that will protect workers from being fired when they organise for their rights.

He warned that the government would use the holiday announcement to weaken workers’ determination, but that that would not work. “We will not give up on our resistance or on Taksim.”

Cihan and the other workers in front of the factory in the Dudulu organised industrial site on the Asian side of Istanbul are in solidarity with the Sinter Metal workers who have occupied their factory.

Occupation of factory and protests
The Sinter Metal workers are protesting against the dismissal of 35 workers, allegedly because of the economic crisis, but, so the workers, really because of trade UNION membership, and want to prevent further dismissals

After an initial occupation of the factory, the workers are now protesting in front of the factory. One of them, Mustafa Sancak, was also happy about the May Day holiday, but said it was not enough.

“Our labour is being exploited, the putrid laws support the bosses. No law, no institution and no state is protecting the workers.”

Sancak, too, wants a law to protect the rights of workers.

The workers have been protesting for 108 days now. They have also expressed their support for the atv-Sabah workers and the MEHA textile workers who began to strike last month.

Unanimous demand for Taksim
The workers who have been striking for months are keeping their spirits high with solidarity and the hope that they will win their struggles.

Labour Day is to be a holiday, yes, for the first time since it was abolished in 1981. But the government is not giving a clear answer as to where it will be celebrated. All the trade UNIONs are clear in their demands for Taksim Square, where they will shout out their demands for the right to organisation and the right to employment.