Yesterday Turkish workers were attacked by riot police as they attempted to defy their government decision to ban them from celebrating May day in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Below are a number of reports of the events that unfolded yesterday, which I have collated from the mainstream Turkish press, when reading these remember that they were taken from the bourgeois media.
Turkish government claims workers May day celebration is a threat to national security.
Thousands of police were stationed in the center of İstanbul yesterday to block access to its Taksim Square after three trade union confederations pledged to mobilize up to 500,000 people in defiance of an official ban. Masked protesters threw bricks at the lines of riot police and some attacked police officers with stones and Molotov cocktails. Armored vehicles sprayed protesters with water cannon and police fired tear gas. More than 500 people were detained; at least six policemen as well as dozens of demonstrators were injured in the protests. Store owners in the Taksim area closed their businesses for the day out of fear that they may get hurt.
Some marginal left-wing groups attacked police stations; they also damaged public property and set alight city buses. A group of 100 marginal protestors stoned businesses and ATM machines in the Taksim area. A group near Harbiye threw cobblestones at police officers. In Osmanbey protestors stoned a police car with a civilian license plate. Individuals at the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK) headquarters threw objects at the police from inside the building.
The outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) brought its members to participate in illegal May Day demonstrations in İstanbul from eastern provinces. Clashes erupted between DHKP/C members and the police in the back streets of Taksim. The police used gas on a large number of protestors who had set up a barricade around the Dolapdere area.
Thousands of police lined the streets after Turkish unions defied the government and said they would hold May Day celebrations in Taksim, which was a scene of violent protests decades ago.
However, by noon, all union confederations announced that their May Day celebrations were over and did not appeal to their members to go to Taksim Square. Despite that, a group of about 300 people trying to make their way to Taksim were subject to harsh treatment by the police in the central Şişli district around noon.
Leaders of DİSK, the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) and the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş) made a joint statement in front of the DİSK headquarters. “We wanted to meet in Taksim to voice our remarks in a joyful festivity. Now, all squares have become Taksim,” Çelebi said, announcing that union leaders had decided to end the demonstrations.
Çelebi also said unions displayed a great deal of common sense on May 1 this year. “In order not to become an instrument to the provocation of this government, we are ending the demonstration, in line with common sense, at this point. But we will continue to hold the government accountable for its deeds,” he said.
He also said the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was only worried about a single freedom: “This May 1 only goes to show how two-faced the AK Party is. They have no concern for freedoms other than that of the headscarf.”
Referring to the unusually strict security measures around the Taksim area, Çelebi said the square was under siege, with laborers being stuck in their vehicles or homes since the governor’s office closed off many routes and canceled bus and ferry routes for the day. “But they are all celebrating May 1 wherever they are. I would like to congratulate all of them from here,” he said.
In a similar speech, KESK President İsmail Hakkı Tombul also called for an end to demonstration in Şişli without reaching Taksim. According to Tombul, as many as 900 union members were detained by the police yesterday.
In a press conference held in the late afternoon, Labor Minister Faruk Çelik thanked the union leaders for calling off the protests in Taksim.
President Abdullah Gül shared his opinion with reporters in response to a question on how he evaluated the ban at a time when Turkey was negotiating with the European Union for membership. “With or without the EU, the rights of the workers should always be protected. Bringing Turkey’s political, economic and social standards to EU norms is a policy that Turkey has been following with determination. Today, I saw that at the end of the day, common sense prevailed. I hope we will get to speak about these matters in a calmer manner in future years.”
In the afternoon, a group of about 150 people representing the unions, who were allowed access to Taksim, laid a wreath to commemorate those killed on May Day in 1977.
Taksim under police blockade
Riot police teams used clubs, tear gas and water cannons on Thursday to break up crowds of protestors trying to reach Taksim.
Officials set up barricades in and around the square, where May Day celebrations have been banned since 1977, when unknown gunmen opened fire on demonstrators, killing 37 people – most of who died in the resultant stampede.
Police wearing gas masks first broke up a crowd which had gathered in front of a labor union office with the intention of walking to Taksim. Workers ran into the building and police blockaded it, preventing them from leaving.
“Circumstances of war were in place in İstanbul today,” said Çelebi, the leader of DİSK.
Journalists and people trying to get to work were affected by tear gas and could be seen coughing or covering their mouths and noses.
Workers trying to reach Taksim shouted “Long live May 1!” and “Everywhere is Taksim!”
“İstanbul is like a war zone, like a city occupied by foreign forces,” Ufuk Uras, a member of Parliament and the leader of a small left-wing Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖDP), told reporters. “How can the government see its workers as a security threat?” he said, criticizing the government’s ban on Taksim.
Last week, the government agreed to commemorate workers on May Day but rejected requests for the day to be a public holiday and for festivities to be held in Taksim.
Turkey had stopped marking May 1 as Labor Day after the 1980 military coup, whose leaders regarded the festivities as an opportunity for leftist activism.
Labor unions gradually resumed marking the day after the coup. Some demonstrations turned violent when protesters tried to enter Taksim to commemorate the workers who died in 1977. Last year, hundreds of demonstrators were detained.
The government reinforced the İstanbul police force with teams from other cities. A police helicopter hovered above the city center.
Deputies, civil society support May Day protestors
A group of about 100 people including Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖDP) leader Ufuk Uras, pro-Kurdish Democratic Society People (DTP) deputies Hasip Kaplan and Akın Birdal and a delegation from the Turkish Doctors Union (TBB) and other civil society organizations gathered in front of the Sisli branch of the CHP to mark May Day. The group, on its way from the CHP building to the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Union (DİSK) headquarters was stopped several times at different points by the security process. The group chanted slogans calling on the AK Party to resign from government.
After the speeches in front of DİSK headquarters, DİSK leader Çelebi, DTP deputies Sebahat Tuncel, Aysel Tuğluk, Akın Birdal and Sırrı Sakık, TBB President Gencay Gürsoy and Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) leader İsmail Hakkı Tombul started walking to Taksim Square to lay a wreath for the victims of the 1977 May Day who were killed under fire opened by unknown attackers. The procession marched under heavy security.
CHP and Democratic Left Party (DPS) deputies also expressed support for the protestors in İstanbul.
Labor Minister Faruk Çelik remains tough on government stance
Labor Minister Faruk Çelik made a speech yesterday calling for common sense, he told journalists on the grounds of Parliament. Stressing that Turkey is a state of law, Çelik said the government had previously announced that the Taksim area would be banned for May Day demonstrators.
He said his party was not against May 1 celebrations. “To the contrary, we have pursued a positive initiative on May 1,” he said, recalling that the government passed a decision commemorating May Day as Labor Day in Turkey, but with no official holiday. The holiday was official in Turkey until the coup d’état on Sept. 12, 1980, whose leaders saw Labor Day as an opportunity for leftist activism. “Next year, we will celebrate this in a more mature way. But we wouldn’t like to see scenes where windows are smashed, the police are stoned, and the like. We wanted that to be over; this is why we took that step,” he said.
CHP blame government for May Day tension
Deputy leaders of the CHP’s parliamentary group, Kemal Anadol, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Hakkı Süha Okay, have said the government bears full responsibility for the incidents that broke out during May Day celebrations in İstanbul on Thursday. In a written statement the three said: “May 1, 2008 has revealed the true face of the AK Party. It has shown clearly that it is not on the side of the workers and labor.” Police, blocking all streets leading to Taksim Square, also dispersed groups of workers trying to enter the square through various entrances, firing tear gas and beating some demonstrators with clubs. Some demonstrators were seen throwing rocks at police.