Turkish government claims workers May day celebration was a threat to national security


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.

Mick Hall

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.

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Filed under Democracy/elections/Turkey/islam/EU/politics/civil righ, democratic accountability, http://organizedrage.blogspot.com/, trade-unions

3 responses to “Turkish government claims workers May day celebration was a threat to national security

  1. Renegade Eye

    Mayday Greetings

  2. TurkishTVwatch

    The AKP is ideologically hostile to the left (something its foreign defenders should remember) and there were elements of a police riot about May Day. There is TV footage of a riot cop in Istanbul beating a passing tourist – not exactly the Turkey they advertise in brochures for summer holidays.

    Since the 1980 coup, potential police recruits are screened to eliminate any who show traces of leftism, whereas a background in a far right group will only improve your chances of becoming a policeman. This contributes to the behaviour they engage in on International Workers’ Day.

  3. Front for Rights and Freedoms

    Haklar ve Ozgurlukler Cephesi (Front for Rights and Freedoms)
    Statement: 106
    Date: May 5, 2008

    “The fascist attacks of the AKP do not change the reality that ‘Taksim is the square for celebrating May Day'”

    The workers and revolutionaries of our country were primed for a powerful struggle. They did not surrender to the contra-guerrilla provocations and threats on May Day. They were not intimidated by the AKP’s fascist terror. The workers and revolutionaries resisted the fascist terror of the government and rendered it empty, at the same time causing its mask to fall. On that day, Taksim and the surrounding area were a scene that rendered bankrupt the policy that for decades has tried to forget the workers by saying “farewell to the proletariat”, and to destroy the left and the revolutionary struggle by saying “socialism is dead”. Revolutionaries and workers, said to be “dead” and the objects of “farewell” resisted the values imposed on them, and resisted fascism. On May 1, 2008, we defended labour against fascist terror, we defended revolution, we defended socialism! While many groups have given up on the people and revolution, the willpower and resistance on May Day showed that there is and will be a force resisting fascism. We are the people, there are 70 million of us, and if we unite and organise and struggle, fascism cannot defeat us. May Day 2008 proved this once again before history.

    May 1, 2008 was a day when one of the strongest dividing lines was between the oppressed and the tyrants, those who are right and legitimate from those who are not. May Day remained our day of being right and legitimate and not bowing down to tyrants and tyranny. And the AKP’s guilt and shame consist of the fact that all it engaged in on that day was fascist terrorism.

    Taksim undermined empty dreams and showed the reality! The AKP openly declared war on the people on May Day. Threats poured from the mouths of the Istanbul governor and from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan himself. Things were said like “If the ‘base’ acts up, all hell will break loose,” and this was an attempt to intimidate the people who might “act up”, and also humiliate them (Translator’s note: “base” is “ayak” or “foot” in the Turkish original. The implication is of people getting above themselves and being threatened with reprisals). So on May 1, tens of thousands of police, armoured cars and gas canisters turned Istanbul into a “hell” for the workers. The AKP’s police turned savagely on the people. We were up against gas canisters which were even hurled into hospitals, and hundreds of people were clubbed and tortured in the street – none of this was done to “prevent” anything, it was savagery designed to intimidate the people. The savagery was completed when hundreds of people were taken into detention and tortured. The government and its police did not behave as though they were citizens of a democratic country using their rights, it treated them as ENEMIES. On May 1, 2008 the AKP registered the fact in a way leaving no room for doubt that it is the enemy of labour and of the people.

    May 1, 2008 showed beyond the shadow of a doubt the difference between dreams and reality. You are the witness to the empty dream of saying that Turkey is “on the road to democracy”. Those who say that the AKP is “democratic” and who are very certain the EU “will bring democracy to our country” were left confronting fascism at brutally close quarters. They vented their disappointment by saying things like “the AKP’s democracy only goes as far as wanting freedoms for themselves”. In other words, these people are now saying the things about the AKP that the revolutionaries have been expressing for years. How was it that these circles did not understand such a simple truth? An answer to questions about responsibility for these errors can be gained by listening once again to us, the revolutionaries. They cannot see the oligarchy for what it is, cannot see the state for what it is, and so cannot save themselves from new errors arising from the democracy manoeuvres conducted by the state and the system parties.

    The AKP’s fascist terror was defeated in its attempt to capture Taksim; thousands of police were brought from the four corners of Turkey, reinforced by armoured cars, gas canisters and unrestrained fascist aggressiveness, but they encountered RESISTANCE. The resistance was resolute. The resistance achieved its strength from the legitimacy of being in Taksim. In all the districts around Taksim, a struggle took place in all the main roads leading to the square, a struggle waged hand to hand, face to face. For hours they resisted the AKP’s will to capture Taksim with fascist terror. The willpower of those who resisted was so fearful to the AKP government that, at midnight on May 1-2, its police were still occupying Taksim. Occupying Taksim at midnight was an image expressing the government’s helplessness.

    While workers and revolutionaries were continuing valiant resistance in many places, showing self-sacrifice and heroism, the decision by the unions to “end the action” was an expression of indecision and negativity. This decision, taken in advance, was contrary to the logic of resistance and to behaviour aimed at capturing Taksim, and its attitude of “one banner, one slogan”, and its irresolution and hesitation strengthened the hand of fascism. What was needed was to resist with every method and under every condition. The unions could not show this resolve. Doubtless the people’s forces will evaluate this and draw the necessary conclusions. But as far as this is concerned, we can say that the basic problem is the unions’ rejection of class reality and the reality of the state. There is a class struggle with the oligarchy on the part of the people, with the AKP government and the state as a whole on one side, and the people and labour on the other. But the unions and democratic mass organisations did not see this class alignment, expressing their wrong politics through irresolute and “please, sir” behaviour which they called “dialogue and common sense”. Unaware of reality or denying it, it is certain that the struggle would have been at a higher level and yielded a more productive result if they had possessed clearer politics.

    In a country dependent on imperialism and ruled by fascism, the logic of the struggle for rights and freedoms is clear and obvious: to win, it is necessary to resist. To repel the tyranny of fascist terror, to overcome its barricades, it is necessary to resist. There is no other way. Those who say there “is” are doomed to disappointment or misdirection.

    Ergenekon is in the government: we are gaining Taksim bit by bit from the murderers! The AKP fascist government’s aim is to destroy the revolutionaries and prevent the revolutionary struggle of the people. The AKP puts all its efforts into this, and to serve this aim, it uses the contra-guerrilla methods patented over decades by the governments that preceded it and resorts to fascist terror.
    Ergenekon was the government yesterday and it is the government today. Do not suppose that, if an operation is conducted against a few people like Veli Kucuk, that this means the elimination of Ergenekon and Susurluk. (Translator’s note: Ergenekon is the name given to a far right organisation said to be implanted in the establishment in Turkey and blamed for murky “deep state” activity. Susurluk, a scandal of 1996, is typical of their operations. Some people reputed to be part of Ergenekon have been arrested.) Ergenekon is wherever the oligarchy feels that it needs it. Ergenekon was in those forces which attacked so savagely on May 1, 2008. The form and dimensions of fascist terror might vary, and the variance lies not in differing governments but in the differing needs of the oligarchy. The fascist terror we witnessed on May 1 is clear proof that it does not depend on the Veli Kucuks of Ergenekon.

    Just as the May 1, 1977 massacre was not simply the handiwork of “a small group of men operating in darkness”, the fascist terror of May 1, 2008 was not simply a matter of the Istanbul Governor’s Office or the behaviour of the police. (Translator’s note: Over 30 people died when the May Day demonstration in Taksim in 1977 was fired on. Nobody has ever been arrested, though film apparently showing the gunmen is well known in Turkey.)The fascist terror practices are centrally directed by the state. The AKP is unhesitating and savage in bringing hostility to labour and the people onto the agenda of life.

    On May 1, 2008, workers and the revolutionaries resisted fascism and those who carried out the slaughter back in 1977. To be on Taksim May Day Square is to “share” in our blood that was spilled by those who slaughtered. That place where our blood has been spilled is also the place that for decades has been forbidden to workers. And by continuing to resist and grow today, we are winning Taksim again.

    Our resolve and our resistance is not peculiar to this year. At the end of the 1980s, people like Mehmet Akif Dalci were martyred, and by paying the price brought the struggle to a whole new level. And this resistance will continue in Taksim, in line with history. (Translator’s note: Dalci was a teenager who was shot dead by a policeman in Istanbul on May Day 1989.)

    No force can change the reality of Taksim May Day Square.

    The fascist government has lost. The resistance has made them lose. The attack by the oligarchy’s government aimed at continuing its occupation of Taksim is the last dying flutter of its wings. Sooner or later, Taksim May Day Square will be opened to the workers and our red flags and banners calling for the struggle for independence, democracy and socialism will wave in the shadow of the Taksim monument.

    The fascist terror will continue; let us step up our struggle of the Revolutionary Democratic Front against fascism, for fascism continues. From the EU harmonisation law to “democratisation” packages, everything is a manoeuvre aimed at continuing fascism through the democracy game, so all the “democratisation” is intended to deceive. Nothing has changed in our country. We correctly prove what is needs to be done through a correct analysis of the fascist terror we have witnessed. The AKP government wants to intimidate the “base” and undermine it, to save itself from losing power.

    The AKP and all institutions of the government want to undermine the revolutionary struggle, to frighten off the working class from struggling by demanding a high price from it, dividing and ruling it, aiming to make it abandon the aim of power and struggle. We must also unite in the way fascism unites when it intends to attack the revolutionaries, democrats and all the peoples. By creating the Revolutionary Democratic Front we must develop the resistance, repel the attack and develop the struggle for power.

    In the face of the fascist terror on May 1, 2008, with the honour and pride we feel in the resistance we have created, in all its enthusiasm and pride, and with all the responsibility that this resistance loads on us, we call on all workers, progressives and revolutionary democratic people’s forces; let us establish the Revolutionary Democratic Front against fascism. Let us unite all the popular masses, and raise higher the struggle against imperialism and fascism.

    Haklar ve Ozgurlukler Cephesi
    (Front for Rights and Freedoms)

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