Report from Turkey – “This is just the beginning. The struggle continues.”

16 June 2013

The terrible scenes of police violence from Turkey over the last 24 hours, mask the Turkish protestorsfact that the campaign has won a tremendous victory. The shopping centre project planned for Gezi Park has effectively been shelved with Erdogan vowing to abide by a court decision – which in Turkey could take some time. This is not only a political defeat for Erdogan, it is a defeat also for his friends the developers who were eyeing the project.

It was important for Erdogan that the clearance appeared to be under his control so the rally he had planned in Istanbul today would have an air of victory (it hasn’t, it is quite defensive). While foreign media wonder that it only took 30 minutes to clear the park, it should be remembered that over the last two days of the occupation forums had been held discussing its response to Erdogan’s concessions. The final decision was to dismantle the occupation but to maintain a nobetçi – guard post – tent. The clearance was so quick because all the organised groups had agreed and the occupation had been psychologically preparing to go – why stand and fight today for something you’re packing up tomorrow?

The support for the occupation that spread so dramatically throughout Turkey is a symptom of a much wider discontent within Turkish society. But this is not a discontent born of austerity. Turkey has been enjoying an economic boom and was little affected by the banking crisis. Instead, there has been a steadily growing middle class, with steadily rising expectations. Unlike many of its middle eastern neighbours, Turkey has for the last 60 years maintained a democratic parliamentary system – although dominated by the centre-right and punctuated by military coups – and the youth of this middle class expect to be able to speak out, make demands and be free to make their own decisions about the way they live their life. A main theme within the park and on the demonstrations was freedom and democracy.

For ordinary workers, however, few have felt the economic success with most continuing to work long hours in low paid jobs often archaic conditions – each year over a thousand workers die work-related deaths for example – and struggling to provide for their young families who are also drawn by the new demands and aspirations of the rising middle class youth. In 2006 the OECD complained about Turkish worker’s low productivity and low “utilisation”. Part of addressing that and pushing through privatisation and the economic growth Turkey has enjoyed, has been an attack on organised labour. Since 2008 repression has increased and among those arrested and imprisoned on trumped up “terrorist” charges are trade unionists – many from the left-wing KESK public sector federation including women campaigning aginst increasing discrimination and violence against women – in an attempt to ensure obedient trade unions.

One of the most positive features of the Gezi Park campaign has been the involvement of two key trade unions. And with a 27 million strong working class, a capitalist class desperate to continue its economic success and push the mammoth building projects being planned, the working class are in an objectively very strong position.  But with union membership at something like 3% including the informal sector there is a long way to go to rebuild the movement into the kind of strength that can consistently challenge injustice and improve the lives of working people. But this is a struggle born out of confidence and Gezi Park was clear quite early on that this is not the end. As the thousands attempting to march across the bridge last night chanted: “This is just the beginning. The struggle continues.”

From an eye witness in Turkey

Reuters reports that the Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK), which has some 240,000 members in 11 unions has called a strike of its members on Monday.

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