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ICEM, Turkish unions demand May Day holiday; want celebrations at historical Taksim Square

In 11 days, trade unions in the free world will celebrate May Day – the globally-recognised tribute to work and labour. But in Turkey, May Day last year was met with government repression and police thuggery.

Turkish unions now demand that their government declare May Day as an official holiday, as it was prior to the military coup d’état in 1980. May Day celebrations were banned between then and the early 1990s, but were allowed only on limited basis after that.

For trade unions in Turkey to hold any kind of celebration on May Day, they invite trouble. At last year’s celebrations, security forces used excessive means to disperse unionists before they reached Taksim Square in Istanbul, site of a planned celebration. They used gas, water cannons, and batons in doing so.

Recently, a bill was submitted by the government to the Turkish Parliament to make May Day public holiday. Parliament’s Interior Commission raised no objections to the bill and it will be brought before Parliament on April 22.

The Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions (Türk-İş), the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), and the Confederation of Public Sector Unions (KESK) have announced their intention and decisiveness to celebrate 1 May 2009 in historic Taksim Square, which has great significance to Turkey’s unions because it was there that 36 unionists were killed celebrating May Day on 1 May 1977.

The Turkish government uses this excuse to ban May Day celebrations in Taksim Square.

In 2007, on the 30th anniversary of the so-called “Bloody May 1” of 1977, Turkish unions re-launched an initiative to overturn the ban on the 30th anniversary of the so-called "Bloody May 1" in 2007. But in both 2007 and 2008, thousands of demonstrators were taken into custody for attempting to assemble there on May Day

Turkish unions consider Taksim Square as a symbol for the struggle for the eight-hour workday, for improvements in work conditions, and for the promise of living wages. But the Istanbul governorship has announced that any other square will be open for celebrations, but not Taksim Square.

In a statement on Turkey for May Day, ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda, said, “We consider the government proposal to the Parliament to make May Day an official holiday a step forward. I am convinced this would be important to Turkish democracy and as meaningful signal to the adherence of trade union rights.

“I should, however, say that this only holds true if Taksim Square is opened to peaceful demonstrations on May Day. It is a symbol for the struggle of democracy and union rights. ICEM will be present in Turkey this year to follow May Day celebrations. We know that the upcoming ILO Labour Conference in June will scrutinize the Turkish government because they must modify their labour laws. ICEM believes that any changes should be significant, not just minor modifications. Turkey must put forward adequate changes regarding freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the right to strike, changes that are in line with major ILO Conventions and, in fact, standards that have already been ratified by Turkey. We will follow the developments and continue our solidarity with our Turkish affiliates in this struggle.”(20 April 2009)

 

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