Published: 01/05/2010

Representatives from seven global union federations, plus the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC) and the European Confederation of Trade Unions (ETUC), will meet with various affiliated unions in Turkey on the eve of International Workers’ Day (May Day). Our global labour organisations have pledged to coordinate our solidarity actions and send a strong message to Turkish authorities that the international trade union movement is united in our determination to defend workers’ rights in Turkey.

Global union members will also join Turkish trade unions on their march to Taksim square on May Day.

Trade union rights in Turkey have long been a cause of concern for the global trade union movement.  Trade union rights abuses in Turkey are legion and include compulsory transfers from workplaces, dismissals and physical violence. The ITUC has pointed to a “worrying trend in judicial union harassment… whereby trade unionists are being tried on “terrorist” charges”.

In 2009, in Izmir, 31 leaders and members of Turkish public sector confederation KESK, accused of having established a terrorist organisation, were put on trial. Nearly all of the accused belonged to the trade union Eğitim Sen, affiliated to the global union federation Education International.

Public Services International (PSI), representing public sector workers has raised alarm about the arrest and sentencing to seven years imprisonment of Seher Tümer, branch secretary of the health and social care union, SES.  Two members of the PSI affiliate Tüm bel sen are also currently detained in prison.

In recent months, 10,000 members of IUF-affiliated TEKGIDA-Is, all workers from the former Turkish state-run tobacco monopoly, Tekel, staged a protest and hunger strike against an article of Turkish that would see workers lose their former entitlements as employees of a state-owned enterprise and be placed on temporary work contracts for periods. They would receive no severance pay and their right to be members of a trade union would be denied. The protests drew wide support from other Turkish trade unions, civil society organisations, the general public and unions internationally.

International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) affiliate Birlesik Metal IS members at Sinter Metal took many protest actions and finally went on hunger strike 2 – 6 March 2010 to demand reinstatement and a ruling by the court on their unfair dismissal case of December 2008.  Contrary to company’s claims, the Turkish Labor Ministry found that the dismissals were not motivated by the economic crisis. The judge postponed a ruling on their unfair dismissal case a 7th time to August 2010 and the struggle continues.

This year the International Transport Workers Federation launched a global solidarity appeal after 36 members of its affiliate, Tumtis, were dismissed by UPS ( Ünsped Packet Service Industry & Trade Inc.) for exercising their right to organise. While 24 workers have been reinstated following the protest action, 12 remain dismissed and the management of UPS is continuing its union-busting tactics.

This May Day, Turkish unions will convene in Taksim Square, Istanbul. Taksim Square has particular significance for Turkish trade unions who wish to commemorate the tragic deaths of 37 people on 1st May 1977, when a gunman opened fire on crowds celebrating in the Square. No one has ever been brought to justice for these murders. Police have frequently used tear gas water cannons and batons to disperse crowds gathering in the Square to commemorate May Day since.

This year, unions assembling in Taksim square will demand their rights to freedom of association and to organise, job security in all sectors and a secure life for all people.

The Global Union Federations meeting in Istanbul are the: International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Education International (EI), UNI (Union Network International), International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association), International Metalworkers Federation (IMF), International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLWF) and Public Services International (PSI).