Erdogan crackdown on Turkish construction workers

This 14 September 2018 trade union video from Turkey says about itself, translated:

Rebellion at the airport is growing

The strike started after the 17 workers were injured

By Jerry White:

Hundreds arrested as construction workers at Turkish airport clash with security forces

17 September 2018

Hundreds of Turkish construction workers were detained by police and gendarmes over the weekend after workers carried out mass protests against deadly working conditions at the site of a new airport in Istanbul.

Thousands downed their tools and angrily protested after a shuttle bus accident left 17 of their fellow workers injured. The incident was the latest in a raft of industrial accidents at the site, which workers describe as a “graveyard” due to the lack of basic safety protections and pressure from the government and the contractor to open the giant airport by the end of next month.

Hundreds of workers chanted, “We are workers, we are right. We will have our way one way or another.” The hashtag supporting the workers, “#we are not slaves” (#köledegiliz) gained strong support throughout Turkey.

Police and gendarmes used military vehicles, tear gas and water cannon to break up the protests of striking workers, according to Ozgur Karabulut, an official of the Dev Yapi-Is union. “They broke into the workers’ camp with 30 gendarmerie, broke down the doors and detained around 500 workers”, Karabulut told Reuters by phone.

This 15 September 2018 video from Turkey says about itself, translated:

The gendarmerie is still on the construction site where the workers are staying. Arrests continue!

The Jerry White article continues:

Construction workers posted videos of state security forces rounding up and arresting workers. While some of the detained construction workers were released on Sunday, as of this writing hundreds remain in police and gendarme stations in Istanbul.

Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said that 401 people had been detained, either for refusing to work or “trying to provoke others”, according to the newspaper Hurriyet. It quoted him as saying that 275 were released on Sunday morning and the airport operator, Istanbul Grand Airport (IGA), had started “addressing the problems”.

Karabulut said on Sunday that 160 people had been released and the union estimated 360 remained in detention. “Some of our friends who were released last night were taken back to the camps, but they are not working”, he told Reuters. “We expect these protests to go on for a long time.”

For months, workers have been protesting conditions at the site, a showcase construction project for the Erdogan government, which says it will be the largest airport in the world.

…  the Dev Yapi-Is union … issued a statement saying that the airport construction site was “no different than a concentration camp for workers.”

In a visit to the site last April, Minister of Transport Ahmet Arslan said that 27 workers had died from workplace accidents or poor health since construction began in 2015. Workers, however, charge that this figure is a gross underestimation.

The appearance of the transport minister followed the release of a report last February in the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet saying that the government was covering up as many as 400 deaths at the site, which employs 35,000 workers.

The workers told the newspaper that employers have put pressure on them to increase productivity after several delays in the target opening date. Many deaths go unreported, workers told the newspaper, because the government pays the families of the victims—many of whom live in impoverished villages far away from Istanbul or overseas—the equivalent to $100,000 in “hush money”.

Some of the detained workers

Most of the fatalities, workers told Cumhuriyet, are due to the largely uncontrolled traffic of thousands of trucks around the airport site, while police officers and inspectors look the other way. One trade union official, Yunus Ozgur, told the paper that accidents killed three to four workers every week.

Workers have also complained about the poor quality of food they are served, along with infestations of fleas and bed bugs in their sleeping quarters and unpaid or late salaries. They have posted videos and pictures on social media of insects, uncollected garbage and cracks in the ceilings and walls of the company-supplied units where they are housed.

The regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is fearful of opposition from the working class as the depreciation of the Turkish lira, rising inflation and a wave of layoffs sharpen class tensions.

The growth of the Turkish economy over the last decade has been chiefly based on a 15-year construction boom under Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has overseen the building of bridges, highways and now the third airport in Istanbul. These projects, however, have been dependent on the availability of cheap credit on world financial markets, which is now drying up.

Last Friday, Erdogan said that the government was freezing new investments to rein in inflation and support the lira, which has dropped 40 percent against the dollar this year. The construction sector has already come to a standstill, leaving tens of thousands of workers unemployed and slowing down other sectors of the export-dependent economy, including the auto industry, with Ford, Mercedes Benz and Renault preparing unpaid “holidays” for autoworkers.

Under the state of emergency imposed by Erdogan following the … coup attempt in July of 2016, the right to strike or protest was sharply curtailed. The lifting of the state of emergency in July was largely a symbolic act. As the mass arrests at the Istanbul airport demonstrate, the structure for mass state repression is fully intact.

In hopes of appeasing 130,000 metal workers last January, Turkey’s Metal Industry Employers’ Association (MESS) and three major trade unions signed a two-year collective bargaining agreement providing a 24.6 percent average wage increase. The deal followed Erdogan’s ban on a scheduled industry-wide strike on the grounds that it would be “prejudicial to national security.” Metalworkers challenged the government decree and continued their demonstrations, carrying placards saying, “If the state of emergency is for bosses, strikes are for us.”

In February, the Interior Ministry announced that 845 people had been detained on terror charges due to their protests or posts on social media critical of a Turkish military incursion in the northern Syrian town of Afrin.

Police kicking down the doors in workers' quarters

During the same month, the newspaper Evrensel reported, two construction workers were detained by police when they arrived at the İzmir Adnan Menderes Airport to fly to their hometown of Diyarbakır. The two workers—Nazım Toplu and Ahmet Polat—were detained by police on the grounds that they looked “suspicious”. They were told to open their Facebook accounts to see if they had posted anything critical of the government. When they refused, saying that such demands were illegal, the police seized the workers’ mobile phones and entered their social media accounts from the phones. The two were eventually released when police said they were not targets of previous investigations.

The fatal accidents at the airport construction site underscore the deadly conditions for workers in Turkey, which functions as a cheap labor supplier for European and US-based multinational corporations. In 2014, the 28 EU countries registered a total of 3,700 work-related deaths. Turkey alone had 1,600 fatal accidents. The Workers’ Health and Work Safety Assembly, a Turkish NGO, put last year’s number of fatalities from accidents at work at 2,006. That figure was up from 1,970 deaths in 2016, the NGO said.

In 2014, 301 workers died in one of the worst industrial accidents in Turkey’s history when a fire broke out in a coalmine in Soma in western Turkey. The tragedy was the outcome of privatization and International Monetary Fund-backed “structural adjustment” plans. These were implemented by Erdogan and his predecessors from all factions of the Turkish ruling class … .

The explosion of anger by construction workers in Istanbul is part of a growing movement and radicalization of the working class around the world. A decade after the global financial crash of September 2008, which was followed by the bailout of the financial aristocracy by the capitalist governments, workers in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia are mounting a growing number of strikes and mass protests against stagnating living standards, austerity and exploitation in the workplace. This movement will more and more take the form of an international struggle against the capitalist profit system.

An Istanbul protester is led away after rallying in support of striking workers at the weekend

By Steve Sweeney in Britain, Monday, September 17, 2018:

HDP warns workers are paying the price for Turkey’s economic crisis

Opposition party speaks out following mass arrests of trade unionists at weekend

Turkey’s opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) warned today that workers are being sacrificed to pay the bill of the country’s deepening economic crisis after mass arrests at an Istanbul airport project.

HDP deputy Ayhan Bilgen was speaking at a press conference in the Grand Assembly when he slammed bosses at the airport construction site as unscrupulous for branding the rightful demands of the workers “sabotage”.

Bosses called the authorities as thousands walked off the job on Friday and the workers were met with water cannon and tear gas.

On Saturday, 543 were arrested after a list of union members involved in the action was handed to Turkish gendarmes by airport bosses, who branded the strikers “terrorists”.

Workers reported a scab army was being brought on to the site to replace those who were detained and deter others from joining the strike.

According to the transport ministry, 27 workers have been killed at the construction site since work began in 2015 — 13 of them in workplace accidents.

However, a report from the Cumhuriyet newspaper earlier this year claimed the government was covering up as many as 400 deaths at the site.

Workers told the newspaper that the deaths were unreported as the government was paying the victims’ families as much as $100,000 in hush money.

Union officials claim the death toll at the flagship airport site, which is due to be completed on October 29, could be as high as four per week due to workplace accidents.

More than 30 people who were detained at a solidarity protest in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district were released after appearing in court yesterday where they were charged with defying a government ban on meetings and demonstrations.

Mr Bilgen demanded the immediate release of those still being held and said that their justified demands — including measures against workplace killings and basic rights — should be met.

He said the claims of two deaths per week at the site “were not normal” and the demands of the workers should be viewed as “criminal complaints”.

“Workers should not pay the bill of the country’s economic crisis”, Mr Bilgen said as he warned that Turkey is in danger of entering a period of “stagflation” — high inflation and slow economic growth.

Turkey’s economy is thought to be on the brink of a crash with the lira losing 40 per cent of its value since the beginning of the year.

TURKISH construction union Insaat-Is said union leaders were among 24 jailed today following mass arrests as strike action swept across a flagship airport project in Istanbul: here.

An Istanbul court granted the prosecutor’s demand that 24 workers, including two union leaders, involved in last Friday’s mass protests over the lethal working conditions at Istanbul’s new airport, be remanded in custody. The court ordered the release of the remaining 19 on condition they were subject to judicial monitoring. These 43 workers are just a fraction of the hundreds of workers arrested during protests. Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said that 401 people had been detained, either for refusing to work or “trying to provoke others.” Sahin claims some 275 had been released, although the unions say many more have been arrested: here.

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