Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey: Public servants were on strike for the right to strike

2 million public workers were on strike on 25th November. And tens of thousands of people took to the streets in major cities all over Turkey to take part in warning strike by the public workers who urge for the right to strike and for collective agreements. The public servants were supported by trade associations, workers' unions and some parties like our Party, EMEP. The strike was co-organised by Public Workers' Unions Federation (KESK) and Turkish Public Union (Turk Kamu-Sen). Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), Turkey Labour Unions Confederation (Turk-IS), the Turkish Physicians Association (TTB) and the Turkish Pharmacists Association were among the supporting organisations.
Co-organiser of the strike KESK President Sami Evren warned the government, in his speech in front of thousands of people on Beyaz?t Square in the old town of Istanbul. “If you do not grant these rights to us, we will expand the strike” Evren warned the government.
KESK President Evren recalled that they proposed the government a collective labour agreement board as a solution for “collective bargaining” on 15 August: “The prime minister ran away from the board. He wanted to receive our decisions in a collective bargaining board. We refused that”. Evren emphasized the need for sitting down at a collective labour agreement table on equal terms in order to properly defend the workers' rights and interests.
According to Turkish labour law, public servants are not entitled for collective bargaining and public servants unions are not granted the right for strike. Even though Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan proclaimed the strike illegal, a large number of employees participated.
Kamu-Sen President Bircan Aky?ld?z, speaking at several places across Ankara, noted that this strike was not being formed “for fun” and that the strike was organized to obtain “political power.” Highlighting that this protest would bring justice and more rights to public workers, Aky?ld?z stated that “those who think that civil servants sit idle and aren't productive will see today our importance.”
“Threats by authorities and other unions will not distract us from our path. These threats are trying to silence us and tell us that these problems will be solved at the bargaining table. We’ve waited for the administration for seven years to sit with us at that table and told them to uphold their promises… All of the civil servants waiting for a serious answer from the powers that be now realize that there won’t be one, and this is why we are here today,” stated Aky?ld?z.
Turkish Transportation Union President Nazmi Guzel, who spoke to strikers at the Turkish State Railways (TCDD) 2nd General Directorate, stated that all trains would stop at midnight on Tuesday night, noting that trains would not be running throughout Wednesday. Except for four members of the union who were taken in for questioning, Guzel noted that the strikes had been mostly trouble-free.
Guzel noted that besides the strikes by railway workers, workers in ports had also stopped loading and unloading ships and that there weren’t enough workers at runways to continue operations. “We warned 200 airlines about the strike, and also warned passengers. There aren’t enough workers at runways to accept landing planes. This is incredibly risky if administrators decide to let planes land, and we will not accept any responsibility if anything happens,” he said. Speaking on railway workers, Guzel noted that “there aren’t enough conductors to run trains, and if they are run, then we will not be responsible for any accidents that may come about from this risky manoeuvre.”
Train passengers left stranded
In a strike starting on Tuesday at midnight, railroad workers refused to work, leaving thousands of passengers stranded with little alternatives. Train stations in Ankara, Istanbul, Gaziantep, Sakarya, Eskisehir and other provinces in Anatolia were frozen as trains waited at the stations, with conductors refusing to run trains. Some passengers were forced to use inner-city buses to travel within the cities, and others used coach busses after waiting for hours in stations without any word from the administration about when trains would start moving again.
Istanbul on strike
In Istanbul, railway services were partially out of service, as well as the mail delivery service and several hospitals that would only accept emergencies. Besides, some school and university students closed down for the day.
Approximately 10,000 people gathered in front of the Capa Faculty of Medicine on Istanbul's European side, shouting slogans like "We demand the right to collective agreements", "Forbid dismissals", "Work for the unemployed" and "free education and health service". "We don't want to be unemployed graduates" was heard from high school and university students. Another crowd had come together at Sirkeci station at the entrance of the Golden Horn. Both groups met on Beyazit Square later on.
Ankara: Police force against striking workers
In Ankara, the police stepped in against the workers on strike. The police violently intervened against a strike group that had gathered on Ankara's popular Ziya Gökalp Avenue.
Since the morning the rail service in Turkey's capital was down. The railroad workers had posted placards at their work places. 2 hospitals limited their service to running the emergency rooms only. Workers in the health sector gathered at the Hacettepe Faculty of Medicine Hospital.
Press conferences and demonstrations were held in more than 40 cities including big cities as well as Anatolia, which had not seen a demonstration for a long time. The placard “On strike!” was hung in many workplaces.


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