Source: The Nation
Turkey’s crackdown on dissent extends to the country’s fractured labor movement.
Istanbul – If the presence of a two dozen riot cops blocking the entrance of the Gaziosmanpaşa Courthouse didn’t send the message, then the arrival of a water-cannon truck—slowly backing up from the Eski Edirne Motorway before fixing its aim at the civilians gathered 20 yards away—made things abundantly clear: The authorities did not want anyone here.
Eyüp Özer, an organizer and head of international relations at Turkey’s United Metalworkers Union, which is part of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), shrugged off the police presence. “It’s not that unusual,” he said with a laugh. “For most of the really politicized cases, it’s actually pretty common.”
Inside the courthouse, located in a densely populated, working-class district of Istanbul, 61 construction workers were on trial for a bevy of charges: “violating the freedom to work,” “joining meetings and marches with weapons,” and “damaging property.” The accusations followed a September 14 strike over working and living conditions during the construction of Istanbul’s new international airport. That day, thousands of workers put down their tools at what’s set to be the biggest airport ever built. Shortly after the workers began a protest march, riot police launched tear gas and detained hundreds.
Trade unionists, left-wing activists, families of the workers on trial, and a few opposition parliamentarians had gathered outside the courthouse to mark the beginning of the trial. And by the end of the day, they received some bittersweet news: The judge released 31 of the accused from pretrial detention but refused to drop any of the charges.
For the DISK union that backed the strike, it’s yet another injustice—only the latest sign of the state’s crackdown on organized labor as Turkey continues its slide toward autocracy under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has led the country since 2003, first as prime minister then as president. DISK seeks to unionize new segments of the population and build an independent working-class movement strong enough to deliver social justice to Turkey, but the union is running into roadblocks, from both employers and the state.