Let’s go back in time 42 years, to 15 and 16 June 1970. Workers protested against a government plan to ban strikes. Around 75,000 people participated, mostly in Istanbul and Izmir. Many of the organizers of the strike were arrested and tried according to martial law. But in the end, the protest was successful: the proposed law was withdrawn.
Why is this significant today? Not only because it is exactly 42 years ago. The right to strike is still not respected in Turkey. Just over two weeks ago, this was shown by a strike at Turkish Airlines, a strike supported by the union. Turkish Airlines had to cancel more than 200 flights, affecting more than 100,000 passengers. They fired 305 employees who joined the strike by, oh gentle ways, sending them an SMS. Then parliament soon passed a bill to please Turkey’s national carrier: they officially canceled the right to strike for aviation workers.
Let’s go back in time. Not too far, only to 12 September 2010. A referendum was bing held about constitutional reforms. Workers rights were also part of the reform package, and restrictions on the right to strike were removed. Now, the government is re-introducing a ban on strikes for a special group of workers. Are there more to come?
It get even weirder when you know that Prime Minister Erdogan made comments about the parliamentary commission that is working on a new constitution: he said the constitutional changes of 2010 are approved by the people and can not be changed. Only his government has the right to do that all by themselves, I suppose.
Yesterday there was a protest march in Istiklal to commemorate the events of June 1970. Protests are being held almost continuously in Istiklal and often they are so small you hardly notice them, but this one was pretty big. Maybe it wouldn’t have been if the fight for workers rights was really in the past and there was only something to commemorate. If Turkey had managed to give workers rights that are in line with international standards, like the right to strike, the right to collective bargaining, and protection against being fired without any compensation, just to name a few. Becoming a member of a union is very hard in Turkey, and many groups of workers don’t even have a proper union. But after 42 years, Turkey still places economic growth above fundamental rights of weaker groups in society.