Turkey: Mass movement challenges Erdogan's authoritarian government
For a one-day general strike as the next step in the struggle
Sosyalist Alternatif (CWI, Turkey) reporters
Video of protest in London, 8 June 2013
KESK, Turkey's Confederation of Public Workers' Unions, announced a national strike against police violence for today (4 June) and on Wednesday.
Hundreds of thousands are expected to come to the demonstrations despite the police using tear gas and batons to violently attack demonstrators.
The ongoing police brutality, beginning at the end of May in Gezi Park, on Taksim Square in Istanbul, shows again the arrogance and arbitrary police violence that the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government rests on.
Hundreds were injured, some seriously. In the course of the mass movement, at least two demonstrators have been killed.
The government redevelopment of Gezi Park was the spark that triggered a political explosion. It is not only in Istanbul that protests are taking place.
Hundreds of thousands are taking to the streets all over Turkey, in Ankara, Inzmir and Bodrum and many other places. In total, it is reported that mass demonstrations have taken place in 67 cities.
There are some indications of divisions within the state apparatus, with military personnel distributing gas masks and even some police supporting the demonstrators.
The potential exists to develop a movement that challenges the Turkish capitalist elite.
This is a turning point. The AKP has been confronted with a sharp fall in economic growth rates this year.
It was able to present itself as a 'moderate' Islamic 'alternative' to the old establishment and pursued some populist social policies.
But the events of the last days have shaken the rule of the AKP and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The mass movement was initially dominated by people from the middle classes. They were quickly joined by youth from working class suburbs.
Now there is an increasing involvement of the organised workers' movement (though this is still in its early stages).
This may be a harbinger of even greater mass struggles, moving towards a pre- or revolutionary situation.
Splits at the top of the regime, within Erdogan's party, are also starting to emerge. The right-wing Turkish regime, a Nato ally with its own ambitions to become a regional power, is now challenged by an uprising of anger and opposition.
The nightmare of the increasingly sectarian civil war in Syria, which sees meddling by imperialist and local powers, and its dangerous spilling over into the whole region, had appeared to threaten all the achievements of the 'Arab Spring' - peoples' uprisings against dictators and for social change.
The Turkish regime cynically intervened in the Syrian conflict in its own interests. But now the start of a potential 'Turkish Summer' is offering new hope to revitalise the movements from below across the region, encouraging a potential renewal of mass struggle for democratic rights, as well as the need to bring about fundamental change in the interests of the working masses.
It started on 27 May with protests by environmentalists against the cutting down of trees to allow developers, who are close to Erdogan, to build another shopping mall in the centre of Istanbul.
Using police violence, developers tried to force this development through to bolster the profits of the few.
In the eyes of millions, this summarised the programme of the neoliberal AKP government.
"Tayyip istifa" ("Erdogan resign"), became the unifying slogan of the movement. Sections of the CHP (Republican People's Party), the main pro-capitalist opposition, and even the fascist, MHP, have tried to exploit the movement.
So far, the radical character of the mass movement has not allowed the CHP to dominate.
However, within the movement a debate on the way forward is essential. How can a mass political force be built to serve the interests of workers, young people and poor people, that is able to bring down the Erdogan government and offer an alternative?
This movement cannot have anything in common with the old CHP elite. A new force is necessary. Therefore a political programme is needed that puts democratic rights and the struggle for jobs, decent housing, higher wages and social security to the fore; a socialist programme that does not shy away from challenging the interests of the capitalist elites and multinational companies.
Divide and rule
The wing of Turkish bosses and international corporations that are close to Erdogan have been allowed to enrich themselves for years.
The politics of privatisations and neoliberal attacks and the repression of protests serve the enrichment of a few. In response, we need the united resistance of working people, the youth and the poor.
To be able to implement these policies, the AKP tries to present itself as defending Islamist values.
This is what is driving its divisive measures, such as further extending the areas where alcohol cannot be legally sold and sanctioning against people kissing in public.
With these measures and more, the AKP tries to organise support among more conservative parts of the population. This is a cynical attempt to cover the government's real policies and attacks.
Erdogan has made threats to mobilise conservative layers of the population onto the streets, to counter the protest movement.
He points to his parliamentary majority and believes the AKP can draw on substantial support in society.
The mass movement needs to advocate policies that can win over the rural masses and urban poor, to cut across government attempts at divide and rule.
The call by KESK for a national strike against police violence is the right decision. The other trade unions should follow this example and extend the strike.
A one-day general strike across Turkey can be the next step to build the mass movement against Erdogan - putting the organised workers' movement to the centre of the protests.
Trade unions and Left parties and groups, like HDK (People's Democratic Congress - an umbrella party, including Kurdish parties and Left groups), Halk Evleri (People's Houses) and others, can contribute to turn this into a mass strike.
Committees based on mass assemblies in factories and neighbourhoods are necessary to defend them from the police, to organise solidarity for a successful strike, and to encourage political debates.
Bringing together elected representatives of these assemblies locally, in the cities and regions, as well as on a national level, can build the movement in a democratic way, with full accountability and the right to recall all representatives. This can be the basis for a government of workers and the poor.
Based on these steps, a movement is possible that not only brings down the Erdogan government, but can fight for an alternative in the interests of the working class, the youth and working people, in general. A mass party of the working class, with a socialist programme, is necessary.
Enough is enough! The government has long violated democratic rights, the rights of workers, trade unions and minorities.
The violence in Gezi Park was only the tip of the iceberg. Around 8,000 trade union and Left activists, journalists and Kurdish politicians are imprisoned.
We call for:
The immediate release of all people imprisoned during the protests and freedom for all political prisoners
An independent working class commission, formed by unions and democratically elected representatives of the movement, to investigate the police repression and bring those responsible to justice
Full democratic rights, including the right to demonstrate and to form trade unions and political parties
Abolition of anti-terror laws and special courts and all the repressive and reactionary laws implemented by the AKP
End repression of the Kurds
The government is also attacking public sector workers. It plans to end their job security, to cut jobs and to reduce wages.
The main public sector union, KESK, had already planned for strike action on these issues (with a date for action to be set) before the mass protests started.
At the same time, large-scale privatisations are being forced through by the Erdogan government. Corruption and cronyism, and the enrichment of a few, dominate society.
No to any government plans to "develop" Taksim Square
End privatisations - re-nationalise privatised public property!
Increase the minimum wage!
End attacks on public sector workers
End policies that are in the interests of the big banks and companies
Turkish and socialist activists from Day-Mer and other groups organised rallies in London in support of the mass protests in Turkey.
Among others Martin Powell-Davis, of the national executive of the National Union of Teachers for inner London and Socialist Party member, spoke in a personal capacity to condemn the brutality of the Turkish regime.
A member of the CWI also addressed demonstrators gathered opposite Downing Street, sending messages of support from London to all rebellious cities in Turkey and arguing for a general strike in Turkey to confront the government with the organised force of the workers' movement