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Unfinished Business


Erdoğan’s regime follows in Thatcher’s footsteps

The background of the British miners’ strike for jobs of 1984-5 was the Thatcher government’s monetarist agenda of removing all financial and trade controls, privatisation, driving down wages and the destruction of trade union rights and working conditions. Three decades later, over 300 miners in Soma, western Turkey, have paid the ultimate price for the very same agenda.

Penny Cole reports

The community of Soma have been treated like dirt by a government that is entirely indifferent to the deaths of 300 people. They leased the mines to industrialists friendly to the ruling AK party and have received all kinds of favours in return. Ministers ignored warnings about safety at the private mines. Opposition parties, trade unionists and whistleblowers had all been raising the issue. As recently as a fortnight ago, AK members of parliament voted down an opposition resolution calling for a safety review.

Erdoğan aide kicks demonstrator
Turkish PM's aide puts the boot in

Thatcher and her government may not have personally kicked or slapped people in the pit villages, as the Turkish prime minister Recep Erdoğan and his aide did in Soma – but the British state and police did the kicking for her.

A month from now marks the anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave, where miners picketing the coking plant were brutally attacked by police, and by army dressed as police.

There followed a civil war in the pit villages, with Thatcher terming the miners "the enemy within" and instructing MI5 and Special Branch to focus on undermining union leaders and strikers. An agent of MI5 went to Nottinghamshire to recruit individuals willing to form a scab union, to attempt to break the strike.


With no backing from the Trades Union Congress, though with wide support from people from all walks of life, the miners walked back into the pits at the end of March 1985 without conceding anything. They made clear to the National Coal Board and to the Thatcher government that these workers at least were not ready to give up living wages and safe working conditions.
The liberalisation and globalisation of the market, brought cheap coal flooding into Britain and within a decade most of the pits in Yorkshire, Kent, Durham, Wales, Scotland and Nottingham were closed. Whole communities were devastated and a new generation thrown on to the scrapheap.

Thirty years on the terrible disaster in Turkey is the latest tragedy underlining the high price of coal. Under pressure, some representatives of the mine owners were arrested at the weekend but the first people to be held were the miners, trade unionists and people of Soma. That was followed by pre-emptive arrests of some labour lawyers who might have supported a legal fight against the government and mine owners.

Buses bringing supporters of the miners were stopped and turned back – just as the miners travelling to picket in 1984 were turned back on Britain's roads. The police attacked demonstrations and even women mourning dead loved ones were attacked.

Erdoğan visited Soma to insult the people further, saying accidents are inevitable in the mining industry. They are inevitable indeed, where mining companies refuse to sign up to the strict safety code put in place by the International Labour Organisation, and governments ignore their responsibilities under the code.

Tamer Kücükgencay, chairman of the regional miners’ union, said privatisation and demands for speed up were to blame:

They want to produce more and more coal for less and less money. The effort to make more profit acts negatively on work safety. Private mines produce a tonne of coal for a fifth of the price of a government-owned mine, but this is only due to cuts at all the wrong places.

Kücükgencay made an interesting observation about capitalist economics too:

Coal already generates a profit in the industries it is used in. As long as a mine is expected to generate a profit of its own, as long as private owners of mines are only after high returns, such accidents will happen.

Seven miners die in Turkey for every million tonnes coal extracted. This is higher than China where one miner dies for each million tonnes and the US where the figure is 0.02 deaths per million tonnes.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Turkey at the weekend, to demand Erdoğan resignation. It is the second wave of protests against his government, which has been in power for a decade and hopes to win again in elections in June 2015.

Last year, thousands took to the streets in the capital Istanbul when the local government proposed to build on a small park. Underlying the Taksim Square protests which spread across the country was growing anger at rapid industrialisation which is enriching a few whilst leaving the majority with poor standards of living. One in five young people is out of work and high levels of economic growth have done nothing for them.

Industrialisation, presented in Turkey as an economic miracle, has instead led to greater riches for a few and growing pressure, low wages and human rights abuse for the majority.

20 May 2014

  • A solidarity demonstration is taking place in London this Friday, May 23, to show support for the  miners of Kryviy Rih, members of the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine. The value of their wages have fallen by up to 50% because of inflation. The mining company EVRAZ they work for is based in London. It is owned by a Russian oligarch.

    The rally will start at 4.30pm outside EVRAZ PLC, 6 St Andrew Street, London EC4A 3AE
    Tube: Chancery Lane
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