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Istanbul’s Taksim square reopens on May Day; Global union conference held

The page was visibly turned in Turkey on 1 May as 150,000 workers marched from three directions into Taksim Square in Istanbul, marking the first time in 33 years that the historic square was officially open for Workers’ Day. May Day was officially designated as a workers’ holiday by Turkey’s government in 2009, and with it came reopening of the symbol that marks Turkish worker rights – Taksim Square.

It was on “Bloody May 1” of 1977 that 37 workers were killed celebrating May Day in Taksim and a few years later, the military banned demonstrations inside Taksim. Only two years ago, in 2008, small groups of trade union leaders attempted to assemble there. They were met by tear gas and police force. Over 500 were arrested.

This year was different. On Saturday, a festive mood prevailed, with many speakers remembering the fallen of 33 years ago.

Mustafa Kumlu, President of the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions (TÜRK-İŞ), President of the Turkish Electricity, Water, and Gas Workers’ Union (Tes-İş), and an ICEM Executive Committee member, spoke: “We remember the friends we lost from the depths of our hearts. We rejoice in the fact that Taksim Square has been opened, and we thank our friends who struggled for this cause.”

A day before the celebration, the global unions came together in Istanbul to discuss the current state of trade union rights inside Turkey and to share experiences. According to ICEM Chemicals and Rubber Officer Kemal Özkan, the meeting is certain to increase coordination for Turkish trade unions by global union federations.

“The global unions explained their strategies for boosting solidarity, while their Turkish trade union affiliates put forward their successful campaigns through the support of the international organizations,” he said. “The end result will be more joint activities, more joint campaigns, with the struggle for full workers’ rights in Turkey defined as a priority by the global union movement.

Participating in the day-long meeting, besides the ICEM, were the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). Education International (EI), International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF), International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the International Union of Food and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF), Public Services International (PSI), and Union Network International (UNI).
(3 May 2010)