May Day in Turkey

This year’s May Day rally in Istanbul was somewhat smaller than last year’s. However, there are growing tensions in Turkish society over such issues as cuts in welfare and pensions and rising unemployment.

May Day in TurkeyThis year’s May Day demonstrations in Turkey were held in many different cities and towns throughout the country. On the whole there were tens of thousands, basically composed of workers and students, who joined the demonstrations, marching, singing, and chanting slogans.

As usual the main demonstration was in Istanbul, with 30,000 workers and students taking part, most of whom were organized in the columns of leftist parties, including the Kurdish party, and other revolutionary left organizations. Although the demonstration was organized by the unions, their presence was limited.

One of the factors that limited workers’ turnout was the fact that it was a working day. Before the military coup in 1980, May 1st was a holiday as a result of the strength of the working class movement at that time. But apart from this factor, the unions did almost nothing to bring the workers out. Only a few unions that already are known as more fighting put in an effort to bring workers to the rallies. There are other political factors as well. In the preceding days the public were terrorised through media campaigns which are also part of the political shift towards greater authoritarianism as a result of the pressure of the military. Even in the schools students in particular were threatened by the head-teachers and teachers not to go on the May Day demonstrations.

The most common demands raised during the march and rally were about the recent cuts in the social security system, the recent “anti-terror” bill strangling the already limited democratic rights, growing chauvinism against Kurdish people and imperialist war in the Middle East. Also the demanded that May 1st be declared a holiday was heard. In addition, all revolutionary groups chanted their revolutionary slogans against capitalism and for socialism. Despite everything there was an enthusiastic and fighting mood during the march and rally with thousands of red banners, flags, placards waving, slogans enthusiastically being chanted.

May Day in TurkeyThe fact that this year’s turnout was less than last year’s does not in the least mean that there has been an improvement in the conditions of workers. On the contrary, the government launched a massive attack against the working class, especially with a set of new laws that increased the retirement age from 60 and 58 to 65, reduced the pensions and limited the range of free health services. On the other hand, apart from other indicators, even the official unemployment rates are increasing.

In the absence of a political alternative the discontent is mostly expressed in a sort of apathy and despair if we take the whole of the population, and it is partly channelled by fascist tendencies. Rising nationalism is a serious threat for the already weak working class movement. And there is no easy way to counter this other than boosting the efforts to build the revolutionary vanguard.