Hundreds of thousands celebrate Labor Day across Turkey
May Day celebrations held in a festive atmosphere in the capital city of Ankara on Monday. (Photo: AA)
Hundreds of thousands of people filled squares in Turkish cities on Tuesday to mark May 1, celebrated as Labor Day in Turkey and around the world. The official name of May 1 in Turkey is Labor and Solidarity Day.
Members of trade unions and other civil society organizations in İstanbul met in Taksim Square in the morning, coming from Şişli, Beşiktaş and Şişhane. People chanted slogans and held posters celebrating May 1. The celebrations in Taksim started with a solemn ceremony for the victims of Bloody May Day, May 1 in 1977 when unknown snipers opened fire onto the celebrating crowds in Taksim, killing dozens of people. The organizing committee left flowers in front of the monument erected near Kazancı Hill in their memory, following a minute of silence for the victims.
Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK) head Erol Ekici, Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) head Lami Özgen, Republican People’s Party Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Democratic Left Party (DSP) leader Masum Türker also joined the celebrations. KESK, DİSK, the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects’ Chambers (TMMOB) and the Turkish Doctors Union (TTB) co-organized the celebrations this year, with trade unions traditionally known to be right-wing groups holding separate events.
Although the celebrations in İstanbul were mostly marked with vibrant speeches, joy and songs performed by popular artists, a group of anarchists weren’t quite as peaceful. The group, which came from the direction of Şişli to Taksim Square attacked businesses located on Cumhuriyet and Halaskargazi streets, breaking windows. The group also attacked members of the press trying to film them.
Football fans of major clubs also joined the celebrations in Taksim.
In Tunceli, there was a scuffle ahead of the celebrations. Two police officers were injured by stones thrown at them by protestors. The Tunceli Police Department put up posters at search points before letting protestors into the main square that read, “We are brothers of workers,” to mark Labor Day. Officers also passed out carnations to the groups of trade unions at the search points. However, a minor clash broke out between one group and the police. The police had to use tear gas to disperse the crowd.
In Ankara, the Confederation of Real Trade Unions (Hak-İş) and the Civil Servants’ Trade Union (Memur-Sen) organized a celebration in Tandoğan Square. Members of the Turkish Healthcare Workers’ Union (Türk Sağlık-Sen) were seen holding a poster with the picture of Doctor Ersin Arslan, who was killed by a patient’s relative in Gaziantep, which had messages against violence against health workers. Singer Mustafa Ceceli gave a concert during the celebrations.
Employment and Social Security Minister Faruk Çelik also attended the May 1 celebrations in Tandoğan. He responded to demands from public servants for a 16 percent increase in monthly wages, saying: “We will sit around the table. We started [collective bargaining talks] yesterday, and we will continue. You will demand, as a necessity of democracy, and we will try to give you what you want. We will give less or more than you want, but we will solve this,” he said. Çelik’s attendance marks the first time a minister has attended May Day celebrations in more than three decades.
“Today is a symbolic day for fighting for one’s rights. Today is the festival of all laborers. Happy May 1 to all,” he said. The minister said a new draft law on work safety and health will be passed in Parliament before the end of June.
Trade unions failed to agree on what to express in their May 1 declarations this year, leading them to hold separate events. KESK and DİSK gathered in Ankara’s Sıhhiye Square, where huge crowds gathered to mark the day. A group of cyclists calling themselves “Thursday Night Bikers” also supported the demonstration. Minister Çelik did not attend the celebrations here. Traditionally, Hak-İş and Memur-Sen have a right-wing support base, while KESK and DİSK are known as left-wing organizations.
There was a minor clash between members of the Education Personnel Union (Eğitim-İş) and the police in front of the main train station in the city. Police had to use tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Two trade unions, the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş) and the Turkish Public Workers’ Union (Türkiye Kamu-Sen), held a celebration rally in İzmir’s Gündoğdu Square, which started in the afternoon. The two unions’ presidents attended celebrations in Bursa, where groups that had traveled from Kocaeli, Eskişehir, Bilecik, Yalova, Çanakkale, Sakarya, Kütahya and Balıkesir gathered in front Atatürk Stadium, from where they marched to Kent Square to mark the day.