On 19 February, more than 100 trade unionists were arrested in co-ordinated raids by the authorities in 28 provinces across Turkey. The workers are members of KESK, a federation of public sector unions, and include many members of teachers' union Egitim Sen.
The arrests come in the aftermath of the suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on 1 February, carried out by a self-styled "leftist" terrorist group. This move is a transparent attempt by the Turkish government to link legitimate, democratic trade unions with this act of terrorism.
Sadly, mass arrests of trade unionists are not uncommon in Turkey. It is a favourite tactic of intimidation periodically used by the Turkish state. In June, 72 other members of KESK were lifted in a similar fashion, and we go on trial in April. Last February, nine of KESK's women members were arrested after the union announced its program of activities for International Women's Day.
KESK president Lami Özgen said,“We are living in a country which is dominated by poverty, injustice and illegalities. Is it not obvious enough why KESK, the voice of public workers and defender of brotherhood of peoples against war, exploitation and racism, is being targeted by successive operations in an environment where it is not possible to make mention of democracy, freedoms and union rights?”
LabourStart has launched an online campaign for the release of these workers, in partnership with the ITUC and two global union federations. We are calling for online letters of protest to be sent to the Turkish Prime Minister, which can be done here.
The first twenty-four hours saw, on average, one message going off every twelve seconds. We need to keep this up as one part of a strategy to free these workers. We are asking anyone in the union movement, particularly public sector unions, to forward this on to their email lists and spread the word as widely as possible.