The Turkish government has detained hundreds of construction workers after they demonstrated against conditions at the building site of Istanbul’s new airport.
There have been long-running complaints from workers at the building site of the currently under construction airport in Istanbul, which if completed would be the largest airport in the world.
Workers have complained about appalling living conditions, insufficient pay, as well as massive health and safety violations. The government has confirmed the deaths of 37 workers over the four year construction project, but workers claim that this number could in reality be up to 400 people.
Following a shuttle bus accident which injured 17 workers, protests erupted on the site. The response to these protests has been brutal repression through the use of the military and water cannons, in addition to hundreds of detainments, including of Ozgur Karabulut, the president of the Progressive Union of Construction Workers (Dev Yapı-İş, which is part of the broader trade union centre in Turkey, DİSK).
These declining working conditions come as a direct result of the financial crisis in Turkey, which has seen the lira drop 40 percent in the last year. Karabulut said: “Because the costs are growing for the subcontractors, to make profit [they] cut from everything, from helmets to safety shoes,”.
State-awarded construction projects have been a central part of President Erdoğan’s economic policy, and the new airport in Istanbul has also served as a vanity project for his presidency.
The AKP (Justice and Development Party) regime in Turkey has presided over a clampdown on democratic freedoms, particularly since the failed coup. In July 2016, there was an attempt at a coup d’état by supposed Gülenists, followers of President Erdoğan’s former ally Fethullah Gülen. Since then, the presidency has used this excuse to massively strengthen its own powers, instituting a state of emergency which was only lifted a few months ago (yet in reality many of the emergency powers granted have remained).
Despite its loss of 22 seats in the June parliamentary elections earlier this year, the AKP under Erdoğan still remains in power thanks to its coalition with the far-right MHP, who are associated with the fascist Grey Wolves. The government has continued its attacks on the rights of workers and national minorities, particularly the Kurds, and has continued its occupation of Idlib in Syria. It is the job of the labour movement in Britain to support the resistance against the authoritarian Erdoğan regime. This resistance in Turkey takes many forms, and we should support the Kurdish struggle for self-determination.
Above all however, it is the task of the embattled Turkish left and working class movement to challenge the government.