May Day 2004 in Turkey

In Turkey around 150.000 people joined May Day demonstrations held in many towns up and down the country. As is always the case the central event was in Istanbul. For the first time since 1993 the May Day demonstration in Istanbul was split into two. It was a result of the disagreement between major labour confederations. The demonstration held in Caglayan square, which was organised by the Turk-Iş, the biggest labour confederation, was joined by 15.000 people, while the other demonstration organised by the DISK and KESK in Sarachane was joined by 30.000. In Ankara there were 10.000 people demonstrating, while 15.000 were demonstrating in Izmir, the third biggest city.

Although the mood was quite enthusiastic in general, the number of total people joining the demonstrations around the country was less than last year. This was especially the case with the rally in Istanbul. Last year more than 80.000 people had joined the Istanbul rally. The reason for this decrease in numbers is mainly because of the confusion created by the union bureaucrats in the run-up to May Day. Without preparing the ground and without conducting long and serious work, the DISK and KESK bureaucrats started to play with the idea of holding the rally in Taksim square which has a symbolic importance. From the point of view of the history of class struggle in Turkey this square is very important, because in this square in 1977 the biggest May Day rally ever held in Turkey was attacked by the secret services in a plot to start the process towards the military coup in 1980. 39 people were killed in this incident. That is why this square is called “May Day square” among the left.

Taksim square is symbolically very important for both the working class and the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie has not allowed this square to be used as a place for May Day demonstrations since the military coup in 1980. Because the balance of forces has been in favour of the bourgeoisie the working class has failed to win Taksim square back. It is clear that without a preceding rise of class struggle and serious preparation it is a dangerous game to play with this idea. The DISK and KESK ventured to use radical language just one week before the demonstration and eventually withdrew from the negotiations with the Turk-Is with the idea of organising a separate May Day rally in Taksim. But eventually they could not resist state pressure and retreated from their Taksim plans. They ended up in holding a separate rally in Sarachane. Although the DISK and KESK did not put a serious effort to bring as many people as they can, most of the left wing parties and groups joined this rally.

Despite everything, in both rallies the workers and students chanted their slogans in a militant mood and put forward their demands. There were many slogans against the imperialist war in Iraq and Israeli state terror in Palestine. Also many proletarian anti-capitalist slogans together with slogans of day to day struggle were chanted unceasingly. The militant mood was reflected in the banners and placards they carried.

Also as is always the case there was considerable police repression both in the run-up to and during the demonstrations. There were hundreds of revolutionaries arrested before and during the demonstrations. For instance, more than 200 demonstrators were arrested in Diyarbakir, the central city of Turkish Kurdistan. The police charged at demonstrating people in Izmir, Adana and elsewhere. Also there was another group of more than 50 demonstrators who strove to enter Taksim square in Istanbul who were viciously beaten and arrested by the police.

The Turkish working class has suffered enormous defeats since the military coup in 1980 and it is still trying to recover. This process of recovery is still far from being completed and has proved to be a long and painful one. But despite all kinds of repression, the bourgeoisie has failed to eradicate the tradition of MayDay in Turkey. There are still tens of thousands of people persistently joining May Day demonstrations. The memory of martyrs of May Day demonstration in 1977 has never vanished among class conscious workers.

May Day is a day of international struggle, unity and solidarity of the working class all around the world. The struggle of the working class for emancipation is continuing. The task is to turn every single day of year into a day of militant struggle like May Day. Long Live May Day!