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EXCLUSIVE: Unions and progressives refuse to be intimidated by Turkish state

General secretaries of 14 unions remain defiant after Turkey's ambassador demands they pull out of the Freedom for Ocalan campaign

TRADE UNIONS and progressives refused to be intimidated by the Turkish state which was accused of an aggressive attempt at silencing solidarity with Kurdish people today.

General secretaries of 14 unions — including Unite, the CWU, Aslef and Usdaw — remained defiant after being sent a letter from Turkey’s ambassador to Britain Umit Yalcin demanding they pull out of the Freedom for Ocalan campaign which was launched in Parliament in 2016.

Abdullah Ocalan is the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is deemed a terrorist organisation by Turkey, Britain and the EU.

London Assembly member for City and East and chair of the Justice for Kurdistan campaign Unmesh Desai told the Star of pressure from the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s office to cancel tonight’s solidarity meeting in City Hall after complaints from the Turkish embassy.

After refusing to cancel the trade union-backed event, Mr Desai alleged he was told he was being investigated for “breach of anti-terror legislation” for hosting the meeting.

He claimed after refusing to back down following the request, the mayor’s office demanded a list of those who would be attending the event, leading to fears for the safety of participants.

“I don’t want anybody to be stopped in Turkey, sent to prison and tortured, I don’t want that on my conscience,” Mr Desai said.

He told the Star he had received “more complaints about dog shit in West Ham than about this meeting.”

Turkey has been accused of waging a genocidal war against Kurds both internally and across its borders in Syria, where it acts as an occupying force in the canton of Afrin.

Unite international director Simon Dubbins warned that the pressure was being applied now because of Turkey’s threats to invade Manbij after the US withdrawal from Syria and with the growth in support for the campaign for the release of Mr Ocalan in Britain.

“The two are absolutely linked,” Mr Dubbins said, “It is clear that the Turkish state is nervous of the growing support in solidarity with Kurds and progressive forces in Turkey, along with the Freedom for Ocalan campaign.”

But he said the letter had the opposite effect and had in fact strengthened trade union backing for the campaign, with the Freedom for Ocalan campaign the centre of last year’s Durham Miners’ Gala.

“We are more solid and unified than before,” he said, adding that unions were “determined not to allow the Turkish embassy to intimidate them into cancelling the meeting.”

Mr Desai, a long-standing anti-fascist and anti-racist campaigner, told the Star: “It is the task of socialists and in particular their elected representatives to raise the cause of working people and the oppressed wherever they are […] no matter how difficult this may be.

“We in the labour movement are internationalists and need to highlight the draconian situation in Turkey with attacks by the ultranationalistic Erdogan government on the Kurdish people and other minorities, trade unionists, women, left and democratic organisations and progressive parties.

“The trade union-sponsored meeting seeks to highlight this and how with an imminent invasion of Rojava by the Turkish government, the release of a 70-year-old prisoner can help in securing peaceful and just solutions to historical grievances within a democratic framework.”

He said the lessons of the anti-apartheid and Irish struggles showed that dialogue is the only way forward for the issues facing Turkey.

Mr Desai explained that he was determined to help facilitate this “and will not flinch under pressure no matter who or where it comes from.”

The Mayor of London’s office failed to comment on the questions put to them, however it said: “The mayor and his team have had absolutely no role in organising or hosting this private event. It has been organised independently by one of the members of the London Assembly.”


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