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TUC Women’s Conference discussed and debated a range of issues facing the labour movement when it gathered in London last week. Domestically it passed motions on equal pay, with the gender pay gap still seeing women disadvantaged 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed.
On the international front a motion proposed by the Transport and Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) provoked much interest among delegates and its passing has led to the establishment of a new and much needed labour movement-based organisation in solidarity with Turkey and Kurdistan.
Chair of the union’ s national women’s section Sarah-Jane McDonough told the Star that the Turkey and Kurdistan Solidarity Initiative (Taksi) was being launched with other trade unionists in London later this month.
She has led campaigning within the union in solidarity with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) which has faced unprecedented attacks from the Turkish state. The union sent a message of support to the HDP Women’s Conference earlier this year which was read out to applause and cheers at the Ankara gathering.
Earlier this year TSSA Women in Focus (WiF) launched a petition against a horrifying proposed “child rape law” which would grant an amnesty to the perpetrators if they married their victims. This would also have seen the release of 4,000 convicted paedophiles.
WiF has been angered over the attacks on the HDP co-chair system, which guarantees sex equality at all levels of the party. Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has branded the system an act of terrorism. According to him the women have been appointed to their posts within the HDP by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a proscribed organisation.
In response to pleas for international solidarity TSSA WiF is planning a delegation to Ankara to meet the HDP Women’s Platform, which the women’s section of the union has affiliated to.
At TUC Women’s Conference Ms McDonough urged other unions to follow suit, highlighting the oppression of women in Turkey.
She said she was “proud of TSSA for building strong links” with their counterparts describing women as “the forefront of the resistance in Turkey.”
Ms McDonough said the attacks they face are “yet another bid from Erdogan to stop women participating in political life.”
But she warned that the attacks are not just confined to the Turkish state. They are able to do this with the compliance of the British government which supports Mr Erdogan both politically and militarily, emboldening him in his efforts to crush democracy internally and wage deadly wars targeting Kurds in Syria.
“This is why we are campaigning for an end to arms sales to Turkey and are pressing for this to be adopted as official policy by the Labour Party here,” she said, explaining that the motion passed at TUC Women’s Conference unanimously adopted this approach.
“There is much work to be done,” she told the Star. “Lots of delegates came to speak to me to say they hadn’t realised what was happening in Turkey and that they too thought it should have featured in Labour Party policy. They were genuinely interested in helping and getting their unions involved.”
This gap in knowledge of the political situation in Turkey and the oppression of the Kurdish people is one of the reasons for the launch of Taksi, she explained.
It already has the backing of a range of trade unions who will attend the founding meeting on March 28 and has been welcomed by HDP officials, trade unionists and women’s movement activists in Turkey.
“When footage of the motion being moved was played to our sisters in Turkey I was told people in the room were in floods of tears. They said that finally their voices were being heard,” Ms McDonough explained.
“Last year’s Labour Party conference and TUC was filled with leaflets, meetings and motions on Palestine and there are well-established and effective campaigns in solidarity with the people of Cuba, Venezuela and other countries – quite rightly,” she said.
“But there was not a single motion about Turkey, which is unacceptable.
“There is an urgent need for a similar movement raising the voices of the people of Turkey and Kurdistan in the British labour movement, particularly given the role of our own government in propping up the Erdogan regime.”
The motion also called for solidarity with journalists in Turkey, which holds more media workers behind bars than any other country in the world.
Taksi will work not just to raise awareness, but also build real and meaningful solidarity including the twinning of trade unions with their counterparts in Turkey, collecting funds, sending delegations to picket lines, court hearings and pressuring bosses, Ms McDonough explained.
One of the first initiatives will be a campaign to twin local authorities and councillors in Britain with their HDP counterparts in Turkey, where scores of municipalities were taken over by government-appointed trustees after last year’s local elections.
“We started much of this work last year with councils including Doncaster and Salford indicating support for the campaign and many councillors committing to “twin” with a counterpart in Turkey,” she explained.
Taski will also launch a high-profile campaign for the freedom of jailed former HDP co-chair Figen Yuksekdag who faces the rest of her life behind bars on trumped-up terrorism charges.
“In many ways she is the face of the oppression of women in Turkey, singled out for harsh treatment because of her status as a leading woman in politics, something that is anathema to the misogynistic tyrant Erdogan.
“But raising awareness of what has happened to her opens the door for the movement to find out more about the oppression and attacks on the HDP – Labour’s sister party in Turkey. We want unions to adopt Figen and give her honorary membership as part of a broad campaign,” Ms McDonough insisted.
On March 28 Taksi holds its launch meeting which will see trade unionists gather in London to plan ahead of an official founding conference planned for the summer.
They will have a Q&A session with HDP activists in Turkey via a live link and hear from a range of campaigns including trade unionists, women’s movement activists, hunger striking Grup Yorum musicians and the experience of journalists including a display of photographs taken by Kurdish reporter Seda Taskin during her recent visit to Hasankeyf, a 12,000 year old city which is being flooded by the Erdogan regime in an act of cultural genocide against Kurds
“The importance of international solidarity and the failure of the movement here in raising the voices of those fighting for peace and democracy in Turkey and Kurdistan cannot be underestimated. That has to change,” Ms McDonough said.
To find out more about Taksi email turkeyandkurdistanSI@gmail.com , follow the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/turkeyandkurdistanSI/ and to sign-up for the launch meeting register via Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/taksi-launch-meeting-london-tickets-99077259751
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