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Trade unionism on trial as strikers face terrorism charges

THE trial of 31 trade unionists who took strike action over appalling conditions at the Istanbul third airport construction project – where at least 52 people have been killed – opens today.

The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (Disk) have called a protest in solidarity with the workers who will appear in an Istanbul court today to assert that “trade unionism is not a crime.”

Dev Yapi-is Union President Ozgur Karabulut is among those facing court on charges of terrorism after more than 500 trade unionists were detained for taking strike action at the construction project in September.

More than 2,000 workers – many of whom had not been paid for six months – walked out demanding safer working conditions and for bosses to pay their wages after an accident on a bus taking workers to the site injured 17 people.

They were angry over conditions on the site, which employs around 35,000 people, with lice-infested accommodation and maggots in food served in the workers’ canteen being reported.

However instead of listening to their demands, bosses called authorities who used water cannon and tear gas on the workers. 

The following day bosses handed a list of names to the notorious Turkish gendarmes who raided the dormitories dragging 500 workers to jail on charges of terrorism.

The site has been described as a “workers’ graveyard” with new figures released on Monday showing at least 52 people have been killed on the site in the past five years.

The statistics were revealed after the Presidency Communication Centre (CIMER) responded to questions raised by Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul MP Ali Seker.

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Cahit Turhan said last month that 30 workers had died on site, while the Labourers’ Health and Occupational Safety (ISIG) Assembly put the death toll at 38.

Trade unionists believe the real figure is much higher with allegations the government has paid the families of victims as much as $100,000 to remain silent.

Disk general secretary Cafer Konca said the case is against the working-class people of Turkey and the real criminals are the bosses who deny workers their basic rights.

“It is a crime to hire workers without taking occupational health and safety measures. To cover up workplace killings and to protect the perpetrators of workplace murders is a crime.

“Tax evasion is a crime. It is a crime to employ workers under slavery conditions. It is a crime to dismiss unionised workers,” he said.

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