Economic problems and elections dominated May Day rallies in Turkey

The economic crisis, poor working conditions and the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on May 14 dominated the May Day rallies.

Published in Evrensel Daily.

May Day, International Day of Unity, Struggle and Solidarity of the Working Class was celebrated with mass rallies in dozens of cities across Turkey. The economic crisis, poor working conditions and the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on 14 May dominated the rallies.

Tens of thousands of people attended the rallies in big cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir. The participation of trade unions and workers was low in some places due to the decisions of major trade union confederations close to the government, such as Türk-İş, Hak-İş and Memur-Sen, to hold separate celebrations or not to hold celebrations at all. Although 1st May is a public holiday, many factories and workplaces continued to employ workers.

In most of the rallies, criticism and reactions against the AKP government, which has banned 20 strikes during its 21 years in power, condemned workers and pensioners to minimum wages and pensions below the hunger line, prevented workers’ efforts to unionize in factories and facilitated the dismissal of workers without giving them their rights, were reflected on the ground. “Let May Day be the last May Day with bans and oppression” was also emphasized.


Taksim Square, the traditional May Day Square in İstanbul, was once again closed to workers by the AKP government. The square and its surroundings were completely blockaded by the police until the evening hours and no one was allowed to enter. Some trade union and political groups who wanted to organize May Day demonstrations were beaten and detained.

In İstanbul, a joint May Day rally was held in Maltepe with the slogan “Labour is Ours, the Future is Ours” with the call of the Progressive Trade Unions Confederation (DİSK), the Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions (KESK), the Union of Chambers of Turkish Architects and Engineers (TMMOB), the Turkish Dental Association (TDB) and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB).

Speaking at the rally, DİSK President Arzu Çerkezoğlu stated that this year’s May Day has a historical meaning and said, “We will be side by side, shoulder to shoulder on May 14th, where we will choose between evil and good, between lies and truth, between shamelessness and humility, between theft and sweat. And we will get rid of this evil order together. We will build the Turkey of equality, freedom, justice, peace, fraternity and brotherhood, the Turkey of labor with our power that will come from production to change this order.” KESK Co-President Şükran Kablan Yeşil said, “I greet you all with the hope and enthusiasm of reaching out to flowery mornings hand in hand on the morning of 15th May,” while TMMOB President Emin Koramaz said, “A historic election will be held in our country. In these elections, we will not elect a president who will rule the country for five years. In these elections, we will send off the one-man dictatorship. That is why this election is important for us.” TMA President Şebnem Korur Fincancı emphasized that “We are more determined than ever with our organized solidarity that we have built with our labor, in spite of those who try to restrain us and leave the country under debris,” while TDB President Tarık İşmen said “We will stand side by side against the plunder of our historical values, nature and labor and we will change this order.”

Unions, political parties, women’s organizations and tens of thousands of workers and laborers came together in the rally area with banners such as “No peace for the bosses when workers are hungry,” “Ban dismissals,” “Laboring women at the forefront of the struggle.” Workers from leather, rubber, metal and textile industries filled the rally area with the calls of their unions.

Speaking to Evrensel at a May Day rally, Labour Party (EMEP) Chair Ercüment Akdeniz said, “On May Day, workers are forced to work today to get double wages despite low wages. The one-man order is most hostile to workers.”

Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) Chair Erkan Baş said, “We have come together in a very strong, very determined and stubborn manner, all laborers and friends of labor. Of course, behind this excitement is our will to save Turkey from the palace regime that is hostile to workers and laborers.”

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) İstanbul MP Züleyha Gülüm said, “We are on May Day with great enthusiasm because we are in the fields against the denial of all our rights, against working under slavery conditions, against the intense exploitation of laborers.”

In Gebze, an industrial city neighboring İstanbul, May Day was celebrated with the strong participation of trade unions. More than 5 thousand workers and laborers participated in the May Day celebration and oil workers drew attention with their banners with their demands written on them. “We will give our answer at the ballot box to the government that bans our strikes, impoverishes us and turns a blind eye to labor murders,” the workers said in a statement.


Thousands of laborers marching to Tandoğan Square in Ankara met against increasing poverty, government oppression and bans.

Municipal workers of the DİSK-affiliated Genel-İş union marched demanding tenure. Despite the imposition of a centralized rally by the Türk-İş administration, unions affiliated to this confederation such as Petrol-İş, Tez Koop-İş, TÜMTİS, Turkish Journalists Union participated in May Day in Ankara.

Workers marched with their banners against the cost of living and the pressure on trade union rights. Workers from Harb-İş, who reacted against the government’s raise offer in the public sector collective bargaining and the attitude of the union, also came to the square although their union did not participate in May Day.

The participation of young people in many cortege attracted attention. Middle East Technical University (METU) students ran into the square with a banner reading “We are on the side of the class for a secure future and a free country.” Women marched against violence, harassment, femicides and the abrogation of the İstanbul Convention.

Workers from the OSTİM industrial zone – which has over 100 thousand registered and unregistered workers –  marched with a banner reading “Either we turn down the boilers one by one or we unite and heat the world as a whole”. The workers carried banners drawing attention to the economic problems and high inflation in the country, “The debate is over, menemen without onions,” “Those who are not fed will ask those who are fed to account,” “Let the bosses pay the burden of the crisis” and chanted “Work, Bread, Freedom,” “Capital to the grave, labor to power.”


In İzmir, May Day was celebrated in Gündoğdu Square. Approximately 100 thousand workers and laborers participated in the rally, demanding a change in the government and the system and a living wage came to the fore. Compared to previous years, the participation of workers’ and public laborers’ unions was high.

While the workers who were transferred to municipal companies expressed their demand for real cadre, public laborers demanded that the public contract be signed with a livable wage offer. Health laborers demanded an end to violence in health care as well as their economic and personal rights, while worker lawyers demanded an improvement in working conditions.

The cortege of the unions affiliated to Türk-İş was dominated by young and especially women workers. The common problem of workers from different sectors of labor was the reflection of the number of insured days they worked as interns to their pension.

With slogans and banners, attention was drawn to problems such as the impoverishment of workers and laboring people and the violation of democratic rights. In the cortege, where the demand for a humane and equal life against oppression and discrimination came to the fore, the recent statements made by the government about foodstuffs, especially onions, were also reflected on the banners. Some women came to the organization wearing onion necklaces around their necks.


In Adana, another industrial city, there were two separate rallies. In the rally of the forces of labor and democracy, thousands of workers and laborers took to the streets demanding unity and struggle against the economic crisis, unemployment and the devastation caused by the earthquakes of February 6.

The second rally was organized by Türk-İş, the largest trade union confederation in Turkey. In recent years, the confederation has been celebrating May Day centrally and separately from other unions and organizations. This year, Türk-İş held its central rally in Adana. It was noteworthy that only a few thousand workers participated in the rally of its largest confederation. Even though the management of Türk-İş follows a line in line with the government, the workers in the rally did not hold back from expressing their reactions to the working conditions. Workers from every labor sector took part in the rally with their own demands. Among these demands, subcontracted workers, staff positions for SEE workers, equal pay for equal work, 40-hour working weeks for all public employees came to the fore.

During the speech of Ergün Atalay, the General President of Türk-İş, the workers made an intense effort to make their demands heard and for the General President to mention their demands. Petrol-İş workers, whose strikes were banned in Adana and Mersin, reacted to these bans with slogans.


Many rallies were organized in many cities of Turkey. Thousands of people attended the May Day rally in Van and the demand for freedom for imprisoned Kurdish journalists attracted attention. Journalists carried the banner “You will not be able to silence them.”

In Mersin, May Day was celebrated with the slogan “Potatoes, onions, goodbye Erdoğan,” while in the Black Sea city of Rize, May Day was marked by the demands of tea workers. May Day was celebrated with rallies in many cities of the Black Sea region. In many provinces, especially Düzce, Zonguldak and Samsun, more mass participation was observed compared to previous years. Another important detail that stands out in the celebrations in the Black Sea region is that despite the decision of Türk-İş to celebrate May 1 in Adana, affiliated union branches took part in the May Day celebrations with mass cortege in their provinces.

Thousands of people marched in Bursa, the textile city, where the most massive May Day rally of recent years took place. Barutçu Tekstil workers, members of Öz İplik-İş who were dismissed for unionizing, also took part in the march with their union demands.

In Antep, workers came together at Kırkayak Park. In the statement made, “We will continue to struggle for a country where labor, equality, freedom, democracy, peace and secularism prevail. We will change this order.” Speaking at the rally, TÜMTİS member cargo worker Mahmut Özdemir said, “We worked during the crisis, the pandemic and the earthquake. We want to be paid for the sweat of our brow. Now I am proud to say that I am a unionized worker. I say to all workers, do not be afraid of organizing and seeking your rights.”

Categories: International, Turkey

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