Mine workers forced to salute Prime Minister Erdoğan
I dedicate my column today to the speech delivered by Özgür Özel, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). Özel is the parliamentarian of Manisa and therefore also represents Soma, which is within Manisa province. CHP parliamentarians tabled a motion on Oct. 23, 2013 regarding the accidents that took place in the Soma coal mines. Discussions on the motion took place on April 29 and, in his speech, Özel gave clues about how certain companies probably evade effective monitoring due to the support they give to the ruling party. This is what he said:
“There are non-stop explosions in the coal mines in Soma and we lose our workers in those explosions. The answer given to our motion is, ‘We have monitored them 10 times, found 66 cases of wrongdoing and we fined those responsible.’ The result: New explosions, new deaths.
“There is a company … [the company named in this speech was not the one where the latest explosion took place] ... They have the best of relations with the Manisa parliamentarians. There are huge problems and flaws and it has been monitored several times, but never penalized. So what’s the secret? The secret lies in this helmet [he shows a mine worker’s hardhat]. The prime minister takes the stage on a rally in Manisa’s Republic Square and says: ‘Are my worker brothers from Soma here?’ 3,000 coal mine workers from Soma, lined up with military discipline, raised their helmets, standing straight, unhappy and unenthusiastic. Because a day ago, their lunch tickets were collected in the mine. The tickets will be redistributed back at the end of the next day's rally. The prime minister first has to be saluted and identity cards will be recollected [by the workers]. The daily wage is active; there is work to do for the prime minister. You salute the prime minister, if you don't you will be fired the next day. Those not fired go back down into the coal mine. The mine explodes; the worker dies; those who die, die; those who remain alive are enough for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“When I mentioned this helmet salute in the rallies, Minister Faruk Çelik said ‘What’s wrong with it?’ It is here in the minutes and he said exactly this: ‘Can’t a manager, a citizen, be a member of a party. A citizen is fond of a political party. Can’t a citizen allow a break for its workers, pay them, and take them to a rally?’
“And so these words were registered in the minutes in Parliament, in our political history. There cannot be such an approach. ‘The worker is mine. I pay him: I can send him into the mine or to the rally or to the picnic as I please.’ This cannot be so. Those who try to capitulate the labor, the sweat, the living struggle of workers to the future of a political party, by having them fill in the square and applaud, will one day or the other held accountable in the face of history and Turkey’s working class.
“Nowhere in the world can ministers responsible for labor say after accidents, ‘Our friends have died, but their corpses were not burned; they died beautifully.’ Nowhere in the world do prime ministers say ‘Death is in the nature of this profession.’ There is death in the nature of man, there is death in life, but no one can say there is death in the nature of this profession. Prime ministers in the world resign when such deaths occur; ours makes a reference to the nature of things.”
Despite the support from the other opposition parties in Parliament, the motion was rejected by the ruling party’s deputies. Exactly 15 days later, more than 230 miners died in a mine explosion in Soma.