What Soma and other murders tell about Turkey?
I refuse to call the death of at least 282 workers in the Soma mines of Turkey on May 13 an accident.
Not after Turkey has not signed the International Labor Organization’s Safety and Health in Mines Convention of 1995. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a coal mine accident in the United States in 1907 as an example to prove that such incidents are normal, but according to Ankara think tank TEPAV, the number of deaths (per million tons of coal) was more than 350 times higher than in the U.S. – and nearly six times higher than in China – in 2008.
Not after there has not been a significant decline in overall death rates over time, according to official statistics from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK). There was some decrease in death rates in mining, and especially coal, but this can largely be explained by the fall in production, which can be seen in TÜİK industrial production indices.
Not after I saw the horrifying relationship between production/capacity utilization and deaths at the Tuzla shipyard, which now stands at 159. In fact, death rates began to slow down only when the global crisis caused shipping costs, as proxied by the Baltic Dry Index, to fall, reducing the demand for ships.
Not after I read the owner of the Soma mine explain proudly to a fellow columnist, back in 2012, that he had managed to bring down costs of producing coal from $130-140 to 23.8 per ton. The columnist failed to ask him how he had managed that. Productivity per worker and hour actually fell in the sector. Wage growth was less than average, but nowhere near enough to explain it.
Not after the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s motion for a parliamentary investigation regarding safety in the Soma mines was rejected by the ruling Justice and Development Party’s deputies on April 29. The owner of the mines is rumored to be close to the party. I have personally witnessed, in my own family business, that the application of labor safety laws is discretionary.
Not after I read the labor and social security minister declare two years ago that 98 percent of “work accidents” were preventable. The energy minister’s only preventative measure so far has been to announce that the incident would be mentioned at mosques during Friday prayers – on an order from Erdoğan himself. Following his own logic, the PM should quit politics and become an imam.
But maybe, I should forget about such details and concentrate on the big picture. As Albert Camus wrote in American Journals, “one way to know a country is to know how people die there.” In Turkey, you can intentionally get hit by a gas canister by the police, operating under direct orders from Erdoğan. You can be stabbed to death by your husband. And you can be killed while trying to provide for your family.
I asked you to #RememberBerkin in March and to #RememberEsther in April. I am now asking you to #RememberSoma as well. God knows whom I will ask you to remember in June. It is becoming too painful to remember.