Soma Mine Disaster: Massacre at Work!

On 13 May capitalist system of exploitation has taken lives of around 300 workers in a coal mine “accident” in Soma, a town in western Turkey. There are unknown number of workers still trapped in the mine. This is the biggest massacre of workers in the form of “work accident” in the history of Turkey. The technical reason for the incident is still unknown. But for some reason a fire erupted in the mine and it is still ongoing, producing carbon monoxide with the fatal effect of poisoning the miners.

What happened in Soma cannot be downplayed as “work accident”. What happened was a mass murder at workplace perpetrated by the boss of Soma Holdings and its accomplice, i.e. the AKP government. While greedy bosses do not take necessary work safety measures, the AKP government, which is responsible for inspecting workplaces for safety, turns a blind eye to the situation in workplaces. Just 14 days ago there was a proposal by opposition parties in parliament which demanded a parliamentary inquiry about the mines in Soma. And that proposal was rejected by the AKP.

On every occasion Erdoğan likes to declare that they are zealously working for clearing of all obstacles in front of the bosses and breaking the shackles on bosses’ feet. And now in Soma we are seeing the results of this breaking of “shackles” on bosses’ feet. Mines, where high level safety measures have to be taken and where qualified workers should be employed, have been privatised and outsourced. To reduce costs bosses do not take necessary safety measures, and mines are filled with unqualified, short-term contracted and low waged workers who are left with no other choice. This is exactly the case with the mine operated by Soma Holdings.

In an interview given to a daily, Hürriyet, Alp Gürkan, main owner of Soma Holdings, described how his company had grown, pointing out that they were extracting 6 million tons of coal a year. In that interview he boasted by saying that they had reduced the cost of coal extraction from $140 to $24 and linked this to “the way private sector works.” Now we are seeing once more what this kind of “achievements” of bosses cost workers.

The AKP government seeks for a growth with no “obstacles” to bosses. They know there is a link between economic growth and the continuation of their rule. During AKP rule nearly 13,000 workers have lost their lives in work “accidents” and many more injured, maimed. These figures testify to the direct link between economic growth and “work accidents”. It has to be reminded that it’s been 19 years Turkey has not ratified ILO agreement no 176 on “Safety and Health in Mines”.

Taner Yıldız, energy minister, who was present at the opening ceremony of the mine in question gave the message to bosses that they should not worry about pressures. And in previous years the prime-minister Erdogan had tried to justify work “accidents” by saying “this is in the nature of things, act of god” in speaking about miners who had lost their lives then.

Work accidents (or rather murders at work) are one of the biggest problems of the working class. To raise awareness on this issue UID-DER had initiated a campaign with the main slogan “Work Accidents Are Not Destiny, Stop Workers Dying of Work Accidents!” And through this campaign UID-DER had reached hundreds of thousands of workers and managed to collect more than one hundred thousand signatures, finally submitting them to parliament. Ongoing work “accidents” testify once more to the importance of our association’s campaign.

Now there are many protests taking place across the country, which unsurprisingly face police repression. During his visit to Soma Erdogan was protested by people of Soma and miners’ relatives. The crowd chanted the slogan “Prime-minister resign!”

Trade-unions announced a one-day strike in protest. In important industrial areas many factories and mines joined the strike. More than ten thousand miners in Zonguldak, a miners’ town, were among the most active. There was also international workers’ support extended to Soma miners. Workers in Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, especially miners, stopped work in solidarity.

And UID-DER is actively taking part in protests in especially working class areas. UID-DER underlines the fact that unless the working class gets organised and fights, bosses and their governments will not take necessary safety measures. Murders at work are an issue of fight for the working class. And this fight cannot achieve its goal without taking aim at capitalist system of exploitation!

17 May 2014