Unlike previous years, this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, which severely affected Turkey, there were no mass rallies on May 1. Instead, the International Day of Struggle of Working Class was marked with various events both in the country and by the immigrant community in Europe.
How did the People’s Front mark May 1st in Turkey and Europe?
On April 30, at 18:00, in a hall located in Istanbul’s Küçük Armutlu district, about 80 members and supporters of the People’s Front-Turkey gathered to mark May 1st.
The event began with a minute of silence in memory of all those who martyred in the struggle for revolution and socialism around the world. The event then continued with the reading of the declarations of the People’s Front and the Revolutionary Workers’ Movement [the worker’s organization of People’s Front] on the occasion of May 1. After reading the declarations, the program continued with a recital of poems by Turkish and foreign poets. After the recital, the declaration the Council of Resistance(Direnişler Meclisi), on the occasion of the International Day for the Struggle of Working Class, which is the newest organization within the People’s Front, and unites workers and civil servants fighting against the purges of fascist oligarchy in Turkey, in the public sector and the violation of workers’ rights, as well as against injustice in its various forms.
The event continued with an “Oath of victory”, which was attended by all present holding hands. This excited very much participants in the event. After taking the oath of victory, the members of the leftist music band Grup Yorum took the stage. First, together with all those present, they sang the March 1 May, and then they sang some of the most beloved songs of the band. The event ended after everyone danced together.
Members of the People’s Front reached Taksim Square, despite the ban on going out on the street
The fascist government, which after years of struggle led by the revolutionaries to celebrate May 1 in Taksim Square, allowed a rally to be held there from 2010 to 2012, from 2013 until today without interruption every May 1, blocked not only the square and a fairly wide perimeter around it and even the whole city of Istanbul. This year, the pandemic was used as a pretext for the blockade in the city. On May 1, 2020, a curfew was imposed throughout Istanbul. However, despite the ban and the state terror, members of the People’s Front, as in previous years, managed to reach Taksim Square and hang a banner with the name of the movement and the slogan “Long live May 1!” While also chanting slogans: “Long live May 1!”; Ibrahim Gökçek is our honor !; Helin Bölek is immortal !; Mustafa Kocak is immortal! ”
The two members of the movement who managed to break through the blockade and reach the square were detained a little later by the police. After several hours in police custody and various forms of torture, the two revolutionaries were released in the evening.
In addition to the action on Taksim Square, members of the Popular Front held two more actions in the perimeter around the iconic Istanbul Square. Members of the Resistance Council and the Association for Solidarity of the Families of Political Prisoners (TAYAD). Members of the Council of Resistance read a statement criticizing the policies of the fascist government in connection with the coronavirus pandemic, bans on protests, repression, and the ongoing hunger strikes till death in the country.
TAYAD members hanged a banner in the Taksim Square area and chanted the slogan: “Long live May 1!”, Then withdrew from the scene of action.
The People’s Front in Europe celebrated May 1 in 8 countries
Dozens of members and supporters of the People’s Front-Turkey in Europe celebrated the International Day of Struggle on May 1 in Austria, England, Belgium, Germany, Greece, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland. In some places, the May 1 celebrations were held in cooperation with other leftist organizations, in others, the People’s Front was the only organization to mark the date. In many places, the police have made attempts to prevent the celebration of May 1, leading to attacks and arrests, which we will discuss a little later in the text. Demonstrators took to the streets and squares everywhere, despite the coronavirus pandemic and the bans on going out imposed by European governments. However, people followed all measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Members and supporters of the movement celebrated May 1 in Vienna, the capital city of Austria, in London, the capital of England, in the cities of Antwerp and Liege in Belgium, in Germany in the cities: Berlin, Bremen, Bielefeld, Dortmund, Darmstadt, Cologne, Mannheim, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, in Athens the capital of Greece and in the Koridalos prison, near the Greek capital, in Paris the capital of France, in the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, in the cities of Basel and Zurich in Switzerland.
In Zurich, Switzerland, local police attacked members of the People’s Front-Turkey who had come out to take part in a May Day demonstration in the city, they were detained and released shortly afterward.
In the city of Antwerp, Belgium, police also tried to block the May Day demonstration by members of the People’s Front. Here the members of the movement celebrated May 1 differently with a bicycle march in the central part of the city. Their demonstration was met with interest from locals, who filmed the event with their mobile phones. Towards the end of the action, which lasted about an hour and a half, the local police stopped the march, and after collecting the personal data of the participants in the demonstration, the police officers stated that they would draw up acts for violating the measures against the coronavirus pandemic. The members of the movement, in turn, replied that they had not violated the measures, that they had taken all precautionary measures against the infection, that they had not endangered the life and health of the people, and that they did not accept the imposition of sanctions by the authorities, because they have the right to mark May 1, despite the pandemic.
The other police attack on members and supporters of the People’s Front was in the Belgian city of Liege. Almost immediately after the end of the May Day demonstration, which was one of the few leftist organizations to mark May 1 in the city, local police stopped the dispersing participants and tried to perform an identity check. After the members of the movement refused to give their ID cards for a check, claiming that they had the right to hold demonstrations and that they did not disturb the order, the police attacked them and briefly detained 3 of the dispersing people. 2 were released a little later and 1 was released from the local police department after his identity was checked. The demonstration in Liege, together with the People Front, was attended by 6 members of the Maoist organization from Turkey Partizan, as well as 1 member of the Confederation of Workers of Turkey and 1 of the Kurdistan Communities Union (Koma Ciwaken Kurdistan-KCK).
There was also a police attack on participants in the May Day demonstration in Paris. The French police attacked in a ratio of 3 against 1 to detain a member of the People’s Front, and the police also threatened and try to harm the people who tried to film the incident. The demonstration was attacked even though the participants kept the “social distance”, which is part of the measures against the pandemic.
In the German city of Bremen, police tried to prevent more people from participating in a rally on May 1st, organized by leftist organizations in the city, but no more serious attacks took place.
May 1 was also marked in the Koridalos prison, near Athens, the capital city of Greece.
At 15:00 on 1 May, a group of political prisoners members of People’s Front, as well as Greek and Kurdish political prisoners and migrant prisoners from Pakistan, celebrated May 1 together in the courtyard of one of the prison’s wards. The event began with a minute of silence in memory of all the revolutionaries who martyred in the struggles of the peoples of the world and then continued with songs of people that lasted a little more than 1 hour. Political prisoners from the People’s Front hung a banner reading “Long Live May 1st!” written in Turkish, Kurdish, and Greek, from one of the prison windows overlooking Athens.
In the other cities where the People’s Front celebrated May 1, there were no attacks or other incidents, and the demonstrations went relatively smoothly, given the situation created by the coronavirus pandemic.
How did the other leftist organizations in Turkey celebrate May 1st?
This year, unlike previous years, when the major trade union confederations organized a joint rally in Istanbul, which was attended by almost all left-wing organizations in Turkey, a distinction was made between the four trade union confederations and the leftist organizations. The Confederation of Progressive Workers’ Unions (DISK), the Confederation of Civil Servants’ Unions (KESK), the Union of Associations of Architects and Engineers in Turkey (TMMOB) and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) could not reach an agreement with the representatives of all other leftist organizations in the country on how to celebrate May 1 in Istanbul.
This led to the creation of the May 1 Platform in Istanbul, which unites many leftist and progressive organizations in Turkey to mark International Workers’ Day in our southern neighbor’s largest city. Very quickly, the member organizations of the newly formed union drew up a program and decided how to celebrate May 1 in Istanbul.
Major leftist organizations in Turkey, except the People’s Front, celebrated May 1st with demonstrations in various parts of Istanbul and some of the city’s industrial areas. Almost all the actions took place on April 28, 29, and 30 at the following places in the metropolis:
-The space in front of the entrance of the hospital of the Medical Faculty of Istanbul University – Çapa, located in the central part of the city;
-The entrance of the industrial zone Haramidere, in the southwestern part of the city, a complex of car repair shops;
-The space in front of the textile company Pollen, located in the Bahçelievler neighborhood in the western part of the city;
-The square in front of the post office in Sırkeci district, located in the central part of the city;
-The entrance of the shipyard in the Tuzla district, the southeastern part of Istanbul.
-The space in front of Arena Park shopping center, in Ikitelli district, in the western part of the city.
-Remembrance in memory of the people who have been massacred on Taksim Square on May 1, 1977, Kazanci Yokuşu Street, Taksim, central Istanbul.
On May 1, rallies were held in the Sarıgazi and Kadıköy districts in the eastern part of the city.
During these rallies, various declarations were read, highlighting the government’s inability to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, the exploitation of workers, the government’s repression against the leftist movement, and Kurdish municipalities, and the hunger strikes till death of Mustafa Kocak. and the Grup Yorum
On the morning of May 1, several leftist organizations tried to march to Taksim Square. The first one of these attempts was made in the area of the metro station in the Mecidiyeköy district of central Istanbul. Those gathered here were attacked by a large number of police officers from the riot squad the rapid response force. The participants in the march were detained and released several hours after being fined for violating “measures against the spread of coronavirus”.
The other attempt to march to Taksim Square was in the Şişli area by the members of the Unity in Struggle Platform (Mücadele Birliği), the Revolutionary Student Union (Devrimci Öğrenci Birliği), the Revolutionary Party (Devrimci Parti), the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations (SGDF) and the Socialist Party of the Oppressed(ESP). The march was also attacked by police and participants were detained, and a few hours later all those detained during the march were released after fines were imposed for violating “measures against the coronavirus pandemic.”
On the way to Taksim Square, in the area of Fatih district, readers of the socialist magazine Struggle (Kavga – sosyalist dergi) were also detained. The magazine’s four readers were attacked by plainclothes police agents and taken to the local police station, and were released a few hours later after being fined for violating “measures against the coronavirus pandemic.”
On the other side of the Bosphorus in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district, members of the Independent Construction Workers’ Union (İnşaat-İş) and the independent trade union Umut-Sen marched from Söğutluçeşme Blvd. to the neighborhood’s pier, where they were attacked by police. The 8 demonstrators were detained for several hours by the police, after which they were released.
Perhaps the only May 1 action in Istanbul that was not attacked by police was a demonstration by members of leftist organizations which are part of the May 1 platform in Istanbul, in the Sarıgazi district of Istanbul. People gathered here on the main street Democracy, where a declaration was read on behalf of the platform, the participants in the demonstration called at 21:00 all to sing or perform on the song 1 Mayıs Marşı, in their homes, after chanting slogans, the action ended without any incidents.
May 1 in the rest of Turkey
In other cities in Turkey, this year May 1 was marked by demonstrations and marches by leftist and progressive organizations in the country. Along with the capital Ankara, demonstrations on the occasion of May 1 were held in the following cities of the country: Izmir, Bursa, Adana, Mersin, Hatay, Samsun, Zonguldağ, Çanakkale,
May 1st demonstrations were also held in northern Kurdistan(eastern Turkey). There were demonstrations in the cities of Dersim, Elazığ, and Malatya.
The actions carried out in these cities consisted of reading protest declarations, chanting slogans, and performing the May 1 march(Bir Mayıs Marşı). In some places, the actions were accompanied by police attacks and attempts to obstruct the actions. In Ankara and Izmir, the May Day rallies were attacked and the participants detained and were released a few hours later.
In some of the cities, in addition to leftist organizations, representatives of the country’s main opposition trade union confederations also took part in the demonstrations.
Impressive this year was the celebration of May 1 by workers in factories and enterprises who, despite the pandemic, did not stop working. These celebrations were organized thanks to the efforts of workers sympathetic to the ideas of Marxism-Leninism and progressive workers. This is happening for the first time after many years and can be reported as a positive signal for the state of the workers’ movement in the country.
At all the actions held on May 1, dissatisfaction was expressed against the insufficient measures taken by the oligarchy against the pandemic, the continued exploitation of workers and the risk to their health, despite the difficult situation with the spread of the virus.
Along with the open-air rallies, at 21:00 local time, many people joined the call by leftist organizations in Turkey to celebrate May 1st in their homes with performing of the May 1st song. There is no exact information about the total number of those who responded to this call, but according to the activity on social networks, we can judge that it has reached a large number of people throughout Turkey.
The trade union bureaucracy and 1 May 2020
As we noted above this year, unlike in previous years, there were disagreements between the four main trade unions in Turkey and the leftist organizations in the country. This led to a situation in which the trade union bureaucracy was almost entirely alone in its theatrical performances, what it fact the May Day celebrations performed by the trade union were in reality.
In the town of Çorlu, Tekirdag province, in the region of eastern Thrace, which is an important industrial center, the Islamist union HAK-İŞ, which is known for his good ties with the oligarchy and the government “recommended” to workers to be patient and humble during the coronavirus pandemic crisis. In the city of Bursa, western Turkey, another important industrial center and one of Turkey’s largest cities, the four reformist unions have gone so far as to completely cancel the planned action on the occasion of May 1, which were already limited to reading a protest declaration.
Perhaps the only open confrontation between the government and the trade union bureaucracy was the detention of 25 members of the Confederation of Progressive Workers’ Unions in Turkey (DİSK) in Istanbul. Police attacked an attempt to march by unionists, including Confederate President Arzu Çerkezoğlu. Hours later, the detainees were released by police. This action by the confederation, which in recent years has proved to be one of the main stumbling blocks to the workers’ movement in Turkey, was entirely provoked by its desire to show its members as a defender of their rights and to fight for May 1. Taksim Square in Istanbul. However, this is completely contrary to the current practice of the confederation, which since 2016 marked the International Day for the Struggle of Working-class in various places in the Istanbul, such as the market place in Bakırköy district and the pier in Maltepe district on the east coast of Bosphorus, with the permission of the government, involving almost all leftist organizations. In this way, the confederation helped to weaken the left movement and keep the anger of the working class and all the people within the limits of the capitalist status quo.
For this reason, all attempts by the union bureaucracy to show itself as a guardian of the May Day celebrations on Taksim Square are nothing but hypocrisy.
In conclusion: this year’s celebration of 1 May, although not at a sufficiently satisfactory level, and the situation of workers, given the situation created by the coronavirus pandemic, we can say that despite its shortcomings and weaknesses, leftist organizations in Turkey and progressive workers in the enterprises carried on their backs and “saved” the honor of May 1st, celebrating it on the streets, squares, and factories of the country and abroad. At the same time, the trade union bureaucracy has proved that it is de facto a politically dead which, if it does not join the bourgeois parties in opposition to the current government, and if it is not the barricades of reformism as it is, will be crushed by the workers. With their strength and skills, and with the help of revolutionaries would pave the way for a mass class struggle, and class trade unionism shaken by economism, relying not on the legal limits and regulation of the capitalist status quo, but the legitimacy and rightfulness of the demands of the workers.