Most of us like to relax on our birthday – maybe spend time with the family or see close friends. But for Kesk union activist and socialist Ertan Elsoy, whose union has called a two day strike to support a rebellion against the government, his birthday today has been anything but normal.
‘Last night I was keeping guard in Gezi Park under intensive gas attack,’ he tells me. ‘Now I am resting and preparing for this night… Tomorrow morning I will work on the agitation and propaganda activity in the university to support the strike, because the strike on 5 June is so important.’
The Turkish government had been the subject of several complaints from international trade union bodies such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) over its treatment and in some cases imprisonment of union activists this year. But now, with reports that political activists have been shot dead and that police and Turkish state security forces are stalking the streets with long knives, tear gas and live rounds, the situation in Turkey couldn’t be any more dangerous or unpredictable for trade unionists.
I ask Ertan if he is scared of being killed. ‘Of course,’ he says. ‘But there is no choice for us except to fight for freedom, democracy and rights!’
‘They will not give us these rights voluntarily. Turkish people are now learning to get their rights. Turkish people are realizing their own power. This is very frightening for the dictator Tayyip Erdoğan.’
The use of the word ‘dictator’ is a powerful accusation, one which on the outside might look far-fetched. Prime minister Erdoğan was elected in multi-party elections and has been credited in some quarters for trying to deal with longstanding human rights abuses against the country’s Kurdish minority. However his implementation of several conservative social policies with Islamist undertones, on top of vigorous free market neoliberal economic policies, has put the prime minister on shaky ground.
The crackdown on environmental protesters in Gezi Park in Istanbul last Friday was the last straw for many thousands of people in Turkey. Spontaneous protests involving a wide range of political viewpoints have erupted across the country.
The police crackdown, and prime minister Erdogan’s insistence that protesters including trade unionists are ‘arm-in-arm with terrorism’, has only raised suspicions that the government is displaying dictatorial tendencies when faced with legitimate criticisms from the public.
‘We just have the right of voting in elections, no more than this. Pluralism, equity and participation are not present in Turkish democracy,’ says Ertan. ‘There are many barriers against usage of democratic rights. So it is just a stylistic democracy. We just vote for our dictators. Turkish people want a real democracy.’
‘Tayyip Erdoğan’s understanding of democracy is “If I am elected, I am allowed to do whatever I want”.’
Although largely unreported in the Turkish mass media, unofficial estimates from citizen journalists and activists put arrests of protesters at well over a thousand, with beatings, a regular occurrence over the last five days. Ertan confirms that he has been an eyewitness to ‘many people being beaten by police’, and says he has seen police use tear gas guns as missiles, firing them directly at protesters and causing them serious injury.
Ertan distances himself from what he describes as ‘marginal groups’ who have used violence during the protests. But he is clear on who started it and the need for the protests to develop further.
‘Turkish police attacked a peaceful demonstration [in Gezi Park]. And they have attacked in the early morning while people were sleeping and sitting in the park. The government and Tayyip Erdoğan are responsible for the violence. There have been neoliberal policies implemented without interruption. This has created deep, long-run unhappiness among people.
‘In addition to this widespread unhappiness, especially since the last general election, Tayyip Erdoğan’s government Islamised the daily life of people stage by stage and implements discriminatory and alienating policies.’
Despite this political oppression, Ertan says that the response from people has not been unified nor had a clear direction.
His union, Kesk, which represents 240,000 workers, was due to strike at a later date over regressive changes in the country’s’ labour laws. But bringing it forward to today and tomorrow has prompted calls for a general strike of the country’s major trade union confederations.
‘This rebellion is not organised properly and to determine a right direction is quite difficult under these circumstances,’ Ertan tells me. ‘Trade unions and their confederations should join this rebellion by general strike in order to support and gain the initiative.
‘The organised working class has the ability to find the right way intuitively. However so far the working class have not joined the rebellion as a “political participant”.’
However Ertan is confident that this is set to change, if organised labour takes a stand tomorrow. ‘Today Kesk members have started to strike. I expect other trade union confederations cannot ignore the happenings and will join calls for a general strike in Turkey,’ he concludes.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant