ANKARA (Hurriyet)–Clashes between police and demonstrators and the use of tear gas by security forces overshadowed a strike held by thousands of public servants in Ankara on Wednesday, the Turkish Hurriyet daily reported.
Union members had gathered to protest the ruling government’s lack of response to the social and economic demands of public sector workers.
After failing to reach a compromise during collective bargaining talks with the government last August, the public servant unions announced they would stage a one-day nationwide “warning strike” on Nov. 25 to protest the government’s uncompromising approach to their demand for the right to strike and to collective bargaining.
Thousands of public servants from different sectors including education, health, transportation, energy, mining and communications went ahead with the move in the capital despite a stern warning from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier this week.
While the strike halted train services in Ankara, a separate group of demonstrators arrived by different routes and advanced toward Ankara’s Ziya Gokalp Street where the public servant unions were staging their rally Wednesday.
Clashes erupted when police did not let a group carrying the political party flags of the Socialist Party and the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ODP) walk to the overpass in Ankara’s Ziya Gokalp Street.
Tension mounted when the police used tear gas against the group, blocking them from proceeding to the overpass. Some other demonstrators and passersby near the site were also exposed to the teargas. Insistent calls by organizers subsequently persuaded demonstrators to return to the square.
“Collective bargaining is our right, the strike is our weapon,” chanted the demonstrators. The protest was led by the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, or KESK, and the Turkish Public Workers’ Labor Union, or Kamu-Sen. Some deputies from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Democratic Left Party (DSP) also joined the public servants’ groups to show their support.
A group of university students from the Middle East Technical University (ODTU) students from Atatürk Anatolian High School, as well as some groups carrying the flags of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) and ODP likewise lent their support to the protest.
Increasing unemployment; the rising price of basic needs, such as bread, natural gas and electricity; high taxes; the policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that have protected the wealthy but have ignored public employees; and the government-maintained distinction between workers and public servants were at the core of protests voiced by the crowd.
The banners read, “We have nothing to lose, except our chains,” “Time will come and the AKP will give account,” “We don’t want a handout, but the right for collective bargaining.”
Speaking at the rally, representatives of the public servants’ unions warned the government that they would engage in an even larger-scale struggle if the AKP did not take their warning strike seriously.
They said the AKP did not rule the country well and that they only granted an annual wage increase of 5 percent while unveiling a price rise of 100 percent on basic needs.
“It is the AKP itself that has brought us to this point. It has ignored public servants,” said Emirali Simsek, secretary general of KESK.
Meanwhile, following the statements by the union representatives, a group of female public servants wanted to march to Ankara’s Yuksel Street to read a statement to mark the Nov. 25 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Police, however, blocked them on the grounds that it would cause a traffic disruption.
Furthermore, Huseyin Celik, deputy leader of the AKP, reacted against the public workers’ action, saying the public servants had no right to turn citizens’ daily lives into pain.
“It is not possible to interpret their action as an innocent move to seek their rights,” Celik said in a press conference Wednesday. “In democracies, public servants can level criticism against the government and demand further rights. But they don’t have the right to turn citizens’ daily lives into pain. It doesn’t fit with the understanding of public servant unions to make the trains stop and halt health services. The move doesn’t reflect goodwill,” Celik said.