PM will cause tension on Labor Day as tool in presidential bid

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoGan’s recent remarks about not allowing May 1 Labor Day celebrations in Istanbul’s Taksim square contradict rulings made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and might be part of ErdoGan’s strategy ahead of the upcoming presidential election, according to union representatives.

Former head of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ unions (DIsK) and current Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy suleyman Celebi told sunday’s Zaman that ErdoGan’s statements are creating this tension in the public sphere and that he is taking advantage of the tension to keep his popularity and distract the people from other problems his government is implicated in.

Celebi commented that the reason behind ErdoGan’s attempt to prevent May 1 Labor Day celebrations to take place in Taksim is a strategy linked to the presidential election due to be held in August, in which ErdoGan is likely to run. Celebi claimed that the prime minister plans to play the role of victim, which has become a habit of his, according to Celebi. He especially does this while speaking at rallies, in case deplorable incidents happen among demonstrators and police on May 1 during Labor Day celebrations.

Resul Akay, who served as president of the Turkish Public Workers’ Labor union (Kamu-sen), agreed with Celebi when he spoke to sunday’s Zaman, adding that ErdoGan has espoused a strategy of tension as the August presidential election approaches. According to Akay, the government is well aware that the majority of the Turkish people do not like street demonstrations staged by leftist groups and that such tension between police and demonstrators usually works in favor of the government.

Akay referred to an ECtHR ruling from 2012, stating that the Turkish people do not have to ask permission from state officials to organize demonstrations in Taksim. some of the unions based in Turkey applied to the ECtHR in 2008 following that year’s harsh police crackdown on May 1 Labor Day demonstrators. The ECtHR reached a verdict in the case in May 2012, convicting the Turkish government and ruling that Taksim square should be open to demonstrations.

In a recent press conference regarding the issue, Ibrahim KaboGlu, a Turkish academic in the field of constitutional law, stated that several ECtHR rulings support the idea that it is the duty of the government to safely secure May 1 Labor Day celebrations to be held in Taksim square by the unions. KaboGlu said Taksim as a venue was banned for Labor Day celebrations in 2013 on the grounds of pedestrianization projects that were going on there, which, according to the academic, is no longer the case.

Prime Minister ErdoGan, who spoke at a parliamentary group meeting of his party earlier in the week, declared that his government will not grant permission for rallies in Taksim on May 1 Labor Day as he said: “We have always been on the side of the workers. I celebrate the day of labor and solidarity, but we cannot accept shops being damaged.”

He added that Yenikapi has been specifically prepared for rallies and that if it is too small, Maltepe square, which is bigger, can be used. He also said the government would allow a rally in KadikOy for the last time this year. “There will be no more rallies in KadikOy, either [after May 1],” ErdoGan said.

ErdoGan said if the unions insist on Taksim, that would mean they want to clash with the police. “Everybody should act within the boundaries of the law. You are not the law,” he said, referring to the unions. In response to ErdoGan’s remarks, Celebi said: “It is not a democratic stance that the government has taken by designating two specific areas for us to hold our rallies.

The prime minister considers May 1 a rally. This is a holiday celebration. It should be held with holiday spirit. In addition, shops will be closed that day, so it is not likely for shops to be damaged during the event, as the prime minister asserted. There is no fair reason to prevent this celebration.” According to Celebi, ErdoGan seems to be ignoring the 2012 ECtHR ruling about May 1 celebrations, while at the same time claiming to have respect for the law.

Celebi also commented that some unions are under the control of the government. He explained that ErdoGan had ordered the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade unions (Hak-Is) to hold its May 1 rally in Kayseri; the Civil servants’ Trade union (Memur-sen) to go to Diyarbakir; and the Confederation of Turkish Labor unions (Turk-Is) to hold its rally in KadikOy. “Our prime minister is engaging in some kind of collaboration with the unions,” said Celebi, adding that unions other than the aforementioned ones are usually discredited by ErdoGan in the eyes of the public, as the prime minister labels them “socialists and rebels.”

Akay, on the other hand, noted that he finds it inconsistent that the current government declared May 1 as Labor Day in 2009 and allowed May 1 celebrations in Taksim in 2010, but has acted inconsistently this year.