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Scottish trade unions add their voice to Kurdish solidarity

Momentum is building in the trade union movement as the Scottish Trade Unions Councils 122nd annual congress agrees on a motion of solidarity with the Kurdish hunger strikers and their demands for the release of Abdullah Öcalan.

Scottish trade unions support Imam

In her opening remarks to the conference, President of the STUC Lynne Henderson called for support for Imam Sis and his demand for the release of Abdullah Öcalan. Newport resident and lifelong campaigner against racism, Imam is one of the thousands of hunger strikers taking extraordinary measures to demand that Turkey obey its own and international law and end the isolation of political prisoner Mr Öcalan.

Mark Serwotka, TUC President and General Secretary of the PCS has also called in his speech to the conference for Scottish trade unions to support the Kurdish hunger strikers in their struggle.

20 years of solitary confinement

Stephen Smellie, secretary of the Freedom for Öcalan campaign spoke of the justifiable frustration and outrage in the Kurdish community at the lack of action regarding their just and peaceful demands. It’s this that has prompted such extreme measures by some in a desperate attempt for their voices to be heard and justice to be done.

This Congress in past years has offered support to the Kurdish struggle in Turkey, we have supported the demand that the PKK be removed from the list of terrorist organisations and we have called for Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the PKK, a writer, and advocate for a democratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish Question, to be released from his 20 years of solitary confinement in the prison on Imrali island in Turkey.

The Turkish government have a number of times during the past 20 years sought negotiations with Öcalan, in his prison cell, to achieve an end to the conflict. As recent as 2015 they were negotiating with him and the Prime Minister was on the verge of agreeing on a peace accord. Öcalan had issued a call to the PKK and others to put away the guns and turn to politics to achieve a solution.

That was scuppered when President Erdogan decided that his electoral success required not peace but violence. Since then Öcalan has received only 2 very brief visits from his brother.

He has had no access to the Kurdish political movement and since 2011 no access to his legal team and lawyers.

International delegations seeking permission to visit Öcalan, including a recent one partly organised by the Trade Union Freedom for Öcalan Campaign set up by GMB and Unite and which a number of affiliates here are now supporting, a delegation that included Tony Burke of Unite, Manual Cortes of TSSA and actor Maxine Peake, have all been refused by the Turkish authorities.

The widespread demands to end his isolation, a form of torture, have been ignored.

The frustration and outrage across the Kurdish people are what has led to the current desperate actions of thousands of people engaging in hunger strikes.

These include Imam Sis in Newport on hunger strike since December and Mehmet Yilmaz, Ali Boyraz and Nahide Zengin on hunger strike since 14 March.

Leyla Guven is near to death.

No-one should be on hunger strike. It is not a campaigning tactic that anyone should consider but it is a last desperate act to try to get the Turkish authorities to act. But they don’t care if hundreds of Kurdish activists in Turkey and across the world die.

Therefore we need to build widespread international support for their demands. This Congress in supporting this motion will be amongst the leaders in building this campaign and I would urge all affiliates to also take the actions called for in the motion and if you are in South Wales or London in the coming weeks please visit the hunger strikers and show our solidarity.

Stephen Smellie, Depute Convenor Unison Scotland and Secretary of Freedom for Öcalan

Emergency Motion no. 2 Kurdish Hunger Strike

The motion which was moved by the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and supported by other Scottish trade unions urgently called on the STUC General Council to:

  • Write to the Council of Europe demanding that they take action against Turkey unless it addresses the human rights abuse that denial of access to lawyers represents;
  • Write to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, urging them to fulfil their role and put pressure on Turkey to respond to this basic human rights demand.
  • Wite to the UK Foreign Minister, requiring him to put pressure on Turkey, both directly and through the Council of Europe; and
  • Inform trade union members about the hunger strikers and their demands, and encourage supportive actions.

How can you help the campaign?

With growing support in the trade union movement, devolved governments and the Parliamentary Labour Party the Freedom for Ocalan campaign is calling on trade unionists and activists to support the many local campaigns now running throughout the UK and Europe.

If you’re a member of a trade union we ask that you support us by requesting your branch, regional or national trade union affiliate now.

If you want to support the Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan letter-writing campaign to the CPT you can support that here.

Members of political parties able to pass motions at a branch or constituency level, particularly Labour members can use this model motion.

Alternatively, if you feel you are able you could make a one-off or regular donation to help the campaign.

By Freedom for Ocalan

The Freedom for Öcalan campaign is a UK trade union-backed initiative to secure the release of imprisoned Kurdish political prisoner Abdullah Öcalan.

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