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STUC supports Öcalan and Scottish Kurdish community – what next?

STUC supports Öcalan and Scottish Kurdish community – what next?

The recent conference of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) gave support to the Kurdish community living in Scotland and offered solidarity to the hunger strikers demanding an end to the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan by the Turkish authorities.

Motions of solidarity with the Scottish Kurdish community

The first dealt with the concerns of the Scottish Kurdish community after a number of police raids on family homes under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. These raids over the past 3 years, supposedly seeking evidence of support for the PKK, have led to some members of the local community being less ready to participate in protest actions against the Turkish government or to participate in local cultural activities. The motion, moved by Mike Arnott of Dundee Trades Union Council noted that

“The European Union Court of Justice recently ruled that the continued listing of the PKK as a terrorist organisation was wrong, as it was not based on any current threat.”

It went on to note that the UK government continues to support the Turkish government whilst it carries out human rights abuses against its own people and attacks Kurdish forces in Syria.

STUC supports Freedom for Öcalan campaign

The second motion, moved by Aberdeen Trades Union Council, committed the STUC to campaign for the end of Öcalan’s isolation and offer support to the hunger strikers. It referred to Öcalan’s role in attempting

“to negotiate a peaceful and respectful future for the Kurds in Turkey and considers his role vital to any peace settlement between the Kurds and the Turkish government, as evidenced by STUC support for the Freedom for Öcalan Campaign.”

British Trade Union Congress

Aside from these two formal motions being unanimously supported the STUC President, Lynn Henderson of the Public and Civil Servants Union (PCS) in her opening speech to the conference called for support for the Kurdish hunger strikers, including Imam Sis in Newport, in support of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Speaking as President of the British Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS, also called for support for the hunger strikers.

Scottish First Minister meets with campaigners

Attending the conference, as they have done for the past few years, were a number of supporters of Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan (SSK). They discussed with delegates and visitors to the conference including members of the UK and Scottish parliaments including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The decisions of the STUC conference confirm the Scottish trade union movement as firm supporters of the Kurdish struggle in Turkey and the Scottish Kurdish community and for the release of Öcalan, building on resolutions agreed at previous conferences.   These repeated expressions of support and solidarity with the various aspects of the Kurdish struggle has been very welcome and helped with the process of establishing that support amongst the trade union movement across the UK. A number of trade unions have gone on to establish the Freedom for Öcalan Campaign and to establish links with trade unions in Turkey to offer solidarity.

Concerns growing for increasingly Anti-Union policies in Turkey

The challenge for the trade unions in Scotland and the UK is to transform these policy positions into practical action in support of the Kurds, Öcalan, the struggle towards peace and democracy in Turkey and in defence of the Kurds in Syria currently threatened by Turkish armed invasion and, in Afrin, suffering effective ethnic cleansing by Turkey and its affiliated militias.

Supporting trade union struggles and offering practical solidarity to trade union members being imprisoned by Turkey for allegedly supporting terrorism should be stepped up. In addition to letters of protest and calling on the UK government to raise concerns with the Turkish government, we should offer to send observers to the trials of the trade unionists of the progressive trade union confederations of KESK and DISK. Both organisations are under considerable pressure including supporting their many thousands of members who have been sacked and refused any state benefits. Therefore financial support to them is important.

Turkish embassy demonstrates contempt for UK Trade Unions

UNISON, the biggest union in the UK, has identified Turkey as one of its priority areas for international work over the past year and a delegation will visit Ankara in the next month. They will attend the trial of some KESK members and have contributed to the financial appeals of the confederations.

The Trade Union Freedom for Öcalan Campaign has worked with the TUC and supporting unions to lobby and seek meetings with the Turkish Ambassador in London. These have been ignored. When the door remained closed to a delegation from the TUC and a letter was then pushed into the letterbox it was returned, unopened to the TUC. This demonstration of contempt of an organisation representing 6 million working people in the UK by the diplomatic representatives of the Turkish government is unacceptable. The TUC should take up with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) this outrage and demand that the Turkish Ambassador is told in no uncertain terms that his presence in the UK demands a respect for the people of the country and their representatives and that when the TUC seeks to discuss matters of concern they must be heard.  

The path to democracy merely a cover for dictatorship

A number of trade union representatives have participated in delegations to Turkey over the years. They have learned much about the struggle for democracy and peace and the oppression experienced by the Kurds, other minorities and the trade union movement. They have invariably called on the Turkish government to adhere to human rights laws and democratic values. However the reality is that Turkey continues on a path where democracy is merely a cover for dictatorship, where democratically elected MPs and Mayors are sacked and jailed for criticising government policy and accused of terrorism, where opposition candidates elected in the recent local elections are not allowed to take office and the unsuccessful candidate, usually a government supporter, put into place. We have learned that democracy in Turkey is a sham.

Therefore trade unions in the UK should be demanding that the UK government end its current role as an apologist for the Turkish government and move to apply sanctions. These should include ending arms sales to Turkey and making any trade talks with Turkey dependent on them respecting democracy, ending the imprisonment of political opponents and entering into a dialogue with the opposition, including the PKK and Öcalan, and civic groups like trade unions, to seek a peaceful resolution to the current and long-running conflict.

The trade unions can make sure that this is a commitment of a future Labour government but should pressure the current Tory government to adopt this position now.

Trade Unions must take lead

The commitment to support the hunger strikers is an immediate call to arms. It is clear that 7000 Kurdish people starving themselves to death do not matter to the Turkish President Erdogan. Only very minor concessions, of no consequence, have been made by the authorities. The release from prison of MP Leyla Guven, who initiated the hunger strikes and who is near to death, and a 15-minute visit to Öcalan by his brother, when he has been unable to speak to his lawyers since 2011, does not achieve the aims of the hunger strikers.

In the face of this inhumane and illegal stance by the Turkish government towards the death of 7000 people, it is our role as trade unionists who believe in democracy and justice to raise as large an international clamour as possible in support of the demand to end Öcalan’s isolation. The motion to the STUC called on them to demand that the Council of Europe takes action, that the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture act to put pressure on Turkey, and require the UK Foreign Secretary put pressure on Turkey and the Council of Europe.

It also called on all unions to inform their members about the hunger strikers and their demand, making them aware of the situation in Turkey.

These steps are the minimum that the trade union movement should be taking.

How can you help the campaign?

With growing support in the trade union movementdevolved governments and the Parliamentary Labour Partythe 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.

You can support the Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan letter-writing campaign to the CPT, urging them to take action on Imrali, 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 Stephen Smellie

Depute Convenor of Unison Scotland and Secretary of the Freedom for Ocalan Campaign.

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