With each passing day, we understand better that what happened on 13th May in Soma was not an accident but a result of economic and political regulations. It has been more than a hundred days since reportedly 301 miners were killed. There is neither a prosecution nor preventive measures for similar incidents in the mines. Instead of this a strict ban on commemorations, protests and union activities has been imposed. The silence of grief is only broken by the voice of workers and unions.
Walking in the silent streets of Soma, I bumped into a child whose father was rescued from the blast in the mine. He looked into my eyes and said “I wish my dad was killed in the mine, too so that I would get lots of gifts and toys, like the others.” In one of my condolence visits I sat next to a young widow with children. She did not speak, she did not hear, but her house was full of all kinds of charity goods.
The entire region resembles a house where soothing words of condolence are heard. Grief continues but the fight has started as well. The voice of workers, unions, and people is back on the streets. A plainclothes policeman’s comment explains the situation well: “They turned Soma into Gezi Park!” and while leaving town a widow’s voice echoed in my ear “Do not shut up, this silence killed my husband!”
Dead end in the mines
As part of the privatization, public mines have been rented to private sector companies in Soma, similar to other mining cities around Turkey. After renting the mines, they establish subcontracting networks that remind us of pre-capitalism employment models. This subcontracting system paves the way to a patchwork nature of production system that threatens occupational health and safety. In this corrupted system worker wages and “the necessary measures of occupational health and safety (OHS)” are just seen as budget items. The saddest part of the picture is the frivolity of official inspections and the indifference of the government as well as of the companies. The working conditions being far from regulations are just death traps for miners.
Those responsible for the Soma massacre are not only the profit maximizing companies, but it is also the government that promotes these companies instead of preventing them. The average salary of a miner (TRY 1200, € 420) is not much higher than the official hunger limit (€ 402). Their shifts can be as long as 12 hours, layovers and holiday entitlement are inadequate, protective equipment and training are insufficient.
Workers think that OHS experts are foremen that motivate workers or put pressure on them. On the other hand, inspectors spend time at luxurious hotels and then return to Ankara. In the past couple of years, OHS has been turned over to the market countrywide. OHS firms work with the principle of “customer is always right.”
The government that ignored pre-warnings, now tries to cover its tracks with efforts to calm down reactions by committing to give money, goods and houses to mine worker. Workers independent unionization activities are tried to be subdued by the authorities.
In many sectors, unions are compared with miner lanterns … In the city centre of Soma next to the building of the administrative governor; there is the union building with the same enormity. Most miners are union members. The answer to the question “What does a union do?” is the same answer about a company’s HR department. N Soma union officials do not visit the mines, they do not let workers actively participate in the decision making processes. Right after the blast the union made an announcement that everything was normal in the mine even before the government and the company.
The incident has changed the union climate in the region as well. The Progressive Union of Mine Workers’ (Dev Maden-Sen) which is an affiliate of DİSK have started to increase its membership and strengthen its organization in the region with the assertion of creating “a democratic and struggling union movement”. Even though DİSK activities face various barriers, mass meetings continue to be carried out in the mines and mountain villages with the participation of families. With the motivation of DISK, miners started to raise their voice on their own rights, and took actions. Miners in Soma visited the Parliament during talks on “draft law of subcontracting” but some of them weren’t allowed to enter as they were wearing work uniforms and boots.
During their campaign, workers demand that “those responsible are brought to justice”, “nationalization of mines,” “banning of subcontracting,” and “application of the OHS measures”.
From Chile to Soma
We still remember the mine accident in Chile in 2010 where miners were rescued after 69 days. Then after, Chilean miners have become the symbol of hope. That mines’ foreman Luis Urzua and Rodrigoe Reveco from the rescue team have visited Soma. The Chilean mission got together with the member of DISK/Dev Maden-Sen in the county of Kınık and brother miners held long emotional embraces. Turkish miner Mr. Ali Haydar asked, “They sent us imams instead of rescue teams, were you rescued by a priest?” The answer was obvious but the silence of grief had long ended their conversation.
* Article by Kıvanç Eliaçık, International Director of DİSK, firstname.lastname@example.org