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Turkey’s Preventable Tragedy 21 mai 2014

Posted by Acturca in Economy / Economie, Turkey / Turquie.
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The International New York Times (USA) May 21, 2014

By Özgür Özel *

Manisa, Turkey — On the morning of May 13, Turkey finally woke up from its deep slumber on workplace safety — but at the cost of 301 lives. The subterranean fire last week at the Soma coal mine in western Turkey was the worst mining disaster in the country’s history. Hundreds of hardworking men in the district I represent are dead. And sadly, their deaths could have been prevented.

As early as last September, I had petitioned the Turkish Parliament to create a commission of inquiry, which is one way that the legislature can use its powers to oversee industry in Turkey. Ever since the Soma mine was privatized in 2005, the price of extracting coal has gone down dramatically — and so have safety conditions for workers.

My proposal merely called for research on previous mining accidents in Soma, inspections of the mine, and finding solutions. Along with other members of Parliament, I also urged Turkey to ratify the International Labor Organization’s convention on mine safety; if Turkey had signed the I.L.O. convention, there would have been mandatory alternative exits from the mine that could have saved lives.

On April 29, I raised these issues again and gave a speech in Parliament calling for preventive measures to be taken before such a disaster happened. I spoke about the working class, about unionization, and about links between mine owners and certain politicians. I explained the dangers my constituents faced working there and urged my colleagues to come together, despite our political differences, to create a commission and examine conditions at the mine in depth.

Two opposition parties voted in favor, along with my party, the Republican People’s Party (known as the C.H.P.). But the deputies from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (known as the A.K.P.) all voted  »no. » As I said three weeks ago:  »Those who try to channel the hard work, struggle and labor of miners — who go down into the cold mines so that the world can have heat — into the short-term benefits of a political party … will pay for this, sooner or later, before history and before the working class of Turkey. » And now, just weeks after the majority in Parliament blocked an investigation, our worst nightmare has come true.

Since the fire, I’ve been at the mine every day until the early hours of the morning. We are pained by the grief of having to recover the lifeless bodies of our friends and neighbors. In the streets of Soma, everyone is walking around with tears in their eyes. In the midst of this indescribable pain, we’re doing all we can to support the grieving families. Several people have now been arrested — but the problem goes beyond a few irresponsible supervisors and profit-driven mine owners.

In Turkey today, there is no real democracy and there is no accountability. Deputies from the ruling party can never make decisions on their own; they do what they are told by Mr. Erdogan and other leaders of their party. That’s because, according to the prime minister, the opposition is a menace to power, and whatever we propose should be rejected.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is the links between politicians and mine owners. The mines in Soma are a textbook case of cushy corporate-government ties, and that’s why the ruling party didn’t want an investigation. Before last week’s tragedy, it wasn’t politically smart for them to investigate accidents in which just a few people had died here and there. But now, the balance sheet is heavy with deaths; now Turkey and the whole world can read the contents of my defeated proposal; and now, ironically, even the A.K.P. has proposed a similar inquiry and has brought it to the floor in Parliament.

I and many fellow members of the opposition will vote in favor of their proposal because we want Soma to be investigated. We will not vote  »no » just because the proposal was brought to the floor by the ruling party. We will act according to our consciences rather than political expediency.

But we also know that their petition is too little too late and that nothing will bring back the 301 men who perished.

* Ozgur Ozel is a Republican People’s Party deputy representing the Soma-Manisa district in Turkey’s Parliament. This essay was translated by Zeynep Tufekci from the Turkish.


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