The Turkish Mining Disaster and the Case for Socialism

On Friday, at least 41 workers died in a firedamp explosion at the Amasra plant management mine of Turkish Coal Enterprises (TTK) in Bartın on the Black Sea coast. This preventable tragedy is an indictment of the capitalist system, the ruling class and the government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The stark contrast between the response of the miners who survived the explosion 300 meters underground and that of government officials reflects the position of the two major and irreconcilable classes of society at a time of life and death.

As miners risked death to descend and rescue their comrades trapped below – one miner died during the rescue effort – government officials led by President Erdoğan focused on suppressing public anger by describing the preventable catastrophe as a “destiny”.

Data compiled by the Health and Safety Labor Watch (OHS) in Turkey shows that at least 2,000 miners have died in mines in Turkey over the past 20 years. This can only be called “social murder”.

While the current level of scientific and technical development allows mining under the democratic control of the international working class without risk to the safety of workers, under capitalism workers are freely sacrificed on the altar of profit.

Miners occupy a critical position in the global capitalist economy, but they work in one of the most dangerous industries. According to the website “The World Counts”, at least 15,000 miners are killed each year worldwide, a figure based only on official data.

In Turkey, more than 90 miners have lost their lives so far this year, while in China, 129 miners have died in the first seven months of 2022. In 2021, 37 miners have died in the United States. Growing demand for coal due to the gas crisis resulting from NATO‘s war on Russia in Ukraine means the death toll is likely to rise.

While tens of thousands on social media blamed government negligence for the deaths at the Amasra mine, Erdoğan’s first reaction on Twitter was to tell the public to ignore “provocative and misinformation” spread by people “with sarcastic motives”. The Home Office has tried to intimidate mass anger by taking legal action against 12 social media users for “publicly inciting hatred and enmity and posting messages with provocative content”.

Erdoğan visited Amasra on Saturday and managed to find cause for celebration in connection with the dozens of deaths at a state-owned coal mine for which his government is responsible. He said, “I praise my Lord. The fact that we have come to a conclusion [i.e., all deaths] since last night, less than 24 hours ago, relieved us… Because in Soma, you know, it took too long.

In 2014, the lack of necessary precautions at a private mine owned by Soma Holding, close to the Erdoğan government, and the connivance of state authorities and the corporate union led to a massacre in which 301 miners died.

Mass protests erupted across the country after this, the worst mining disaster in Turkey’s history. However, the company’s chairman, Can Gürkan, was released from prison in 2019 and no one is currently serving his sentence for the disaster. Moreover, no senior state official has been held accountable.

After the Soma disaster, Erdoğan tried to normalize the deaths saying, “These are normal things. It’s in the nature of this job. »

Reflecting the indifference of the capitalist ruling class as a whole to the lives and welfare of working people, Erdoğan said essentially the same thing after the Amasra disaster. “We are people who believe in the plan of fate,” he said. “These [deaths] will always happen, and we need to know that.

But despite government officials’ attempts to shirk their responsibilities by talking about ‘fate’, the limited data available shows that in Amasra, as in Soma and many other mining disasters, workers were sacrificed in pursuit of profit. . Necessary and well-known precautions have been removed.

In a report by the Court of Auditors published in 2019, a stark warning was issued. The report stated:

In 2019, the plant’s stabilized production depth was 300 meters. This deepening leads to increased risks of serious accidents, such as a sudden eruption of gas and coal or a firedamp strike.

Ayhan Yüksel, president of the Chamber of Mining Engineers, said in a statement:

There is an accident here due to negligence… We know that there are two problems of negligence: 1) the rise of the gas and 2) the fire which causes the gas to explode. Without these forms of negligence, there would not have been such an accident.

During the funeral of Rahman Özçelik, one of the miners who lost his life, Özçelik’s sister asked Erdoğan: “Ten-fifteen days ago, my brother told me that there was a leak gas here. [in the mine]. “They’re going to blow us up soon,” he said. How was this overlooked? »

She received no response.

Miners carry the body of a victim to Amasra, in Turkey’s coastal province of Bartın, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. (Nilay Meryem Comlek/Depo Photos via AP) [AP Photo/ (Nilay Meryem Comlek/Depo Photos via AP)]

According to press reports, over the past three years, about half of the funds allocated to the Turkish State Coal Enterprises (TTK) have not been disbursed and there is a shortage of workers in the mines. The number of miners at the Amasra plant, which employed 5,000 workers in the late 1970s, has now fallen to 720. The number of miners employed at TTK as a whole has fallen from over 40,000 to 8,600 .

This results in pressure to speed up production and achieve more output with far fewer workers. On September 20, Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez visited Amasra with bureaucrats from the miners’ union, which functions as an arm of the government, and announced a “target to increase production”.

The increased exploitation of workers in the private and public sectors through large-scale privatization and deregulation policies, carried out with the complicity of the unions, is the centerpiece of a social counter-revolution that has been underway for decades.

As the bourgeoisie, under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan in the United States and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Britain, imposed class war measures against working people around the world, the dissolution of the Soviet Union by the Stalinist bureaucracy in 1991 marked a turning point in the deterioration of the social conditions of the international working class. These measures, which began to be implemented in Turkey in the aftermath of the NATO-backed military coup in 1980, have gained momentum, especially over the past 20 years.

Erdoğan’s call “Let’s never lose our unity and solidarity” after appealing to religious feelings at a miner’s funeral reflects the primary concern of his government and the ruling class it represents.

The Erdoğan government has overseen a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to finance capital since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is sitting on a social powder keg that is about to explode.

Turkey is one of the epicentres of the global inflationary push, with official inflation exceeding an annual rate of 80%. A recent survey estimates that 90% of the population lives below the poverty line.

In 2022, Turkey has seen many strikes as part of the growing international movement of the working class against the soaring cost of living and intolerable working and living conditions under capitalism. Doctors and other healthcare workers have carried out several nationwide strikes, and there has been a huge increase in wildcat strike activity. This includes the iron miners in Divriği stopping work in January to demand better wages and benefits.

Miners have a long tradition of wrestling in Turkey, as they do all over the world. The western Black Sea basin, including Amasra, was the epicenter of these struggles. In 1965, a wildcat strike over harsh working conditions and low wages in Zonguldak spread to mines in the area. The government was only able to quell this mass movement by sending thousands of soldiers to the area and killing two miners.

The Great March of the Miners of 1990-1991 is one of the milestones of the struggles of the Turkish working class. The strike, which began in November 1990, turned into a mass march to the capital, Ankara, in the first days of 1991, with the participation of more than 80,000 miners and their family members.

Terrified that the miners, chanting against the Gulf War and against brutal attacks on their social conditions, might mobilize broader sections of the working class, the government deployed units of the army and the police to block the entrances to the capital.

The defeat of the miners’ struggle, following the betrayal of the GMİS bureaucracy and the Türk-İş trade union confederation, which continue to “represent” the Amasra miners, paved the way for successive attacks on the miners and the whole working class.

The Amasra mining disaster underscores the fact that capitalism is hostile to the safety and well-being of the working class, especially miners. The same objective drive of capitalism – for profit, private wealth and the geopolitical interests of the ruling classes – has dictated the preventable deaths of more than 20 million people worldwide and permanent health problems for countless others in the world. COVID-19 pandemic. Known and necessary public health measures have not been implemented because they intersect with certain economic and financial interests linked to financial markets and the exploitation of workers at work.

This gratuitous sacrifice of workers’ lives and health continues. It finds its most extreme expression in the reckless escalation of the US-NATO war against Russia in Ukraine, which, in the words of chief warmonger Joe Biden, risks “nuclear Armageddon”.

The same systemic crisis that is pushing capitalism towards nuclear holocaust creates the conditions for the revolutionary mobilization of the international working class to end war, industrial murder and despotism through global socialist revolution. It means establishing workers’ governments to nationalize the mines and all major industries under the democratic control of the working class, coordinated on a global basis.

The International Alliance of Rank and File Committee Workers, initiated by the International Committee of the Fourth International, is being built to unite the struggles of workers around the world to carry out this urgent task. Join this fight! There’s no time to lose !

About William Ferguson

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