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On July 9 2021, Tahir Çetin, the iconic leader of the Bağımsız Maden İşçileri Sendikası (Turkish Independent Mining Union) and Ali Faik İnter, a young 26 year old member of the union, died in an automobile accident as they were returning from a protest.
They had gone to Ankara on July 4th with a group of miners working for the Uyar Madencilik enterprise in Soma, whose dismissal indemnities have not been paid after15 years. Despite a meeting with a delegation of the Ministry of Energy, their efforts were in vain. And on July 8, they took the road to return to Soma. The accident occurred on the way home.
Tahir Çetin and Ali Faik İnter were buried on July 10th by their relatives and comrades with much emotion and grief.
Along with a group of miners, Tahir Çetin was greeted by security forces at the entrance into Ankara… In order for the miners to finally receive their indemnities, he had met with Mustafa Elitaş, Vice-President of the AKP group at the National Assembly which has been blocking for months a projected bill prepared with the approval of the Ministers of the Interior and of Energy. And, during the last meeting with Mustafa Elitaş, he was told “I have nothing to do with this! You worked for me, maybe?…”
As a tribute to this 49 year old man, a constant presence in the struggle, here is the video and the translation of his words on July 7th, words spoken in justified anger. These moving words were his last.
You will also find a few excerpts of some of his other interviews.
The Minister of the Interior made a declaration for the benefit of public opinion. He said: “I am on the side of the miners”. He promised us “I will hold a meeting with the Minister of Energy”. Indeed, he kept his word and prepared a project he entrusted to Mustafa Elitaş, President of the AKP group. We met with Mustafa Elitaş three times. He told us the President of the Republic had reached a decision. Unfortunately, for the past two months, Mustafa Elitaş has blocked the bill agreed to by two ministers. A law is a law!
We must ask Mustafa Elitaş “you told us, in three meetings, we will find a way.” A way! The law is the way! What other way can there be other than a law? For years you have become corruption and injustice enthusiasts. We want a law. A law! Pay the dues owed these workers with a law. On what other law, on what motive do you base yourself in order to stop the passing of a law by a parliament elected by the common will of the people? So, this Assembly has no will, no strength? These workers do not own their own sweat? Or are you the Assembly’s elected ones?
We constantly find the special forces, the soldiers, the gendarmes standing in our face. Why? For the love of god, why?
Mustafa Elitaş says that there is a blockage against this law since 2012. How can you do this? Who did you ask? Who? (He turns and speaks to the workers) Comrades, did he ask you? (They answer “no” as one.) Illegally, unjustly, without dealing human to human, how can you do this?
Enough! Our 301 comrades are looking at us. 1. That’s enough, for the love of god!”
On 1+1 in 2018, Tahir Çetin said:
“I started working in the mine in 2004. Before that, I raised tobacco and goats. When the State imposed quotas on tobacco, revenues fell, I sold the goats and started working in the mine. I’ve been there since. My whole family comes from cultivation and herding and we are all from Kınık, the district neighboring on Soma.
At first, we didn’t know what a union was. Then we were told ‘those who want a salary increase should join the union’. This is why we joined. But we saw clearly that the Türk Maden-İş union was oriented toward the employer and the State. This is why, following the Soma disaster, we said ‘the union is the assassin of 301 miners, its leaders must resign’.
Seeing this, we started to organize. Türk Maden-İş was on the side of the State and the bosses. We follow the line of DISK (Revolutionary Workers Union). The words were there, but not the actions. Dev Maden-Sen had a rather bureaucratic structure… So we decided to create Bağımsız Maden-İş (Independent Mining Union) where the word, the authority and the decisions would be those of the miners.
After the disaster, every leftist came here. Most of them spoke, then they went away. Then they attacked us, asking ‘how is it that many of you voted for the AKP?’ To what extent did you reach out to our comrades so they would not vote AKP? People don’t become politicized only through financial assistance. No structures were set up to be with people in cafes, in the street, at the table…
3731 workers were fired in 2014 and have not received their indemnities in 5 years. The workers whose rights were confiscated have organized within a council. They gave an ultimatum to Türkiye Kömür İşletmeleri (TKI) (State institution managing mines). They decided to march on Ankara on September 13 2019.”
In an interview with 1+1, 1+1 in 2019, Tahir Çetin detailed the working conditions and explained how an entirely mechanized system had been installed since 2014. It has increased dust to excessive levels. Moreover, a chemical product is injected in the coal against explosions. Breathed in, it causes problems. As iron is much used in the new system, welding is common and this rarefies available oxygen. “All the mines function this way now. This means there is a production system which is a serious source of professional illnesses and of extreme fatigue”. Tahir Çetin indicates that with the elimination of the use of dynamite, collapses have been reduced by 99%. “The risk of a collapse was preferable because you stood a chance of escaping. Now, the dusty environment leaves you no chance at all. If no measures are taken against professional illnesses, death awaits the miners at age 40, 50…”
“Following controls every six months, comrades are fired because of lung problems. Chronic Obstructive lung disease and other lung illnesses have increased. Neither the government nor the boss-controlled union have conducted any research on these professional diseases. The thought system prevails of “god sent the illness. There’s nothing to be done about it. We are finished with you. Go back to your family and die there.” We must keep on repeating that things should not be done this way. People we call “powerful” make use of every available medical possibility for themselves, but when it comes to the workers, they don’t even lift a finger. When we explain this to the worker, the boss-controlled union says ‘who do you think you are? We are the authority here’. Both the bosses and the State are on its side. It’s hard to confront them all… The workers say ‘I’m afraid’. We attempt to resolve these problems by structuring ourselves.
We think and act in a logic of committees. A worker joining our union is included in the work done by the workers’ committees. Structuring committees everywhere is a priority for us, more than that of being a union member.”
Tahir Çetin was of that caliber of men who do not bend or break in front of authority, State or bosses. He will be sorely missed in the Turkish union movement, both because he was lucid in terms of the organization of the political and union worlds in Turkey, but also because he was pushing for workers to be autonomous and to organize councils between themselves, as a guarantee against being bought out by anyone.
The struggle for Soma will suffer the consequences, because if no man or woman is a gift of providence, struggles always need a strong voice and judicious organizers capable of widening the scope, and representing them at their own risk and peril.
Once again, here’s to Tahir Çetin, ceaseless fighter for the collective.
Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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