A total of 98 deaths in the last seven years: the shipbuilding business is booming in Turkey, but to achieve this growth the safety of the workers has been neglected. Turkey’s biggest shipbuilding area is Tuzla, south of Istanbul. Workers went on strike last Monday to demand safer working conditions, but when I went to take a look, I saw mainly students supporting the workers and only a handful of workers on strike. I talked to a few of them. They didn’t blame their colleagues for not joining the strike. If you are not experienced, they said, you can easily lose your job if you oppose your boss. And the reality is that most of the workers are inexperienced. They come from poor eastern cities like Diyarbakir and Sanliurfa to work for a few months or a year and then return home again. They have no qualifications, no experience in shipbuilding and no knowledge about safety or workers’ rights. They only want to work and earn more than they can at home.
The workers I talked to, wanted to keep on striking this week. That didn’t happen: next day, they all went back to work. A strike with not even five percent of the workers taking part, is not effective. But all the fuss about the deaths in Tuzla, and the media attention the strike got, have lead to negotiations this week in which even Prime Minister Erdogan participated. ‘One more death, and the punishment for the companies will be harsh!’, he said. Well, we all know Erdogan is good with words. I’m afraid this meeting will not be the end of Tuzla deaths. Let’s hope it’s at least the beginning of some sort of change. So we will not have to mourn the hundredth death.