Turkey’s Preventable Tragedy – by Ozgur Ozelmay (New York Times – May 20, 2014)


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.

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.

For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/opinion/turkeys-preventable-tragedy.html?_r=0

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