Education trade unionists from around the world meet in Ankara on 6 and 7 March for the “Education Trade Unions, Rights, Freedoms and Governments International Symposium”, in solidarity with embattled Turkish education unionists struggling for the respect of their rights, their profession and for education as a whole.
Education International (EI) General Secretary David Edwards, in opening remarks to the symposium, organised by EI member organisation Eğitim Sen, recalled that “last year EI celebrated its anniversary. We looked at the many changes that took place in that quarter century; progress and setbacks.” He regretted that “one thing that has not changed, unfortunately, is the danger and threats to teacher trade unionists and their leaders in Turkey.”
Eğitim Sen and its global union, EI, have a “long joint history”. He mentioned issues of the right to organise and bargain, the fight to teach and learn in one’s mother tongue, overcoming the attempted ban on the union, imprisonment of teacher leaders without due process, mass dismissal of teachers and other workers in the public services following the failed coup d’état, ongoing, interminable trials, attacks on academic freedom and attempts to transform education into indoctrination.
Ongoing dangers and challenges
Edwards suggested that among the lessons to be learned from our common experience in Turkey are:
- “Democracy is fragile. It must be fought for every day;
- “All human rights are linked, and repressive governments are not likely to pick one out of the pack for abuse and leave the others intact, at least not for long;
- “Fighting for rights and justice means that you are never alone; and
- “Trade unionists and their leaders with courage, determination, and solidarity may be defeated, but they will never be destroyed.”
Democracy needs trade unions
Edwards stressed that the fight for trade union freedom in Turkey is part of larger picture; a global battle for human rights and democracy, saying, “although workers struggle to form trade unions in very undemocratic situations, for them to thrive, there needs to be the oxygen of democracy. That is one of the reasons that the existence of democracy is so fundamental to our own existence. Businesses prospered in Pinochet’s Chile and are doing quite well today in China and Saudi Arabia. But, trade unions only prosper in freedom.”
Emphasising that “just as trade unions need democracy, democracy needs trade unions,” he also said that “it is not an accident that autocratic governments fear trade unions. Even in repressive systems, independent unions are islands of democracy and, as such, provide hope. Hope is the enemy of tyrants.”
To have hope, one must have vision; for trade unions, it is a vision of freedom, social justice, and peace, Edwards affirmed that, “being here today and witnessing your courage and commitment and solidarity comforts and reaffirms both that vision and that hope. Together education trade unionists are a tough, resilient bunch. And, they hold a lever to move the world”.
In her remarks to the symposium, Susan Flocken, Director of the EI European Region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), said, “Freedom of expression, the right to organise and to bargain collectively along with fundamental human rights, including women’s rights, are not a reality for many of our colleagues in Turkey”.
She added that “through our participation in the symposium, we express our solidarity with our colleagues, teachers and unionists, who remain victims of a repressive regime and of the derailing of education policy in the country.”
Flocken observed that, “It is clear from this symposium that you continue your high commitment to trade union values and quality education and the future of Turkey. Being here with you today and the visit to the EU delegation later is a sign that we deliver concrete actions together.
An EI delegation asked for a meeting with Turkey’s Minister of National Education, Prof. Ziya Selçuk to discuss trade union and education issues. There was no response to the request for dialogue from the Government of Turkey.
The purpose of the symposium
The international symposium organised by Eğitim Sen features discussions of Turkish trade unionists with their colleagues from Europe and other regions. Sessions cover trade union rights violations, including country cases, the role of unions on education policy and their relations with governments, issues of academic freedom and the roles of trade unions and governments, and furthering gender equality through trade union action and education policy.
In the opening session, Eğitim Sen General Secretary Velat Kara set the stage for the discussions by describing the overall trade union situation in Turkey. He said that conditions, “are still very serious and the pressure on our trade union is still going on.” .
He informed the gathering that “more than 1,600 of our members were dismissed by law decrees and are still waiting to get their jobs back. A commission was formed after the state of emergency for dealing with the applications of those dismissed for legal remedy. The process takes too long and it seems that our members have to wait for a very long time for a real remedy. International solidarity is crucial for us and our members.”
The symposium is part of the ongoing struggle to defend the rights of teachers to have free, independent unions and the collective power to protect freedom and basic human dignity. It deepens the international understanding and unity in defence of common trade union values.
Members of the international delegation present at the symposium to show support for Turkish colleagues are, among others: DAÜ-SEN, KTOEOS and KTÖS/Cyprus, FNEC FP-FO, SNES-FSU and SNESUP-FSU/France, GEW/Germany, DOE and OLME/Greece, NASUWT and UCU/UK, and NEA/USA.