Towards a United Struggle for a Right to Health and a Secure Future!

Progressive labor organizations gathered under the slogan, “United Struggle for Healthcare and a Right for a Secure Future for Everyone” and called for a struggle against a newly introduced bill for Social Security and National Healthcare, held a 4 hour long meeting in Petrol-Is (Oil Worker’s Union) headquarters in Istanbul, Altunizade with a big turnout. Some Attendees had to follow the meeting from outside the standing room only conference room where lively discussions took place.

Meeting started at 1:00pm with the participation of the following organizations: Istanbul Physicians’ Association, Istanbul Pharmacists’ Association, Istanbul Dentists’ Association, Istanbul Veterinarians’ Association, KESK (Confederation of Public Workers Unions) Istanbul Branches Platform, TMMOB (Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architect) Istanbul City Coordination Board, Turk-Is (Confederation of Labor Unions of Turkey) Istanbul Branches, DISK (Progressive Labor Union Organizations) Istanbul Branches and Dev Saglik-is (Progressive Union of Healthcare Workers). There were already 500 workers and representatives including those sitting on the steps and trying to listen from outside the door because they could not get in. Even though the labor coalition called the “Istanbul United Labor Platform”, did not include the Hak-is (The Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions), Kamu-Sen (Confederation of Unions of Public Employees of Turkey) and Memur-sen (Confederation of Unions of Civil Service) or TEKSIF (Textile, Knitting and Clothing Industry Workers’ Union of Turkey), the members of these organizations, Serna/Seral textile workers, who have been on strike for 128 days, came to the meeting as a contingent, in their work aprons, banners and slogans to participate and for support.

Meeting started with the overview of the proposed bill on General Health Insurance and continued with discussions where different labor organization representatives voiced their views and suggestions.

After the welcome opening of the President of Progressive Union of Healthcare Workers, Dogan Halis, meeting continued with the opening speech of Professor Gencay Gursoy MD. As the President of I.T.O (Istanbul Physicians’ Association), Gursoy stated that a process against the workers’ benefits in health care and social security was initiated with the boss’ attacks when they tried taking the worker’s rights away relying on the defensive political strategy of the working class after the collapse of socialism. Gursoy emphasized that health care and social security for all could only be possible under socialism.

After Gursoy, Turk-Is (Confederation of Labor Unions of Turkey) Presidential advisor Celal Tozan spoke about the introduced bills in the Parliament making the retirement impossible for majority of the workers. Tozan said that the problems Government is trying to remedy would not be resolved but worsened under these laws. He also added that reversing these attacks on the working class is only possible with a “mass opposition”. Tozan especially emphasized that the new proposed bills revoke even the limited independence of the SSK (Social Insurance Institution).

Osman Öztürk MD, from Istanbul Physicians’ Association, said that the new bills were actually General Unhealth and Social Insecurity laws that even the World Bank had specified as “high risk” due to “economic and political reasons”. Öztürk emphasized that according to the World Bank, the highest risk was the mass opposition. He said this meant that the mass opposition must shoulder the responsibility to stop this set-up.

After the Presidents of Genel-Is (General Service Workers’ Union of Turkey) Branch 3 and Yol-Is (Road Maintenance Workers’ Union) Branch 1, The President of Egitim-Sen (Education Workers Union) Branch 2, Hasan Toprak suggested that un-organized, poor laborers should be educated about these proposed laws. He said, referendums and mass protest meetings should be organized and people should be prepared for a general strike. Subsequently a dock yard worker, Ali Dogan gave information on their ongoing educational and propaganda meetings in Tuzla and surrounding communities, and how this had to be spread to the other either organized or unorganized workers.

After Yapi Yol-Sen (Road, Building and Surveyor Laborers’ Union) manager Nizamettin Orhan, speaking on behalf of the ITO (Physicians Association of Istanbul), General Secretary Ali Çerkezoğlu said that the common point where the whole society met was the effect of impoverishment. “Bird Flu broke the Government’s routine trend. They realized that their job was not that easy. We also need to have a united struggle to stop these laws. In order to do this, we need to understand and to explain that we are able to reverse this process. We also need to construct and extend the base (the platform and the means) of this struggle. Çerkezoğlu finished his speech stating that a promising and decisive labor platform had been established and had already started information sharing. He said, by organizing the day-to-day aspect of this process, it guaranteed the success of the struggle.

Another speech that drew attention was made by Ferda Koç from the Progressive Healthcare Workers Union. Koç reminded the previous discussions on “The law of Retirement in Grave (the name workers had given to the retirement law that delayed the retirement age to more senior years) was snuck passed in the shadow of the earthquake (referring to the large devastating earthquake that shook western Turkey at the time). They will pass this law just like that also.” Koç said that ‘Retirement in Grave’ laws passed not because they took advantage of the earthquake situation, but because of the betrayal of a Union Confederation’s President. This Confederation President had mentioned that he, “agreed with the Government in principle” in the hallways of the government’s Ministry while the workers were at the peak of the struggle against this law. Koç said, “Fight is about the privatization of the basic services. For the workers and poor the problem is the destruction these policies represent. Fight is between labor and capital, socialism and capitalism, life and death. This fight is about commercializing policies of the basic services against the socializing demand of the working class. There is no middle way. For this reason, the people who don’t have clear answers in their heads to the questions of whether it is left or it is right, whether it is imperialism or it is the people, whether it is socialism or it is capitalism, should not be allowed to lead in this struggle. There should not be any negotiations in this fight either. For ‘A seat in the administration of GSS (General Health Insurance) or for some other concession’ one cannot give up life for death. This, is not a fight of the future, it is today’s fight. It is the fight of the babies who are being killed in the hospitals where subcontracting spreads like cancer, causing hygienic problems. It is the fight of Fatma Özcan who had bird flu but could not go to the hospital because of her unpaid hospital bills. This fight that requires a great decisiveness and sacrifice also has a positive side too. The left in Turkey has a chance to communicate with the people about the left politics on these issues, which is a concern of every section of the society. It is our historical duty not to miss this chance. Left should take back the working class and middle class from the hands of right wing reactionaries.”

After the speeches by the representatives of Tez-Koop-Is (Trade Cooperative, Education, Office and Fine Arts Workers’ Union of Turkey) , Tum Bel-Sen (Municipality and Local Government Service Workers’ Union), Egitim-Sen (Education Workers Union), Halkevleri (People Houses – Cultural and Political Organizations) region 1 representative, İlknur Birol, in her speech said that, Halkevleri had been struggling for free education, free health care and a secure fut
ure for a long time. She added that Halkevleri would shoulder this struggle with its 14 branches in Istanbul.

Meeting ended with Dogan Halis summarizing the suggestions that will be the proposal points coming out from this conference as agenda items to be put into practice. The proposed suggestions of the meeting are:

• A mass rally from Mecidiyekoy to AKP building in Istanbul
• Widespread education campaign in working class and poor neighborhoods and unionized and un-unionized work places
• Setting up local worker’s platforms and expanding them
• Widespread press conferences
• A mass meeting
• General Strike.

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