The answers -- a non-scientific snapshot of public opinion -- nevertheless revealed an interesting picture. According to the majority of respondents, Labor Day is nothing more than a chance for additional, much appreciated time off work -- far removed from past generations’ anticipated class struggles.
What interests this commentator is whether employer-employee relations have already reached the same apparently trouble-free status here in Turkey, or whether May 1 remains a much needed ventilator for the country’s breadwinners, as well as business owners, to voice their legitimate concerns vis-à-vis the government?
Readers in Belgium consider May 1 primarily as another public holiday (47.7 percent), followed by those who continue to see it as celebrating worker’s rights (33.8 percent). Interestingly enough, only 11.3 percent describe it as the day of the trade union movement and even less (5.4 percent) regard it as a day of otherwise political importance. Just 1.8 percent of respondents have no opinion on the matter.
These data are even more interesting if we acknowledge that Belgium used to be one of those European countries where a very vociferous trade union movement managed to exercise considerable national influence. Have parameters shifted perhaps, and if so, to where?
Let us add two more figures from neighboring Germany. According to a statement by the German Trade Union’s National Federation this year, 490,000 participants attended 420 events scattered all over the country. What initially seems as a rather large number when compared with the country’s total working population is a mere drop in the ocean. Hence, is Germany another European state where the population, instead of heading to the town square or conference center, apparently prefers to pack its picnic bags instead?
Back in Turkey, one is forgiven for first evaluating whether this year’s May Day celebrations happened without any incidents, as among Turkish activists the memory of the 1977 massacre in İstanbul’s Taksim Square is all too vivid, and above all else is only recently being discussed in all its sad dimensions. The original perpetrators have still not been identified.
Except for minor scuffles here and there, May Day 2012 was as trouble-free as it could possibly be. Reports show civil society added non-workers’ rights issues to their agenda, and why not? Manifesting one’s legitimate interests and the right to association and staging peaceful demonstrations are a key individual citizen’s right. Hundreds of thousands exercised this right all over Turkey last Tuesday.
Besides relief at the fact that Turkish society -- and the authorities! -- have by now adopted the “peaceful demonstrations work” approach, what strikes me as equally important is that although of course not everything is as of yet shipshape in the domestic economy -- think inflation at just over 11 percent, then consider minimum wage levels, which eventually must rise quite considerably, and add much needed improvements in the national education system so that average earners no longer have to send their children to expensive weekend schools -- the ordinary citizen seems to be reasonably satisfied with the state of all things financial, at least temporarily. Or, put differently, Turkish society has appreciated the fact that the current government refrained from at once doubling wages and promising a worker’s paradise, only ultimately resulting in another economic meltdown similar to that of just over 10 years ago, but instead gradually modernized the domestic economy.
Yet Turkish trade unions are a key ingredient of civil society and so is their right to association. As a majority of the domestic workforce continues to be employed in non-computer-based jobs, taking blue collar as well as agriculture sector employees’ demands seriously is an absolute must for any national government and for business owners alike.
Hence, the parameters in Turkey are different from those I described above with regards to Belgium and Germany. After 2002, the Turkish economy had to be overhauled first, and civilian democracy was (almost) fully re-established thereafter. With the vital step of drafting a new civilian constitution currently under way as the next milestone, the pendulum can soon swing back once more to further improving conditions in the workplace. Economic improvements are intertwined with democratic stability! Labor Day is the logical ventilator to peacefully articulate these demands.