Thursday 27 June 2013

June 27 Video: Thousands take to the streets across the North-West

"#teacherROAR' is trending across Twitter tonight as teachers voice their anger at all the main media outlets' attempts to ignore the success of today's NUT North-West regional strike.

Here's a video from Liverpool of the kind of scenes they should be showing ( thanks to Peter Glover, NUT NEC member for the Region ) :


... of course, if they think they can ignore a REGIONAL strike, then that's one more good reason to escalate our action to a NATIONAL strike !

 (... and thanks to Barnsley NUT for adding their name to the list of Associations nominating me to stand for NUT Vice-President at their meeting tonight )

For a few more press articles, have a look on: 

Wednesday 26 June 2013

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH - June 27 is when we start to push Gove back

"Enough is enough" sums up the mood of teachers across the country. We've had enough of Gove's attacks on teachers and education - and that's why, on June 27, tens of thousands of NUT and NASUWT members across the North-West of England will be on strike.

JUNE 27 UPDATE from Liverpool NUT: The support for the strike is tremendous. 142 schools in the city are totally closed, just 22 partially open (mainly where ATL have members), and only 3 are largely unaffected. There is a similar solid response right across Merseyside !

Today's Spending Review announcements only confirm that this Government is going to 'carry on cutting'. School budgets won't really be 'protected'. No, it will be another year when jobs will be threatened, support for students will be cut and, thanks to performance-related pay, schools will look to balance their books by blocking teachers' pay-rises. The Department of Education's overall budget is being cut by 1%.  

"Enough is enough" was also the suggestion put forward by a member of the NUT LGBT Advisory Committee as a working title for November's LGBT Conference, encompassing the anger of all teachers, but of LGBT teachers in particular. For, just as was also pointed out by Black teachers at the Southwark NUT AGM that I attended tonight, performance-pay will inevitably mean discrimination and injustice.

Injustice will be a thread running through the TUC LGBT Conference that I will be attending over the next two days at TUC Congress House. I hope to be able to speak on the international debates in particular, to highlight the Turkish government's attacks on trade union rights, but also on the rights of women and LGBT rights too.

As I concluded in a report from that international visit (see video on: ) often the best way to show solidarity is to build your own successful struggles at home. June 27 2013 needs to be remembered as the date when we started, once again, to build a struggle to stop Michael Gove wrecking education and wrecking teachers' lives. Except, this time, we need to continue the strike programme until we succeed!

The teacher who suggested that title of "enough is enough" was travelling back tonight to the North-West. Along with tens of thousands of other colleagues, she will be on strike on June 27. 

Back in London, those of us in the NUT delegation at the LGBT Conference will be wearing our green NUT 'Standing Up for Education" T-shirts in solidarity with Emma and all her colleagues. I'll be calling on all TUC unions to give their solidarity too - but also to start making plans for us to all strike together to defeat this Government's attacks.

 (... and thanks to Southwark NUT and City of Leicester NUT for adding their names to the list of Associations nominating me to stand for NUT Vice-President at their meetings tonight )

Tuesday 25 June 2013

June 25 in London: a warm-up for June 27 across the North-West!

A thousand London teachers, many wearing green NUT "Stand Up For Education" T-Shirts, marched past the Department of Education tonight to a packed NUT rally. 

If the mood of London teachers tonight is replicated on Thursday in the North-West, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be, then the strike on June 27 will be solid, and the momentum building for decisive action to oppose Gove's attacks on teachers and education will continue to grow.

The demonstration gathered outside Westminster Cathedral and then marched onto Victoria Street. The chants of "Gove Must Go" rang out as we walked past the Department of Education before finishing with a short indoor rally nearby.

The police had told us that they were leaving the NUT to steward the march entirely on our own - and we did! The whole march was stewarded safely through the traffic and road junctions without any sign of a single police officer.

The only 'disruption' was caused by the two would-be Coalition 'politicians' from the 'Revolution Will Be Televised" whose satirical attack on the unions and teachers brought a comic end to the rally.

The mood for action was clear. What was missing, unfortunately, was any clear message from the rally as to what action was to follow after the June 27 North-West strike. A clear call for a continuing  calendar of national action is needed. If such a call is given, then teachers will respond. 

However, what is confirmed is that London teachers will be rallying again on Saturday September 14th at 11:00am in the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre (next to Central Hall, Westminster), in preparation for the action that should follow next term.

(... and thanks to Central Bedfordshire for adding their name to the list of Associations nominating me to stand for NUT Vice-President at their meeting tonight )

Sunday 23 June 2013

RALLY in London on Tuesday, STRIKE in the North-West on Thursday

On Thursday June 27, NUT and NASUWT members across twenty-two Local Authorities in the North-West of England are being called upon to take region-wide strike action. Strike rallies will be taking place in Manchester, Preston, Chester and Liverpool.

Across the rest of England and Wales, teachers are being asked to show their solidarity with the North-West action by wearing stickers, sending in messages and photos of support, and other actions.

In London, there will be a regional march and rally on Tuesday January 25 in the build-up to Thursday's strike in the North-West. Marchers are assembling at Westminster Cathedral, near Victoria, at 5pm.

In the latest LANAC newsletter, two North-West NUT Officers, both from Associations affiliated to LANAC, explain why the June 27 strike is so important:

“Teachers teach because they care about children, so we are always reluctant to strike. However, Gove’s latest ‘reforms’ leave us with no choice but to strike on 27 June; our pay and pensions have been attacked and now Gove wants to sweep away anything and everything that protects us from exploitation in our contracts.

This government has singled out teachers as we are the best organised, most unionised workforce in the country. The fight back begins in the North-West this Thursday. We can - and we will win!”

Greg Foster, Secretary, Cheshire West and Chester NUT.

“ Pay, pensions, workload, holidays, OFSTED, surveillance…the attacks on teachers have never been as severe. In many schools this Government has created an atmosphere of terror. Managers with no teaching responsibility roam schools armed with   clipboards and OFSTED-inspired grids, pouncing on teachers. “Drop-ins” that turn into capability procedures are the vogue.

Gove hopes to ‘do a Maggie’ and smash  the teachers but this is a weak and divided coalition which we can beat. Our June 27 strike must be just the first step in pressing back the Government’s offensive. We have to win. We have to escalate to win. We have to show the weak and divided Coalition our iron determination. We will not be a sacrifice to Gove’s ambition! Victory to the teachers! ”

Peter Glover, Liverpool NUT and NUT National Executive member for Merseyside and Cheshire.

A copy of the LANAC newsletter can be downloaded from:

Turkish Police use 'Chemical Weapons' on Protestors

As I wrote in my report from the trade union delegation visit to Istanbul last weekend, the pictures of the TOMA water-cannon vehicle spraying peaceful demonstrators only tell part of the story.

As I explained then, after being sprayed with the 'water' from these police vehicles, "it took all of us time to realise that the choking fumes and burning skin were coming from the water from the TOMA. A soaking from this chemical spray left protestors clutching for air and ready to vomit ... if the British and American governments are really concerned about the use of chemical weaponry, perhaps they could start by pressurising their ally Erdogan to stop spraying acidic chemicals on its people". 

Now I know why our skin was burning, eyes stinging and lungs choking. A Turkish news website has posted a video showing police adding pepper-spray directly to the water-tanks!

Have a look for yourself on:

Is it pepper-spray? Well it's clearly a chemical manufactured by Jenix, an Istanbul-based pepper-spray manufacturer with a website:

Who can tell what the side-effects and reactions are of receiving a soaking in this kind of chemical, a chemical sprayed sprayed so liberally around Taksim Square last weekend?  It looked, and felt, like a form of chemical weaponry to me.

For further information, see a video report of Friday's Lobby of the Turkish Embassy where I have a chance to make these points on film:

Read my report from last weekend's delegation to Istanbul, including photographs of the TOMA water-cannon vehicles:

NUT, NASUWT: All Out in the North-West on 27 June!

On Thursday, 27 June, teachers across the North-West of England will be showing their opposition to the government's attacks on teachers and education by taking region-wide strike action. 

As the latest bulletin from LANAC, the Local Associations National Action Campaign, states: "It will undoubtedly be an inspiring and well-supported start [to the calendar of action]. But teachers need to know that we are mounting a determined campaign aimed at pushing the Government into retreat, not just to protest at the inevitable ... by attacking conditions, when teachers’ workload is at almost impossible levels already, Gove has raised the stakes massively; it's high time we raised our game as well."

To read the full article on the LANAC website visit:

Saturday 22 June 2013

Strike to force Gove back - before he forces you out of teaching

* Don’t let Gove destroy young people's education 
* Don’t let Gove wreck teachers’ lives
* National Strike Action can beat back Gove !

Michael Gove's latest attack on teachers' working conditions are reason enough to make sure that the North-West strike on June 27 will be massively supported by NUT and NASUWT members. June 27 has to be just the start of a bold calendar of action.

Gove’s evidence to the Review Body spells out that he’s throwing everything he can at us. Already, our pensions have been cut and performance-pay has been imposed. Now he wants us to work even longer days, with shorter holidays, and with other workload protections such as rights to PPA time abolished too.

We have to show Gove that teachers are not going to sit back and see our pay, pensions and conditions ripped apart. Nor are we going to let this Government destroy children’s chances of a decent education.

We cannot let Gove and Cameron implement their plans to cut costs by slashing pay, jobs and conditions. They will leave schools staffed by inexperienced, badly-paid, demoralised teachers who can be thrown aside then replaced at the whim of a bullying Headteacher.

The Government hopes that these attacks on pay and conditions will create a frightened, compliant workforce who will jump when the Head says 'jump', ruled over by a frightened, compliant Head who will jump when Wilshaw and Ofsted say 'jump’ as well ! Either we allow them to run riot over our pay, conditions, job security and union organisation - or we mount a serious struggle.

The more unions have held back, the more confident Gove has felt to escalate his attacks. Now, we have to force him back by escalating our national action
- and we must continue until he is forced to retreat.

At the very least, unions now need to boldly implement the existing plan for further joint NUT/NASUWT action next term. That would mean announcing the dates for the next regional strikes in September and October, as well as making plans to co-ordinate our proposed national strike in November with other unions looking to take action against government attacks like the PCS. 

However, Gove already knows we’ve got that action planned and he’s still going on the attack. To show this Government - and our teaching colleagues - that we are serious, we now need to accelerate and escalate our action plans.

I believe that we should now be considering calling a one-day national strike early next term and then preparing for a two-day strike to defend teachers and education.

To download a longer version of this article laid out as a Socialist Party Teachers' leaflet, go to:

Turkish Embassy insults our trade union delegation

Arm-in-arm to deliver our letter of protest (Martin on the left)
Yesterday, the ITF (International Transport Workers' Federation), IUF (International Union of Food workers), the TUC and UK unions UNITE, RMT, PCS, CWU, Prospect, ASLEF and NUT amongst others, joined forces with the Taksim Solidarity Committee to demonstrate outside the Turkish Embassy in London against the ongoing oppression of protestors in Taksim Square and throughout Turkey.

UPDATE: See this ITF video of the protest - where I am able to point out how Turkish police are using chemical agents in the water-cannon sprayed on protestors:

I was part of a delegation of union and community representatives that had hoped for a meeting with the Turkish Ambassador. Insultingly, but perhaps not surprisingly given the Turkish Government's record of repression against trade union activists, the Embassy even refused to open the door to accept our letter of protest.

Despite their refusal to meet us, a noisy demonstration gathered outside the Embassy, finishing with a silent 'duranadam' standing protest. 

I was one of a number of speakers who were able to bring our messages of support and solidarity to the assembled members of the Turkish and Kurdish communities in particular. However, I also pointed out to UK trade unionists that, as the victory against price-rises in Brazil had shown, sometimes the best way to show solidarity is to give workers internationally your own examples of successful struggle. British trade unions urgently need to co-ordinate strike action to oppose cuts and attacks on jobs, pay, pensions and conditions.

The demonstration coincided with other actions taking place around the world. Get more info:

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Gove plans to remove all significant workload protections from teachers' contracts

Another week, another attack from Michael Gove. This time he’s set out for the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) a list of the next attacks that he wants them to recommend: This time it’s about slashing our working conditions, on top of cutting our pay and pensions.

A WORD version of this information can be downloaded from the Lewisham NUT website on 

Cut costs – Rip-up teachers' contracts – Make them work even longer

His evidence to the Review Body runs to over 100 pages. However, it can be summarised in one sentence: Gove wants to remove every significant contractual workload protection we have in order to cut public spending.

Significantly, a large section of the evidence is about the economy: “The UK’s fiscal vulnerabilities argue strongly in favour of maintaining a credible path of deficit reduction. Despite significant progress since 2010, the UK is forecast to have the largest deficit in the EU in 2013/14. Among the G7, only the US and Japan are forecast to have larger deficits in 2013/14. Uncertainty in the global outlook reinforces the case for stability in the Government’s plans for fiscal consolidation. Clear and credible consolidation plans remain essential for reducing the risk of a costly loss of market confidence in the UK”.

In other words, the cuts aren’t working, so we’re going to keep on cutting.

It states clearly enough that the “Secretary of State’s objectives for the reform of teachers’ terms and conditions are:

• to provide both teachers and headteachers with greater freedom and flexibility to determine how they can best serve their pupils and schools and fulfil their responsibilities

• to give schools as much freedom as possible to manage their resources effectively and efficiently so as to improve their practice and outcomes and achieve better value for money”

In other words, budgets will be cut, jobs will be lost, and teachers are going to be bullied into working even harder and even longer.

Why should a ‘professional’ need contractual protection from excessive workload?! Apparently, “Detailed central prescription of what teachers and headteachers should do and how they should spend their working time limits the scope they have to demonstrate their professionalism” !

Of course, “detailed prescription can limit a school’s ability to make decisions about how teachers are deployed and so restrict its capacity to get the best value from its teaching staff and use their skills to achieve maximum impact for their pupils”.

In other words, remove all contractual protections – then we can make teachers work until they drop – then replace them with another victim to be worked until they can take no more as well.

Reducing PPA time to a chance just to go to the toilet or make a cup of tea

Gove says, “There is evidence that the principle of PPA time for teachers has been welcomed, but that the current provisions are overly prescriptive in their approach, requiring schools to allocate it in half hourly blocks and on a weekly basis. This is unhelpfully restrictive for schools that are seeking to manage their teaching staff and plan their timetable as effectively and efficiently as possible. We believe the STRB should consider recommending the removal from the STPCD of the detailed specification of how PPA time should be allocated”.

In other words, there might no longer be any properly timetabled non-contact time, just the chance for a quick break between lessons, meetings and other duties if you’re lucky.

Shorter holidays, longer hours

Gove says: “There is a strong case for a reform of the current working time provisions in the STPCD to give schools more scope to determine how they organise the school day and the school term in the best interests of children, parents and teachers”.

The words are clear: “We believe the STRB should consider removing the central specification of teachers’ working days and hours from the STPCD”.

But don’t worry, Gove is on our side really: “If the current overall limits on working time were removed from the STPCD, this would not mean that teachers and headteachers had no protection - the Working Time Directive would continue to apply” ... “which provide for an average weekly limit of 48 working hours and minimum rest periods of 20 minutes per six hours worked; 11 hours per day, and one [un]interrupted break of 24 hours every seven days."

This is an attack on education. How exactly could teachers be expected to prepare, plan, assess, provide high quality education (and perhaps even occasionally sleep!) with that kind of working week?

* Update: In practice, as the Working Time Regulations state that the 48-hour average has to be calculated over a 'reference period' of 17 weeks, which would include school holiday periods, even these limits could not be enforced during a working week in term time

No right to a clear lunchbreak – and sack the lunchtime supervisors of course

Under the existing national STPCD conditions, “Teachers must be allowed one break of reasonable length ... between 12pm-2pm” and “No teacher may be required under their contract of employment to undertake midday supervision”.

Gove says: “Removal of [this] provision would enable headteachers to be more flexible in their timetabling” and “might make it easier for headteachers to cut costs by requiring teachers to undertake midday supervision".

Back to invigilating examinations – and sack the invigilators of course

Teaching is out of step when compared to other high status professions in setting out in statute a list of tasks that it would be considered inappropriate for one of its members to perform ... In the context of exam invigilation, for example, the involvement of a teacher who is known to the children could be less stressful for them than engaging another member of staff who they don’t know”.

Back to covering for absence – and sack the cover and supply staff of course

We believe schools need to feel confident that they can legitimately ask teachers to provide cover for colleagues and that greater flexibility would be welcome. ... We recommend that the STRB considers the removal of “rarely cover” from the STPCD”.

Remember, your reward for all this impossible workload will be earning less for a worse pension too:

“The Government is therefore clear that any changes to public service pensions, including the progressive increase in contributions from 2012-13, do not justify upward pressure on pay, plus, if a school ‘restructures’ your post and/or removes your allowances, “we would wish the STRB to consider the implications of reducing the period for which safeguarding is payable or removing the safeguarding provisions entirely

Read it for yourself ...

... but don’t weep – organise, rally, march and strike!

Monday 17 June 2013

Tell tear-gas manufacturers to stop arming Erdogan's police

Erdogan's violent repression of his opponents has already seen five people die in the last three weeks, with many thousands injured, including at least fifteen demonstrators losing eyes.

Many of these injuries have come from the Turkish Police's indiscriminate firing of tear gas cannisters like this one in Ankara:


The South Korean distributor CNO Tech (, has left its calling card stuck to its weaponry. So now the world can ring CNO to tell them what we think.

E-mail and demand that they stop the trade in CS gas to Erdogan's police.

The manufacturer of the DK-N500 grenade may in fact be Dae Kwang Chemical Company Limited, since its website boasts that it is "the only manufacturer of teargas products in Korea"

As it explains on, “Tear gas works by irritating mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs, and causes crying, sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, pain in the eyes, temporary blindness, etc. Lachrymators are thought to act by attacking sulphydryl functional groups in enzymes”.

Dae Kwang’s website suggests that it trades with United States / United Kingdom / Germany / France / Monaco / Turkey / Syria / Saudi Arabia / Iran / Bahrain / Dubai / Oman / Liberia / Ghana / Nigeria.

So is Dae Kwang supplying Erdogan’s police as well? Why not ask to make sure? The website suggests that Dae Kwang can also be contacted on:

UPDATE: Here is the letter that I have sent:

To the Managing Director
Dae Kwang Chemical Company
South Korea

Dear Sir or Madam

I am writing as a National Executive member of the National Union of Teachers in London, UK, the largest teaching union in Europe.

This weekend, at the invitation of Turkish trade unionists, I had the chance to visit Istanbul to discuss with trade union leaders. I was given shocking reports of deaths and injuries, including skull fractures and permanent loss of eyes, caused by the Turkish Police's firing of CS gas directly at citizens as well as by firing it into confined spaces. In case I needed further evidence, I then witnessed for myself, in the streets around our Hotel, the brutal behaviour of the police and the use of CS gas that trade unionists had described to me.

I see from your website that you describe yourselves as "the only manufacturer of teargas products in Korea" and that you state that you trade with Turkey. I should therefore alert you that I have photographic evidence of DK-N500 canisters that have been picked up in the streets of Ankara and other cities. I therefore need to warn you that, should these products, traded through CNO Tech, have been manufactured by the Dae Kwang Chemical Company, trade unionists believe that you will carry a moral and, potentially, legal responsibility for the deaths and injuries that have been sustained.

I would be for grateful for an urgent response to this complaint and assurance that you will be acting on this evidence to make sure that your equipment is not used in this way, preferably by ceasing any further trade with Turkey.

Martin Powell-Davies
Member of the NUT National Executive, UK

Lewisham NUT ready to do battle on pay!

Thirty-seven members packed into Lewisham NUT's General Meeting tonight to show that they were ready to do battle to oppose performance-pay - and to support my campaign to become NUT National Vice-President as well!

After hearing a reportback from our two delegates to the Annual NUT  Young Teachers' Conference, our first decision was to send messages of support and encouragement to NUT members in Liverpool preparing for regional strike action on June 27th.

Our second key decision was to agree that we would all be marching in London on June 25th in the Regional NUT 'March for Education'. Orders for T-Shirt sizes were taken so that we can all march to the rally in the same NUT clothing, behind the Lewisham NUT banner!

The next vote was to agree that we must urgently go back to our schools tomorrow and warn Heads that, if they support the damaging draft pay policy that Lewisham Authority has circulated in advance of Tuesday afternoon's negotiation meeting, then Lewisham teachers would be calling for National Union support for urgent strike action.

The meeting then unanimously agreed to nominate me to stand in this Autumn's  NUT Vice-President election and also to contribute to my campaign with funding, support, and through a campaign team.

Finally, after a short report of my experiences in Istanbul, the meeting agreed to donate £200 to Turkish teacher unions as a gesture of international solidarity. 

This is a picture of Turkish teachers taking strike action today in protest against state repression

Direngezi - a report from our trade union delegation to Istanbul

Banner in Gezi Park
The brutal invasion of Gezi Park by police on the night of June 15th, the eighteenth day of its occupation, will be remembered as a significant event in the growth of resistance to the authoritarian rule of Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP Government. 

Erdogan sent in the police to demonstrate to his opponents – and his supporters alike – that he was still the master of Istanbul and the Turkish state. However, while he can use bulldozers and tear-gas to clear Gezi Park, he will not be able to sweep the growing hatred of his oppressive regime from the minds of increasing numbers of Turkish workers and youth.  

UPDATE: For a printable .pdf of this report, go to:
My video footage of the festival atmosphere in Gezi Park and the angry response that followed the police attack:  plus a link to the report in Sunday's 'Observer' newspaper:

Meeting with HDK MPs
I was in Istanbul as one of a delegation of five trade unionists who had flown from London as part of an international visit, along with delegations from Austria, Germany and Switzerland, organised by EMEP, the Party of Labour. It included Steve Hedley, Assistant General Secretary of the RMT union, together with two other RMT Executive members. 

As originally planned, we were able to attend a meeting convened at our hotel to discuss with the General Secretaries of both of the two main left trade union federations, KESK and DISK. A further meeting was arranged to hear from elected MPs of the HDK coalition of left parties, including those from both Turkish and Kurdish roots.

Steve Hedley (RMT) and Turkish Airlines strikers
I also had the opportunity to leave my NUT flag with Turkish Airlines pickets, already on strike for over a month in defence of trade union rights and to demand the reinstatement of sacked colleagues from their union Hava-Is. This is a dispute which, just in itself, was worthy of a visit to Istanbul in order to develop international solidarity and support from other trade unions across the world.

However, it was Erdogan’s decision to move in the police to crush the Gezi Park occupation that made sure that our visit will not be forgotten by any of the delegations. Our hotel, on a side-street just a few yards from Taksim, turned out to be just on the perimeter of a wall of police, tear-gas and water-cannon thrown around the square. 

Gezi Park just hours before the police attack
Arriving in the early hours of Saturday morning, we had gone straight to Gezi Park, situated just to one side of Taksim Square, to look around. This small wooded park was filled with tents, stalls and sleeping occupiers, a scene that would be familiar to anyone who has visited an Occupy event in many other cities. It had become a forum for debate and discussion between people from a range of backgrounds and traditions.

The stores of gas-masks, fire-extinguishers and medical supplies gave the only indication that this occupation was facing a significant threat of violent police attack. After all, at least three people had already died in the face of police brutality across Turkey in the previous fortnight.

3 am in Gezi Park
Chatting to a young woman, a member of Day-Mer, the Turkish/Kurdish community group in London that had invited me to take part in the delegation, it was clear that the occupiers’ grievances were about a lot more than protecting Gezi Park’s trees from destruction.

She explained how, like many other young women, she saw Erdogan threatening culture, personal freedom and her rights as a woman in particular. Theatres, cinemas and any media outlet critical of the AKP faced harassment and threats of closure. Rights to abortion were being abolished with Erdogan insisting that women should expect to bear at least three children.

Delegation meets with KESK
We learned more about the threats to trade unionists in particular in the discussions that took place on Saturday morning. Both the leaders of DISK and KESK explained how Erdogan’s authoritarian style of Government was alienating increasing sections of the population, with the Gezi Park struggle acting as a catalyst to bring together different groups with a range of grievances and demands.

Education was being threatened by having Islamic theology imposed on the curriculum, health services were facing privatisation, trade unions fighting for improved wages and working conditions and for the right to freely organise. 

DISK banner in Gezi Park
The DISK GS explained how they had been represented alongside other groups on the Taksim Resistance committee for over a year now. DISK was trying to integrate the demands of the Gezi protestors with the wider demands of the trade union movement. In answer to my question, the KESK GS made clear that, if the police were to move on the park, the federation would respond by calling a national strike. I am glad to report that KESK has kept that promise and, as a separate blogpost indicates, , will also be joined by DISK in that action.

At the concert on Saturday evening
On Friday night, with many occupiers clearly exhausted by 17 days of occupation, and with no obvious stewarding of the perimeter, it seemed to us that Gezi Park was vulnerable to police attack. However, returning on a sunny Saturday evening, with the park packed with thousands of trade unionists, local residents and families, it was hard to imagine that any Prime Minister could order police to attack in the way that Erdogan seems to have done.

Nevertheless, it was clear that, with Erdogan planning to hold a mass rally of his supporters on the outskirts of in Istanbul on Sunday, the stage was set for a possible confrontation. Few in the Park seemed to be aware of the specific threat to the occupiers that had been made by Erdogan at his rally in Ankara that afternoon. 

Zulfu Livaneli
Unaware of the events that were about to unfold, the Park was in a festival mood on Saturday night. Trade unionists were standing with flags among the crowd in front of the stage where striking transport workers addressed the Park, followed by speeches from DISK speakers commemorating the uprising of 15/16 June 1970, when hundreds of thousands of workers had taken to the streets of Istanbul. A concert by well-known singer Zulfu Livaneli followed with both old and young singing along to the music. Soon, these crowds would face a terrifying assault.

To the later relief of our partners and friends, our delegation decided to take a break from touring around the different trade union and party stalls in the park. Instead, we left to grab a bite to eat in a nearby restaurant so we could discuss further with a DISK organiser about how a strike movement could be extended to workers beyond the two left-wing federations. 

Facing the TOMA water cannon
Soon after our food arrived, the DISK organiser received a call on his mobile. The police had just made an ultimatum that everyone had to leave Gezi Park. Soon after, as people fled past our windows away from Taksim Square, and the waiters rushed to close the doors before choking chemicals could drift in, we knew the police attack was underway.

As we later found out from other delegations who had remained there, police first fired tear gas bombs into the air right across the park, then attacked to drive people out into the surrounding streets on the opposite side of Taksim from where we had gone. Police reportedly even chased protestors into the Divan Hotel, firing choking water cannon through its doors.

In the restaurant, the colleague from DISK had been explaining how Erdogan had hoped that he had struck a deal with the Taksim Resistance committee that would buy him time to prepare for a promised ‘referendum’ over the future of this remaining piece of greenery in the heart of Istanbul. However, Erdogan had reportedly become enraged when a DISK representative had pointed out that the protests were no longer just about trees but about wider social issues. Nevertheless, in order to gain time to consolidate and build the movement, the Taksim Resistance committee had apparently reached the conclusion that they would make an offer to Erdogan that they would just maintain a token presence in the park while discussions continued. The police attack put an end to any such negotiation. 

Choking fumes on Istiklal
We headed out into Istiklal street, the main pedestrianised road leading up to Taksim Square. It was already thronged by thousands, soon to become perhaps tens of thousands, of people who flooded into the streets to demonstrate their anger and defiance. Between us and the square stood lines of riot police and a threatening white ‘TOMA’ vehicle armed with a powerful water-cannon.

Seasoned protestors came with gas masks and a hard-hat, others wore swimming goggles or scarves as protection. Youth banged the shutters of the shops lining the streets. Protestors chanted and shouted, rising to a loud cat-call when the noise of the pumps of the TOMA vehicle could be heard, meaning its water-cannon was about to fire down on us. 

Defiance on the edge of Taksim Square
Basing our expectations on British media reports of tear-gas and pepper-spray, it took all of us time to realise that the choking fumes and burning skin were coming from the water from the TOMA. A soaking from this chemical spray left protestors clutching for air and ready to vomit. Crowds parted every now and again to allow the injured to be rushed away.

The RMT flag was unfurled amid the chanting crowds while I managed to grab a chance to give some interviews over the noise in response to some calls that I was receiving from Britain, including ‘The Observer’.

With phone batteries dead, we made our way back to our hotel through the back-streets to pause and get a change of clothes. The protests in our area subsided for a while until a group of working-class youth marched into the neighbourhood chanting and waving football scarves. They set straight to work ripping down some metal sheeting to form a mobile barricade from behind which they could shout at the police above them on the Square. 

Tear gas fired down from Taksim
Some taunted police with a song that, roughly translated, calls on them to put down their shields and helmets, to then see who would win the fight. This time the noise of the exploding tear-gas shell could be heard as police fired at them down the hill. The skirmish ended although battles reportedly raged in other parts of the city with many tens of thousands taking to the streets.

By Sunday morning, Taksim was quiet, protected by a line of police that was turning anyone away, even the elderly, who needed to cross the square. With the RMT delegation having returned to London to join a protest rally in Trafalgar Square, I joined the other international delegations in a taxi ride to the studio of the Hayat TV channel, one of the few who had been prepared to broadcast the protest movement. Most of the big channels had tried to pretend it wasn’t happening and had just broadcast shows on cooking, penguins and soap operas! It had just fought-off an attempt to revoke its broadcasting licence, an attack which had been seen as an act of political victimisation by Erdogan’s regime. 

Tear gas on Sunday afternoon
We then held our own Press Conference back at our hotel. I was able to explain my view that, under the guise of defending ‘religion’ and ‘traditional values’, the AKP were, in reality, seeking to attack every worker through cuts, privatisation and attacks on personal freedoms and freedom of the press. The movement now needed to organise, extending and co-ordinating committees across the country. A key role fell to the trade union movement to use the power of collective strike action. I congratulated KESK for its decision to strike (now joined by DISK as well) and pledged that we would use our visit to publicise and explain the struggles of Turkish trade unionists and youth. 

Water cannon and police seal off top of Istiklal street
I walked with a colleague from Day-Mer to attend one last meeting, a Press Conference where the Taksim Resistance committee was going to call for further mobilisations around Taksim that afternoon. However, perhaps to disrupt that meeting, the police started to attack protestors in broad daylight.

Early on a Sunday afternoon, with locals and tourists running for cover, the riot police were again firing tear-gas and the TOMA letting out their torrents of chemical spray. Indeed, if the British and American governments are really concerned about the use of chemical weaponry, perhaps they could start by pressurising their ally Erdogan to stop spraying acidic chemicals on its people. 

An Erdogan battle-bus near the AKP rally
After coming face-to-face with the riot police, we managed to find our way out to a passing taxi and get away to the airport for the flight back to London. On the way we passed a AKP bus headed for Erdogan’s rally on the road out to the airport. It was a concrete display of the polarisation in Turkey between the two sections massed in different parts of the city. 

The trade union movement has to organise to undercut Erdogan’s support by explaining that his Government represents the interests of a wealthy few, while it is the trade unions and Left parties, acting to defend ordinary people’s rights and livelihoods, that can help build a movement, and a society, that acts in the interests of the millions, not the millionaires.


In London: outside the Turkish Embassy, 43 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8PA:
The ITF (International Transport Workers' Federation), IUF (International Union of Food workers) and UK unions, the TUC, UNITE, RMT, PCS and NUT amongst others, are joining forces with the Taksim Solidarity Committee to demonstrate outside the Turkish Embassy in London against the ongoing oppression of protestors in Taksim Square and throughout Turkey.

The demo will coincide with other actions going on around the world. Get more info:

Email protests to the addresses below, demanding the Turkish authorities stop the repression:
The Turkish Republic, Prime Ministry
Tel: +90 312 422 10 00
Fax: +90 312 422 18 99

Mayor of Istanbul
Tel: +90 212 204555953

Turkish Consulate in London
Tel: 020 7591 6900
Fax 020 7591 6911