Thursday, 10 May 2012

May 1st, Istanbul

me, dressed in purple, marching on 1 May, international workers' day

A famous poem begins: When I am an old woman I shall start wearing purple.  I’ve never been one who likes to wait.
When my lovely young artist friend Sevil invited me to march with the Socialist/Feminist Group of Istanbul on International Workers’ Day, I immediately said “Yes.” Purple is the color of the International Women’s Movement.

The history of Workers’ Day began in 1886 at Haymarket Sq., Chicago with a peaceful mass meeting of workers.  A bomb was thrown, and the scene turned into riot and chaos.  Ultimately, 8 innocent men were hung and countless other innocents imprisoned and harassed.  Maybe then, it’s not surprising that the USA is one of the few countries that doesn’t celebrate this important international holiday.

Istanbul also has a bloody history connected to this day.  The first International Workers’ Day in the Ottoman Empire took place in Skopje (currently Macedonia) in 1909.  In Istanbul, Workers’ Day was first celebrated in 1912.  Between 1928 and 1975, all celebrations were banned.  Then on May 1, 1976, Turkish trade unions held the first mass rally in Taksim Sq, Istanbul. And in 1977 all hell broke loose. 500,000 citizens were gathered in the square when shots rang out from the Water Supply Company building.  Armoured vehicles rolled into the square, explosives were thrown into the crowd, and the crowd was hosed with pressurized water.   

In the end, 36 lay dead, 200 seriously injured. International Workers’ Day was banned.

On May 1, 2009, the unionists scored a symbolic victory.  The government gave permission to a small  group to pass through police barricades and enter Taksim Sq.  But others, gathered in the surrounding area were tear-gassed by tanks and hosed by riot police.

Then last year, 2011, the government rescinded restrictions and once again allowed open marches and protests to peacefully procede from Sishane to Taksim Sq.

This year I marched with Socialist Feminists alongside LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender), students demanding free university tuitions, teachers for better conditions, the Confederation of of Revolutionary Workers, the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Union,and the "Muslim Anti-Capitalists."

Purple flags, rainbow flags, red flags, blue flags, green flags floated through the streets. People chanted, sang and cheered. 

The day was peaceful. Exuberant.  Without mishap.