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Turkey: angry coal miners protest against privatization

14 July, 2016Thousands of miners, politicians, NGOs and communities demonstrated against government attempts to privatize and close hard coal pits in the Zonguldak region in Turkey today. 

The rally was organized by IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliate, the General Mineworkers’ Union (Genel Maden-Is), which represents hard coal miners in the region.

It follows another large rally by miners in the centre of Zonguldak at the end of June, protesting against a government study recommending the privatization and possible closure of the Turkish Hard Coal Agency (TTK). The TTK is in charge of state-owned hard coal mines in Turkey. Genel Maden-Is, reiterated its demands to increase production and employ 5,500 more workers for optimizing mining activities in the area.

Zonguldak is the Turkish capital of the hard coal sector, which has been the main economic activity in the North West Black Sea region since 1849.

After the announcement, the Turkish Privatization Agency, run by the Prime Minister’s office, sent a letter to the management of TTK asking to it to send an inventory of its assets, with particular attention to Karadon in the Zonguldak region. Genel Maden-Is believes that this is clear sign of impending privatization and closure of the Karadon mine.

“We will never allow this,” said Ahmet Demirci, General President of Genel Maden-Is. “We will do everything in our power to stop this nonsense and TTK cannot be privatized.”

In times of economic difficulties, Zonguldak and hard coal mines have come under pressure from successive governments. In the early 90s, tens of thousands of miners and communities organized a historic march, which forced the government to withdraw its plans for privatization and closure of pits.

In the Zonguldak area, there are three main coalfields, namely Alacaagzi, Kozlu and Karadon. It is renowned for fatal mining accidents, and reports say that around 5,000 miners have lost their lives in Zonguldak. The most recent deaths were in January 2013 with eight fatalities, and in May 2010 with 30 fatalities. The biggest number of fatalities in a single incident in the area occurred in 1992 in Kozlu when 263 miners were killed.

“In Turkey, Zonguldak means coal mine, and coal mine means Zonguldak,” said Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary. “Attempts to close the mines would turn Zonguldak into a ghost town. Our global union will continue to extend its solidarity to Genel Maden-Is and its members in this struggle.”

Miners recently staged a hunger strike over unpaid wages in two coalmines in Zonguldak, operating without authorization.