Thousands of Turkish workers went on a one-day strike May 15 to express their outrage over the mining disaster at Soma, in the western province of Manisa. An explosion killed at least 284 workers at the coal mine, with hundreds more still trapped and believed dead. Some thousand unionists gathered in Ankara to march on the Labor Ministry, some wearing miners' helmets and waving banners with the image of Che Guevara. The largest mobilization was in Izmir, the nearest large city to Soma, where some 20,000 took to the streets chanting slogans against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP): "The fires of Soma will burn AKP," and "AKP murderers!" Police fired tear-gas and water cannon to break up the protest. Angry demonstrations continue in Soma itself.
Unionists blame the privatization of the mining sector for making working conditions more dangerous. The Soma mine was privatized in 2005. Unions also accuse the government of rejecting a recent proposal for a parliamentary inquiry into mine accidents. In the last deadly accident, January 2013 saw eight miners killed in a methane explosion in Kozlu. (BIANet, May 16; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 15; Industri-ALL, May 14)
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cited examples from the 19th century to defend his government over its mining record. He told a rpess conference after the Soma disaster May 14: "I went back in British history. Some 204 people died there after a mine collapsed in 1838. In 1866, 361 miners died in Britain. In an explosion in 1894, 290 people died there… Take America with all of its technology and everything… In 1907, 361 [miners died there]… These are usual things." (Hurriyet Daily News, May 14)