Thousands of workers at Turkey’s new airport construction site in Istanbul have defied repression to strike over working conditions.
In response the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced them as “terrorists” and arrested around 500 of them.
The protest began after a shuttle bus accident on Friday of last week in which 17 workers were injured, said Dev Yapi-Is union leader Ozgur Karabulut.
Thousands of workers joined the demonstration, which was broken up by armed police in riot control vehicles and firing tear gas.
Then came the arrests. “They forced their way into the workers’ camp, broke down the doors and detained around
500 workers,” Karabulut told the Reuters news agency.
Some of the workers have now been released, but around 300 remained in custody on Monday.
Workers have protested repeatedly over conditions on the site. In February the Turkish labour ministry said 27 workers had been killed since construction began in 2015.
But an opposition newspaper said the government has covered up around 400 fatalities.
The toll of deaths and injuries has worsened as there have been delays to the airport’s opening date and bosses have cut corners to speed up the work.
The airport is being built by a consortium of Turkish companies with close links to the government.
Workers are also angry over the food provided and housing in containers that are infested with fleas and bed bugs. Many workers are paid late, and some have not been paid for six months.
Among the 35,000-strong workforce are migrants from countries such as Nepal.
The Dev Yapi-Is union said the site was “a concentration camp for workers”. “We are not even allowed to go to the toilet,” one worker said.
“We take showers by using the water coming from ponds near the construction site.”
At the start of this week bosses began busing in scabs to take the arrested strikers’ jobs, but resistance continued.
A state of emergency imposed after a failed coup in 2016 made it almost impossible to strike legally.
The state of emergency has now been lifted, but many of its provisions have been absorbed into other laws.
Meanwhile a strike continues at cosmetics firm Flormar which has become a symbol of workers’ resistance.
The firm dismissed more than 130 workers, most of them women, after they joined a union to fight for better pay and conditions.
They have now been on strike for over 120 days. Flormar is a subsidiary of a company that is 51 percent owned by the multinational Yves Rocher.