On May 13th, a mine explosion in the western town of Soma, Turkey, triggered an underground fire which killed more than 300 coal mine workers. This was not the first coal mine disaster in Turkey but it’s the deadliest mining disaster in Turkey’s history. The tragedy has raised questions about the impact of neo-liberal and privatization policies of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and its far reaching impact on the lives of millions of workers in Turkey.
On this edition of Voices of the Middle East and North Africa, we will have a conversation with Erdem Yörük, an assistant professor of sociology at Koç University in Turkey about the the impact of the politics of the AKP party on workers’ rights and safety in coal mines and other hazardous industries in Turkey.
According to a report on the BBC, mining safety incidents are not new to Turkey - Around 13,000 miners suffered accidents at work in 2013, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. On average, for every million tons of excavated coal, more than seven miners die every year, according to a report by the Economic Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV).
Many blame these accidents on loose regulatory standards and privatization. Since the state leased the mine to the Soma Holding Company in 2005, the company has cut mining costs by up to 80 percent – most likely at the cost of worker safety.
“Work safety? There is no work safety. They cut corners wherever they can,” Veli Yilmaz, a coal miner in Soma for nine years, told the Guardian. “The foremen receive a bonus if we produce more coal than planned. So all they worry about is working faster and extracting more coal.”
Just weeks before the disaster, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) voted against a motion in parliament calling for a thorough inspection of mines throughout the country.
“We are sick of going to the funerals of miners. We have to do something to stop these fatalities,” said Ozgur Ozel, an MP from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), who called for the inspection.
Five company officials, including the mine’s operating manager, Akin Çelik, have been arrested on charges of causing death by negligence as part of an investigation into the disaster.
Later in the program we will have a conversation with John Lee, Associate Professor of history at UC Santa Barbara and Dr. Jaleh Niazi of HistoryAdvocates, about a new campaign to bring radical change in the way ancient Persian civilization is being taught in California K-12 public education.
Jaleh Niazi is a member of the History Advocate campaign, an effort to correct California schools’ biased representation of ancient Persian civilization. You can learn about the campaign at historyadvoctes.com.