Controversy over the May Day celebrations heightened this week in Turkey when Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said, "It will be mayhem when the feet start to manage the head," regarding the demands being made by unions for the Taksim celebrations. In Turkish, "feet" is also used to describe "mob."
Turkish unions strongly reacted to the statement, saying, they were "saddened" and remain determined to hold celebrations in Taksim. Unions and the AKP government have been at odds over the new social security reform, and the employment package submitted to the cabinet.
Turkey banned May Day celebrations in Taksim Square after 36 people were killed on May 1, 1977; a date since referred to as the "Bloody May 1." This event is seen was a turning point in Turkish history and an important factor that paved the way for the military coup in 1980. A-still-unidentified armed men opened fire on some 1-million-people attending the celebrations. The clashes between left and right groups in the 1970s had brought Turkey to the brink of civil war.
Since Bloody May 1, Turkey canceled all celebrations and removed the national holiday from the Turkish calendar. The Turkish government this week decided to celebrate May 1 as "Labor and Solidarity Day" and snubbed all requests to declare a national public holiday.
Labor Unions Confederation (DISK) last year took the decision to celebrate May Day in Taksim Square despite the ban and some 1,000 people were detained. The governorship of Istanbul took extraordinary security measures, such as closing the Bosporus bridges between Asia and Europe, canceling ferries, and calling in police support from neighboring cities; measures that drew a huge reaction from Istanbul residents.
Another major union, the Turkey Labor Unions Confederation (Turk-Is), have taken the decision to join DISK in celebrating May Day 2008 in Taksim Square. Observers say the government is reluctant to lift the ban due to its concerns that the celebration could turn into a huge anti-AKP demonstration after the recent labor legislations.
The Turkish parliament has approved the social security bill that increases the retirement age for men and women to 65. Turk-Is represents two million Turkish workers, while Hak-Is, another major union, and DISK represent some 500,000 people each.