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Khan, Fazel (2006) Report from the first International Labour Film and Video Festival held in Istanbul, Turkey. Centre for Civil Society : -.

The first International Labour Film and Video Festival held in Istanbul, Turkey was a resounding success by any standards. Under the banner “Against Neo-Liberalism”, it attracted over 8,000 people who attended the various films screenings from the 1st to the 7th of May 2006. Even on the opening night more than 1 500 people filled the auditorium in Istanbul (a second opening was held in Ankara University). Participants, movie buffs, community activists, unionists and just about any leftist of note in Turkey, came to watch more than 40 Films from 20 countries that were on the programme. The films showed the global struggles of working people against economic policies that reproduce poverty, sweat shops, retrenchments, patriarchy, and modern day imperialism – “regime change and reconstruction”.

3-4 may every show was fully booked

It was a privilege that two South Africans film Breyani and the Councillor (a name adapted from an earlier article by Richard Pithouse) and Strike at UKZN, both about our local struggles was invited to be part of the programme. The first film, jointly directed by Sally Giles and yours truly, shows the struggles being waged against the government’s housing and other policies. The second film shows workers and academics on strike at UKZN. It was striking that the two films are about different socio-economic groups that in normal circumstances would have opposing interests but that, in fact, shackdwellers and university lecturers and support staff have been struggling together and learning from each other.

2 May comm screening of film breyani attended by 50 poor people

Therefore Breyani and the Councillor takes it upon itself, the task of proving what would be, at first glance disconnected struggles, but on closer analysis show the relationship. The UKZN strike film was also shown but the two struggles are but two parts of the same the thing, in other words shades of the same colour. There are parts of the film that shows the staff of the University KwaZulu-Natal who embarked on a two week-strike, demanding a fair wage. What most incensed them was how management could pay itself exorbitant salaries yet lecturers are overworked, with inadequate pay and little benefits. What is profound is that these workers who have overcome the legacy of apartheid only twelve years ago that had separated them along race class and gender lines joined together in this strike to become a united front.

The film shows the sheer poverty and, economic marginalisation, and desperate plight of shack dwellers in Durban. The film then moves to the inevitable struggles as they organise to ease their situation. It shows marches they undertake, their encounters with the brutality of police, the arrogance of elected officials who are supposed to serve their constituency, and of course, the hope they must lie ahead.

That said, what I think was the real success of the festival was the ability of the Turkish Left to finally realise their dream of organising and hosting this festival in the City and to begin it on the anniversary of day when, in 1977, 70 workers were murdered by the state.

Young heroes Yusuf, Dennis and Husain.

To put it into context, the Turkish Left has long suffered repression by the state that was conceived by nationalist-putschists officers who had little sympathy for such thing mundane ideas as equality. I mean, Turkey was among the founding members of NATO and was a close US ally throughout the Cold War. The military coups of the 70’s and 80’s only increased the power of the security forces. The Kurdish insurgency, organised by the Kurdish Workers Party, further multiplied the state repression as the military fought the insurrection. Not surprisingly, the same laws used for putting down the Kurdish rebellion were also used against vocal unions and dissenting intellectuals.

1 May at Kadikoy all protestors were searched by police

Thus, on the 1st of May 1977, 30 workers were killed when police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in the Taksim Square in Istanbul. A further forty workers were to be killed in the days that followed during clashes with the security forces. Since then no gathering, protests or marches are allowed in the square. But the labour movement in Turkey, to commemorate this day, places flowers at the spot where the massacre occurred as a form of silent protest.

Union leaders remember the Taksim square workers killing.

Even as recently as in 1996, three protesters were killed and dozens were seriously injured when police opened fire during a May Day rally, again in Istanbul. Despite these atrocities, the Turkish Armed forces remain a politically powerful institution, considering itself the guardian of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secular legacy.

It is against this background that the Turkish left has been moulded to become a portent force in the country’s politics and the film festival, the first of its kind, was a culmination of battles fought by the working class allied with the left middle class intellectuals. The opening was more like celebration of their resilience, and triumph over great odds. The first to be honoured was the veteran Turkish film director and writer Vedat Türkali who also gave a lively presentation. Türkali is the writer of "Sun over the Swamp" and "Awakes in the Darkness". He also has written screen plays for renowned film maker Yilmaz Güney. Türkali was initially known for his poems that he distributed in revolutionary intellectual circles. He was arrested in 1951 for his political activism and sentenced to nine years in prison. After his release on probation in 1958, he wrote over 40 screenplays and directed three films. Türkali has been a central influence in the growth of Turkish Cinema. Other figures of the Turkish Left who were honoured on the opening night included Sonay Kanat, Recep Bicer and Suha Kapki who have all endured imprisonment, torture and harassment by the state security forces. The festival also honoured the Cetin Uygur of the Underground Mine Workers Union and a film about mine workers, "Maden: The Mine" shows for the first time the lives and conditions of mine workers in Turkey. He reported that this film had had a profound impact on miners who could now see their lives and battles on film.

The opening night and all the screenings were free and most of the screening venues were packed as viewers were provided with first hand look at struggles from China, South Korea, Argentina, Venezuela, the US, South Africa and Spain. These films showed how workers throughout the world are organising. For example, there was a film on the plight of Palestinian construction workers in Israel, then another how South Korean workers are fighting the politically powerful Chaebols. Of course, The Take by Naomi Klein that shows worker-run factories in Argentina was one of the highlights of the festival.

The festival itself was co-sponsored by the Press and Film workers unions from DISK (Progressive Workers¹ Confederation), Halkevleri – Peoples House and other unions in Turkey. Some of these unions made significant contributions to hold the festival. was also one of the main sponsors and is the first and largest labour news and information portal in Turkey. It provides regular labour news in English as well as having a portal on working class news and information from Latin America. Many workers now go to this website from Internet cafes to get information and to ask questions about labour rights and union issues. They have a panel of labour experts who respond to questions from workers who email in their inquiries.

Meeting people in Malak who live next to the dumpsite who were going to be evicted

Our delegation from South Africa visited informal settlements in Istanbul and showed our film in these community centres. The residents were happy to see how people in another country on another continent were no different from them. They were happy to see how people who are suffering like them are fighting for a better livelihood. The striking thing about their movement is how they have forged linkages with the labour movement. Thus, they have taped into the huge funding that unions control and to their organized membership to ensure that their voices are heard. These maybe helpful lessons for the Abahlali baseMjondolo here in South Africa.

1 may 7000 workers march for Free Education Free Health Womens rights Peoples House = Halkevleri


Acknowledgement: Some parts of the article was taken from By Steve Zeltzer, First Working Class Film and Video Festival In Turkey A "Resounding Success" 5/21/2006

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