Soma mining disaster: capitalism is responsible

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More than 300 killed and dozens of serious injuries: the explosion which ripped through the Soma mine in the west of Turkey is the most murderous industrial disaster in the country’s history. This is in no way an ‘accident’, a product of sheer bad luck that we just have to accept like a fact of life. This is a crime – a crime of capital.

After the collapse of the mine, thousands of workers and students spontaneously came out onto the streets, not only in Soma and Izmir (a port close to Soma)but also in Turkey’s big cities, Ankara and Istanbul, and in the Kurdish regions. Braving ferocious repression, tear gas and truncheons, the demonstrations grew in size daily, nearly a year after the great social movement sparked off by the defence of Gezi Park in Istanbul.

The bourgeoisie and its tame media have kept very quiet about this anger. All the TV channels have concentrated on showing grieving families weeping for their dead, interspersed with speeches by Erdogan and the energy minister promising to compensate them - as if this could soften their pain or bring back the dead. And to calm the social tension, to put a lid on the anger of the miners, they are being promised other jobs after the mine is closed.

The media black-out on the street demos and the assemblies of students occupying the universities has been accompanied by heightened police control of the population. Very little information about what actually happened in Soma is getting through. The government has mobilised its imams to dose the workers with religious opium, to try to get them to prostrate themselves in the face of Fate, to resign themselves to the capitalist order.

In the demonstrations, solidarity with the families of the victims and indignation at the indifference of the government and the bosses has come up against the brutal repression of the police state. The photograph above of a young woman holding a placard saying “this wasn’t an accident, this is murder. The government is responsible” is very significant of the depth of the anger and the social discontent.

At the time of writing, general assemblies of workers and students are being held in the universities of Istanbul and Ankara, following the police attacks on the demonstrations.

Elections are a trap for the working class!

Alongside the imams, the Turkish bourgeoisie is also mobilising all its democratic forces, its ‘opposition’, to hold down the danger of a social explosion. The slogan ‘the government must resign’ has been raised by the all democratic forces involved in the demonstrations. The forces of democratic ‘progress’ (the left and extreme left parties, the trade unions, etc) are thus playing their own role in the preservation of capitalist order and national unity. Their ‘radical’ speeches against the Erdogan government have one aim: to dispose of the social time bomb and divert the anger of the workers and students into the election trap. The imams call on the workers to resort to prayer; the opposition forces call on them to disperse themselves in the polling booths and to call for a better management of the national capital by a more ‘competent’ bourgeois clique.

It so happens that the presidential elections will take place in August, for the first time on the basis of universal suffrage. All the trumpets of democracy will be calling on the exploited to act as mere ‘citizens’. It’s not by chance that Erdogan’s opponents insist so much on the ‘public power’s lack of attention to conditions in the workplace’, especially in the mines. And it’s no coincidence that the unions have proclaimed a day of general strike in order to ‘protest at the negligence of the authorities’. The unions and opposition parties are trying to focus attention on Erdogan, in order to sow the illusion that a different clique of exploiters could manage the exploitation of the proletarians in a more human way, and thus to prevent any reflection about the real causes of this catastrophe: the capitalist mode of production itself.

Obviously the provocative declarations by the prime minister can only serve to increase this feeling of revulsion for Erdogan’s unlimited cynicism. When he coldly asserted to the families involved that “accidents are in the very nature of mining”, this could only intensify the anger. And then we had the even more provocative spectacle of the cops beating up demonstrators and even of Erdogan and his bodyguards physically striking out at demonstrators.

Erdogan’s brutality and arrogance really shows the true face of the whole bourgeois class, a world class of exploiters and murderers. Capitalism ‘with a human face’ is a pure mystification because the bourgeoisie, whatever clique is in government, right wing or left wing, doesn’t give a toss about human lives. Its only concern is profit. And whether it is secular or religious, the state is always a police state, as we can see in the most developed democratic countries, where demonstrations are always well controlled by the forces of the opposition and the union stewards on the one hand, and by the forces of repression on the other.

Capitalism as a system spreads death

Akin Celik, the director of the Soma mine, told a Turkish newspaper in 2012 that they had managed to reduce production costs to $24 a ton as opposed to $130 before the privatisation of the mine. How had such a feat been achieved? Obviously by cutting corners wherever they could, especially in the area of safety. This was done with the blessing of the unions who are now denouncing the government’s negligence. You couldn’t be clearer than this Soma miner: “there is no safety in this mine. The unions are just puppets and the bosses only think about money”.

But the greed of the bosses is not the fundamental cause of industrial disasters and ‘accidents’ at work. If costs have to be reduced again and again, it’s in order to maintain the productivity of the enterprise, its competitive edge. In other words, the very way that the capitalist mode of production operates, based on competition, on the world market, on production for profit, inexorably push the bosses, even the least ‘inhuman’ ones, to endanger the lives of those they exploit. For the bourgeois class, the wage labourer is just the source of a commodity, whose labour power has to be bought at the lowest possible price. And to lower the costs of production, the bourgeoisie has no choice but to economise on safety at the workplace. The exploiters can’t be too worried about the lives, safety and health of the exploited. The only thing that counts is the order book, the profit margin, the rate of surplus value.

According to a report published in 2003 by the International Labour Organisation, every year across the world, 270 million wage earners are the victims of accidents at work and 160 million contract ‘professional’ illnesses. The study reveals that every year two million people die while doing their job. That’s 5000 a day!

And this horror is not limited to the third world. In France, every year, according to the CNAM (Caisse National d’Assurance-Maladie – the national sickness l insurance organisation) 780 employees are killed by their work every year, over 2 every day. There are about 1,350,000 work accidents a year, which means 3,700 victims every day, or in an eight hour working day, 8 injured every minute.

Whether we cross frontiers or go back in time, capitalist exploitation has always spread death. As Engels showed in 1845 in his study on The Conditions of the Working Class in England:

The coal-mine is the scene of a multitude of the most terrifying calamities, and these come directly from the selfishness of the bourgeoisie. The hydrocarbon gas which develops so freely in these mines, forms, when combined with atmospheric air, an explosive which takes fire upon coming into contact with a flame, and kills everyone within its reach. Such explosions take place, in one mine or another, nearly every day; on September 28th, 1844, one killed 96 men in Haswell Colliery, Durham. The carbonic acid gas, which also develops in great quantities, accumulates in the deeper parts of the mine, frequently reaching the height of a man, and suffocates everyone who gets into it... A proper ventilation of the mines by means of fresh air-shafts could almost entirely remove the injurious effects of both these gases. But for this purpose the bourgeoisie has no money to spare, preferring to command the working-men to use the Davy lamp, which is wholly useless because of its dull light, and is, therefore, usually replaced by a candle. If an explosion occurs, the recklessness of the miner is blamed, though the bourgeois might have made the explosion well-nigh impossible by supplying good ventilation. Further, every few days the roof of a working falls in, and buries or mangles the workers employed in it. It is the interest of the bourgeois to have the seams worked out as completely as possible, and hence the accidents of this sort”. Chapter on ‘The mining proletariat’

Capitalism – there’s the murderer, there’s the enemy!

The deaths in Soma are our deaths. It’s our class brothers who have been killed by capitalism. It’s our class brothers and sisters being beaten up in the demonstrations in turkey. The exploited of the whole world must feel involved in this catastrophe because this whole system is a catastrophe for humanity.

Faced with the barbarism of this social order, which breeds death not only in military conflicts but also more and more in the workplace, the exploited must refuse to make any common cause with their exploiters. The only solidarity they can show with the bereaved families of Soma is the struggle on their own class terrain. Everywhere, in the workplaces, in the high schools and the universities, in assemblies and meetings, we have to discuss the real causes of this tragedy. We have to spring the traps of the reformist guard dogs of the bourgeois order who brandish the scarecrow of Erdogan to hide the real responsibility of world capital.

Against the sermons of the imams, ‘don’t fight, pray’, against the slogans of the democratic opposition, ‘don’t fight, vote’, we have to reply:

Solidarity with our class brothers and sisters in Turkey! Down with capitalism! Struggle against the exploiters of all countries!

Révolution Internationale, 16.5.14.