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Vol. 78/No. 26      July 21, 2014

(front page)
Farmers, miners in western Turkey
discuss challenges facing rural toilers

Militant/Frank Forrestal
Farmers in Kinik, western Turkey, July 1. Many coal miners also farm land in area around Soma, Turkey, where profit drive of bosses and government killed more than 300 workers in May.
SOMA, Turkey — Along the road between this town of 76,000 and the village of Kinik, 13 miles to the southwest, lies an arid but fertile landscape with field after field of olive trees, tobacco and other crops worked mostly by women farmworkers.

Some distance off the main road stands the Eynez mine, where more than 300 coal miners were killed May 13 in an underground fire that touched off protests against boss and government disregard for workers’ safety in pursuit of profit.

Many miners in this region of western Turkey are also farmers with small plots they either rent or own.

“Me, my wife and our two children are up at 3 a.m. most mornings to work on the tobacco crop. We work 16 hours a day,” said Engin Kursuncu, an underground miner at the Imbat mine who lives in a small village near Kinik.

Polat Tetik, another Imbat miner who farms near Kinik, said the tobacco he and other farmers produce goes to U.S.-based Philip Morris, among the biggest cigarette manufacturers in the world. Tetik and Kursuncu are among miners in the area who have been fighting for better working conditions since the mining disaster that claimed the lives of many they knew.

Turkey is the fourth-largest producer of tomatoes and the fifth-largest tobacco-producing country in the world. Tobacco comprises 18 percent of Turkey’s total agricultural exports.

The Soma Coal Basin is in the Aegean region, which stretches along the coast of western Turkey and produces more than half the country’s tobacco and olives.

Larger plots of land belonging to wealthy farmers are worked by contract day labor, Kursuncu said. Women, sometimes the wives of the unemployed, are hired on a daily basis by middlemen. The workers “are paid 30 lira [$14] a day,” he said. “One kilogram of meat costs 27 lira.”

“Nearly everyone in the area owes money to the banks,” said Kursuncu. “Most miners have loans to pay hospital bills when the children get sick, to build houses and other things.”

Out of his monthly income of 1,500 lira ($702) “750 lira goes to the bank,” Kursuncu said. “I am an experienced miner, but there are many miners who make only 1,200 lira [$562],” he said.

Many of the roughly 2 million migrant farmworkers throughout Turkey are Kurdish, said Hayri Ates, a leader of the Kurdish Peace and Justice Party (BDP), during an interview at the party’s office in Izmir, southwest of here.

“In southeast Turkey there are thousands of seasonal migrant workers who move from farm to farm picking the crops from central Turkey to the Black Sea coast,” said Ates. “They live in tents that they take from farm to farm. They are not allowed in the city centers. It is very common to hear of lynchings of Kurds in the Black Sea coast region.”

Many get work through so-called “uncles,” who act as intermediaries between the workers and growers. There are two types — legal ones registered through the state employment agency and those who operate without a license.

Schooling in Turkey is mandatory through the 12th grade, but children of Kurdish migrant families usually have to leave school to work in the fields after the third or fourth grade. “Kurdish day laborers usually make only 8 to 12 lira for a 13 to 14 hour day,” Ates said.
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