ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News 

Attending last month’s UNI Global Union’s World Congress, Turkish unionist Yaşar Seyman says delegates agreed to an ambitious plan over the next four years to increase union membership and raise the number of women among the union’s administrative staff to 40 percent

Turkish women need to have a greater decision-making role in Turkey’s labor unions, according to Yaşar Seyman, one of the country’s leading female unionists.

Seyman, who has been active in a number of unions and is a columnist for daily BirGün, recently attended the Third World Women’s Congress and the UNI Global Union World Congress in Nagasaki, Japan, where the difficulties of women’s participation in labor unions were discussed.

“The [Global Union’s] secretary general, Phillip Jennings, pointed out that there were lots of women working in the various branches of labor unions associated with Global Union but that there was a 22 percent difference in the amount of money between men and women,” Seyman recently told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Seyman has been the head of the Ankara and Central Anatolian branch of BASISEN, a banking and insurance workers’ union, and has devoted her life to politics, writing books and championing women’s causes.

Seyman said one of the most important decisions taken by congress delegates was to raise the number of women among Global Union’s administrative staff to 40 percent.

The Global Union covers delegates from 150 countries and 900 unions representing 20 million people who work in the areas of finance, service, media, graphics, technology, trade, hairdressing, beauty, entertainment and security.

She also said there has been progression in the European Trade Unions Confederation, in which a woman has been elected secretary-general for the first time, but lamented a similar lack of powerful union women in Turkey.

The World Women’s Congress was held just prior to Global Union’s third world congress. The slogan for the Nagasaki congress was “Breaking through Together.”

What Seyman found most striking during the first of the back-to-back congresses was the women who belonged to trade unions in Africa, which will host the Fourth World Women’s Congress in South Africa at a later date.

“Whether they have a microphone or not, they suddenly explode in song at the beginning or the middle or the end of their speeches. And while giving voice to the African women delegates, they wanted to be accompanied, to keep the rhythm and dance. Not only that they talked of their problems on the world stage in their stories of the pain of having been the colonies of the British and French,” Seyman said, adding that the women were very self-confident.

“One of the South African women delegates said women had met with all sorts of pressure and violence for such a long time but in an age when mankind had improved it was more painful that the exploitation of women had increased,” said Seyman, adding that the delegates called on authorities to protect women from exploitation.

“‘To rape a woman is to rape all mankind,’” Seyman quoted the South African woman as saying.

According to Seyman, the panel that most distressed the audience was the one in which the delegate from the Congo addressed the issue of “Women being used as weapons in war.” The woman appealed for discussion of the topic, for solidarity and for changing governments. Noting that it was time to stop dreaming, the delegate pointed out that it was not just the problem of her country or another but of all the members of the Global Union.

“A delegate from Spain, on the other hand, looked at exploitation as part of the economic crisis. Especially when it came to the matter of U.S. banks earning greater amounts of money, it was women who were the victims of such theft. Because of the crisis it was women who suffered most when social benefits were curtailed. She also appealed for the delegates to make their voices heard because if they don’t speak out, no one was going to speak out for them,” she said.

Palestine also on the agenda

Some 500 delegates attended the World Women’s Congress, while the UNI Congress attracted 2,000 people. The theme for the events, peace, solidarity and organization, was stressed by the secretary-general of the International Trade Union Confederation, or ITUC, Sharon Burrow.

Seyman said Burrow praised the people of Nagasaki and of Japan as a whole for their efforts to provide peace and contribute to disarmament. 

Throughout both congress meetings, Seyman found she was conscious of the fact that Nagasaki and Hiroshima had been bombed during World War II and she noted that all speakers were conscious of the fact that there should not be another Nagasaki.

“Calling peace and democracy the foundation of freedom and wishing the people of Nagasaki success in obtaining those goals, the ITUC secretary-general turned to the need to support the peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Seyman said.

A UNI committee has visited Palestine and the confederation is aware that the Palestinian government is trying to invest in development, Seyman said.

As a labor union movement, Burrows said UNI was supportive of the creation of labor laws for Palestinian workers, an increase in the work force and further development of the labor movement, according to Seyman.

But UNI’s members are not just interested in the Palestinian situation; they are concerned about the assault on labor union rights that the economic crisis has helped along, Seyman said. Delegates agreed to an ambitious plan for the next four years that will focus on increasing union membership and collective bargaining rights all over the world, she said.

Seyman attends without close friend

The labor unionist told Hürriyet Daily News that she missed one of her colleagues, Zoe Lanara-Tzotze, who was born and educated in Turkey but was now living in Greece. The two usually attended labor union congresses together since Lanara-Tzotze is the foreign relations secretary of the General Federation of Greek Workers and also been awarded the title of Europe’s Most Successful Woman Labor Unionist. Unfortunately because of the economic crisis which Greece has been experiencing, she was unable to attend. In previous congresses the two – one Greek, the other Turkish – made a strong impression, especially when they would speak about peace, Seyman said.

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