UK Musicians Union joins Freedom for Öcalan Campaign

Big trade unions in the UK have been running an active campaign for Öcalan for years. The latest affiliation to the Freedom for Öcalan campaign is that of the Musicians Union.

The Musicians Union affiliation to the Freedom for Öcalan campaign is hugely symbolic. Songs of freedom, liberty and emancipation have held a vital place in the worker’s movement from the beginning and music continues to play a fundamental role in the vibrancy of social movements around the world. 

To mark the occasion, the Freedom for Öcalan Campaign explored the collective traditions of rebel songs—a culture which shared with the Kurdish liberation movement inspired by Abdullah Öcalan.

In 1837 George Loveless wrote in ‘The Victims of Whiggery’ about the cruelty and injustice of the sentence of transportation handed down to the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The six Dorset farm labourers, persecuted for their trade unionism and finally pardoned after three years and a widespread and well-organised solidarity campaign from the trade union movement, continue to inspire to this day.

The children got a letter from the master

Music had a significant role in the fight against apartheid internationally and within South Africa. It gave voice to the voiceless and raised awareness of the injustices that Black South Africans experienced daily. 

Black South Africans saw Afrikaans as the language of their oppressors, and it’s imposition echos the Turkish Republics attempts to smother Kurdish language and culture.

Very quickly after the foundation of the Turkish Republic, Kurdish language, dress and names became forbidden. The period before the Second World War was particularly bloody and involved frequent massacres and reprisals perpetrated against the Kurds by the Turkish state. During this time entire towns and villages were destroyed. As late as the 1980s many were arrested and jailed for singing in Kurdish.

For the Kurd’s songs such as ‘Em bernadin ve dilane’ in English ‘We will not give up on this dance’ play a similar role to ‘Soweto Blues’. They are both a rallying cry and through the use of oppressed local language or cultural imagery in their lyrics an act of defiance.

A continent away and decades later 'Şervano' The song of resistance, was written as the Turkish state continued its illegal war of aggression against the people of North and East Syria in late 2019. 

The imagery the song conjures of men and women preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend the innocent against tyranny could just as quickly be invoking the men and women of the International Brigades of the last century. The volunteers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the international fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Free Nelson Mandela

Of course no discussion of the pivotal role of music in the campaign to release Mandela would be complete without mention of The Specials AKA iconic performance of 'Nelson Mandela'.

The lyrics are just as resonant today especially when considering the Twenty-one years of Öcalan's cruel imprisonment and the powerful opening verse of the song.

Activist performances and songs of freedom played a critical roll in capturing the publics imagination and bringing Mandela’s plight into the mainstream.

The injustices of apartheid, structural racism, inequality and the jailing of those who opposed it have clear parallels with the struggles of the Kurdish people today.