The Musicians Union affiliates to the Freedom for Öcalan campaign

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 workers’ movement from the beginning and music continues to play a fundamental role in the vibrancy of social movements around the world. We are hugely grateful to the Musicians Union for becoming the latest national union in the UK to affiliate to the Freedom for Öcalan campaign. To mark the occasion, we would like to take this opportunity to explore our collective traditions of rebel songs—a culture which we share with the Kurdish liberation movement inspired by Abdullah Öcalan.  

We raise the watchword ‘Liberty’

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. ‘Soweto Blues’ a lament for the victims of the 1976 Soweto uprising called for a confrontation with the brutal and racist South African apartheid government. The spark which fuelled the rebellion was the imposition of the language Afrikaans in schools in the township. 

The children got a letter from the masterIt said: no more Xhosa, Sotho, no more Zulu.


We will not give up on this dance

Black South Africans saw Afrikaans as the language of their oppressors, and it’s imposition echos the Turkish republic’s 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 we consider the twenty-one years of Öcalan’s cruel imprisonment and the powerful opening verse of the song.

Free Nelson Mandela

Twenty-one years in captivity

Shoes too small to fit his feet

His body abused but his mind is still free

Are you so blind that you cannot see?

I said free Nelson Mandela

I’m begging you, free Nelson Mandela


Activist performances and songs of freedom played a critical roll in capturing the public’s 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. 

Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?

Songs of freedom have always provided the rhythm and melody of the international struggle of the organised working class. Throughout history, across geographies they bind movements together, they bind us together. The words might be different, but the songs remain the same. We wholeheartedly welcome the Musicians Union.