In 2014 the UK trade union movement were appalled at the manner in which the Turkish government prevented support for the Kurds crossing their borders during the battle for Kobani against the genocidal intent of ISIS.

The brave Kurdish fighters of the people’s protection units (YPG) and the ‘W’omen’s protection units (YPJ) were an inspiration to all, especially those in the trade union movement.

Then in 2015 Erdogan failed to gain the absolute majority he wanted in the elections and proceeded to react in an aggressive manner and relaunched the brutal war against the Kurds.

In the aftermath of these events the trade union campaign – Freedom for Öcalan – was launched in 2016 in the UK parliament by UNITE and the GMB. Since then it has grown to have 14 major unions affiliated and is supported by the TUC.

“Öcalan is utterly dedicated to plurality, women’s rights and democracy, he has written extraordinary books whilst under extreme conditions of isolation in prison.He is a formidable intellect. It is an outrage that President Erdogan is being given a free hand to do as he likes with freedom of expression, attacks on trade unions and the outright war against the Kurds, it has to end.By launching this campaign today we have broken through the taboo which has surrounded Öcalan.”

Simon Dubbins, UNITE International Director,
Freedom for Öcalan campaign launch, 2016

From South Africa to Kurdistan

Trade unions in the UK have a long honoured record of standing with the oppressed across the world.

From South Africa to Palestine, Nicaragua to Burma, the trade union movement has demonstrated its solidarity and spoken out whenever our own government has denounced freedom movements as terrorists, as it did with the ANC and Nelson Mandela.

Freedom for Ocalan campaign objectives

  • the immediate release of Abdullah Öcalan and all Kurdish political prisoners
  • to lobby for peace in the region and a peaceful resolution to what has come to be known as the “Kurdish Question”
  • to promote Kurdish civil society in the interests of democratic rights and social justice

Campaign timeline


  • 25 April: campaign launched in UK parliament
  • delegation to Turkey of UNITE and Kate Osamor MP to witness the trial of Kamuran Yüksek, a Kurdish political leader and speaker at the launch of the Öcalan campaign


  • TUC congress: Motion passed calling for the release of Öcalan and for support for the Freedom of Öcalan Campaign by affiliated trade unions
  • fringe meetings held at TUC and Labour Party conferences
  • delegations to Iraq and Turkey


  • 14 major trade unions in the UK affiliate to the campaign
  • delegations to Iraq, Turkey and Syria
  • Durham Miners Gala: Freedom for Öcalan chosen as the official theme of the Gala


  • took part in the Imrali international peace delegation
  • marched at Durham Miners Gala
  • prominent campaign at Tolpuddle Martyrs festival
  • major solidarity event at TUC

In 2017 TUC conference called on all affiliated unions to support the Freedom for Öcalan campaign.

Members of the campaign also spoke at events in the European and UK parliaments as well as solidarity rallies for the Kurds. Union led delegations to Turkey and to The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (Rojava) have also become regular features.

These delegations witnessed first-hand the contrast of the extreme violence meted out in Kurdish cities, where massive and disproportionate force has been used – such as Cizre, Sur Diyarbakir and Silopi – and the functioning and inspiring grassroots democracy of Rojava.