According to Berik Zhagiparov, Chief Editor of the ‘Youth Paper’ in Zhenkazgan city, a strike by miners at KazakhMys ended on 7 May in a complete victory for the workers, who won a pay increase of over 100%! Zhagiparov, along with the workers at KazakhMys, recently joined the Zhanartu independent trade union.
The London-based company KazakhMys employs nearly 50,000 miners. The strike started when about 400 workers stopped work and refused to come to the surface during a shift at the Annenskii pit. They were quickly supported by the other shift workers at the mine and solidarity strikes at the nearby Shafts 65 and 67, as well as from workers in the East and West mines in Zhenkazgan.
The workers demanded a pay rise of 100%, a review of the payment systems and improved safety. The employer, whose security guards had just a month or so ago threatened a second “Zhenazoen” if the workers went on strike (referring to a long running oil workers strike in west Kazakhstan that saw workers killed and injured by armed riot police last December), were shocked at the speed and scale at which the strike developed. The bosses’ were forced to immediately announce that underground miners would see their wages rise in increments, from 150000 tenge a month and then 350000. The employers have also started work on amending a collective agreement and a new written agreement has been made.
Repression against activists
However this first victory will not be the end of the struggle. Repression against the leading activists will be stepped up. Berik Zhagiparov and trade union activists are being threatened with a court trial similar to that of oil workers in Zhanaozen, where over 30 strikers are charged with “inciting civil discontent” and face prison sentences of up to ten years. However, other workers at the KazakhMys company will probably be involved in struggles soon, as they face the same poor wages and terrible working conditions. It is not excluded that Edward Ogai, President of the company will attempt to backtrack from his promises to the miners who took recent action, also triggering new industrial action.
So, the victorious workers do not intend to relax. They have pledged to continue strengthening their trade union which is a trade union independent of the mining company (and which recently joined Zhanartu). Their example will inspire workers in Kazakhstan to stand up for their rights.