The oil-workers in Mangystau, West Kazakhstan, have been battling with their employer for more than six months now. “Negotiations” at the end of November demonstrated once again that neither the government nor the company had any intention of taking any serious steps towards discussing the real issues leading to the strike.
Campaign reporters, Kazakhstan
In the lead up to the negotiations, the strikers from all the companies involved in the strike reformulated their demands. They presented six altogether:- a review of the collective agreement; the introduction of coefficients (additional payments) for dangerous work and work in remote regions; the sacking of the director of “Ozenmunaigaz”, Eshmanov; the reinstatement of all those sacked to their previous jobs; payment of wages lost during the strike and, of course, the release of their lawyer, Natalia Sokolova. (See details in previous material on this site).
Although the workers were represented by ten people, they were not properly elected and did not report back on the course of discussions. But it soon became clear that neither the employer nor the government were intent on serious talks. It was revealed, for example, that despite a statement by the government side during the previous week that strikers could be reinstated, what was being offered was less than 300 jobs at another workplace on significantly lower wages. (There are over 2,500 sacked strikers).
The struggle against dictatorship in Kazakhstan and how to build world-wide solidarity and support
Kazakhstan is a police state. It is ruled by one man, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and his close family who have looted the wealth of the country to grow rich and buy international allies. The vast majority of the population live in poverty and those who speak out against the regime or organise mass resistance are harassed, jailed, even killed.
A long-running strike in the country’s oilfields has seen thousands of workers and their families left to starve. Their legal representative, Natalia Sokolova, has been scandalously condemned to six years in prison on trumped up charges.
These workers’ leaders and their families have been subject to brutal physical attack including rape and murder. Rubber bullets and batons have been used to intimidate strikers, press representatives and human rights observers.
Kazakhstan is 162 out of 178 countries on the ‘press freedom’ ratings compiled by ‘Reporters Without Borders’. It is also one of the world’s most corrupt and authoritarian countries. ‘World Democracy Audit’ ranks Kazakhstan at number 83 out of 149 states on the corruption ratings and just 29 from the bottom in relation to (lack of) democratic rights.
The Nazarbayev regime justifiably fears an explosion of anger from below along the lines of the revolutions which brought down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year. This explains their nervous political zig-zags, their arbitrary approach to ‘justice’ and the vicious attempts to clamp down on the workers’ movement.
Under the impact of the events in North Africa, Nazarbayev switched from postponing the presidential elections until 2020 to rushing them through this April to get a fraudulent 95% vote in his favour.
The voice of the working and poor people
Such tricks do not abate the mass discontent in the country and those who voice the people’s anger represent a growing threat to the regime. Ainur Kurmanov and Esenbek Ukteshbayev have led mass campaigns of resistance and are widely respected as leaders of the independent trade union federation, Zhenartu. This all-Kazakhstan trade union organisation advocates the re-nationalisation of all the major resources, industry, banks and land which were plundered by Nazarbayev and his cronies. They say this needs to be accompanied by genuinely democratic control in order for the people of Kazakhstan to reap the benefits, rather than president’s clique, which includes friends at the head of multinational companies.
Ainur and Esenbek have guided a long and successful struggle against evictions with the campaign called ‘Leave the People’s Homes Alone’ and are known throughout the country as leaders of ‘Kazakhstan 2012′, now established as the ‘Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan’, which aims to build rapidly a mass party of struggle. For their tireless efforts on all these issues, Ainur and Esen are being persecuted by the regime.
Campaign Kazakhstan aims to give maximum support to all activists and workers’ leaders involved in these movements. This means supporting the struggle for basic democratic rights. This means campaigning for free speech, freedom of the media, freedom of public assembly, the right to establish trade unions and political parties independent of the government, to organise in the workplace and the community without interference from the state, to strike and demonstrate.
All these rights are trampled on in Kazakhstan. Some governments in Europe and world-wide have made mild criticisms of the abuses of power in Kazakhstan. Some declare support for elements of the opposition, seeking to limit its demands.
Many so-called democratic governments continue to send representatives to conferences hosted by Nazarbayev, send official delegations to Kazakhstan and encourage lucrative business deals, especially for the extraction of oil, gas and precious minerals. Ex- British prime minister, Tony Blair, has a multi-million pound agency advising the regime on how to make safe business deals and how to avoid social unrest!
Journalists from Stan TV and from certain ‘liberal’ newspapers have been brutally harassed. The lives of leaders of opposition organisations – unions, residents’ organisations and parties – and lawyers who support them are constantly under threat. They must be given maximum support by socialists and trade unionists internationally.
Protests have been organised in many countries, including Britain – outside embassies, petrol stations, football matches, business forums and official ceremonies – demanding: ‘Down with the Nazarbayev dictatorship!’, ‘Victory to Kazakhstan workers!’, ‘Hands off Ainur and Esenbek!’,
The conflict between the Nazarbayev regime and its opponents could come to a head at any moment. The regime could go too far in its attacks on workers and poor people and provoke a general strike or even a mass uprising across the country. Nazarbayev could also, at some stage, try to take pre-emptive steps by rounding up all activists as well as leaders of the opposition. This too could flare up into a massive trial of strength between the tiny clique at the top of society and the movement of workers and poor who represent the vast, impoverished mass of the population.
Campaign Kazakhstan has been set up with the aim of coordinating world-wide condemnation of the regime and the international corporations who collaborate with it. It also seeks maximum support for those who are fighting back – most prominent among them, Ainur Kurmanov and Esenbek Ukteshbayev, prime targets of the state.
The campaign appeals to individual trade unionists and socialists, as well as trade unions and other organisations, to
a) Add their names to the list of sponsors and supporters of the campaign
b) Send letters of protest about the denial of democratic rights in Kazakhstan
c) Respond to appeals for support against particular attacks on opposition activists
d) Send letters of solidarity with workers engaged in strikes and demonstrations
e) Add your name to the campaign appeal (here)
f) Make a donation through the web-site (here) and ask your colleagues, family and friends to do the same
Contact the campaign through CampaignKazakhstan@gmail.com
For protests, the address of your nearest Kazakh embassy or consulate can be found through the internet.
Messages can also be sent to the Kazakh government via the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Kazakhstan Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copies please to: KazakhstanSolidarity@gmail.com and
See example of protest letter here.