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As part of a delegation to Kazakhstan, sponsored by the GUE/NGL Group in the European Parliament, Joe Higgins and I attended a 250 strong open air conference in Almaty on Saturday, 5 September 2010.
Activists from the social movements, people who defend their homes against continuous threats of being bulldozed by local authorities, representatives from the rural population and workers who are involved in setting up independent trade unions were present at the conference that was called for by the broader network of ‘Kazakhstan 2012’. Kazakhstan 2012 was set up with the aid of the CWI’s sister organization in Kazakhstan, Socialist Resistance. The meeting was chaired by Socialist Resistance member Ainur Kurmanow. Ainur enjoys widespread authority amongst all the sections of the working class opposition to the brutal and repressive Nazarbayev regime, which has been ruling the country in a single-party parliament for nearly 20 years.
Karlybaya Tolybaev, Kosain Kulmuratov and Serik Bitikbaev work as transport workers with the Chinese oil company the SNPS ‘Aktobemunaigaz’ Company, in the Aktyubinsk region, in the north west of Kazakhstan. They are accused of “material losses” as a result of an “illegal” strike held on 16 June. These workers travelled for two days to take part in the Kazakhstan 2012 conference and to present their case to Joe Higgins, MEP.
The oil funds that fills the pockets of the big companies and the regime is literally coming out off the ground like fountains. One of the workers told us that Kazakhstan is a very resources-rich country but workers do not see anything of this wealth.
In June, this year, Karlybaya Tolybaev, Kosain Kulmuratov and Serik Bitikbaev, and more than 400 co-workers, have been involved in organizing strike actions for higher wages and an improvement of health and safety standards; issues of concern that were brought to our attention repeatedly during the visit by different sections of the working class employed by multinational companies.
One of the workers brought a sealed envelope (sent to him by his employer) to the Kazakhstan 2012 conference. He opened the letter in front of TV cameras and found out that he had been sacked from the job. The official reason given is “being absent from the job”. This note was also written in his “job-booklet”, a document workers need to keep and will have to hand in to the employers when applying for a job.
The workers brought information about the financial accounts of the SNPS ‘Aktobemunaigaz’ Company and a report to its shareholders, in which the company explains the huge profits they have been able to make.
Unfortunately, the official trade union movement in Kazakhstan acts as a loyal servant of the apparatus of the regime. Trade unions that are set up on a company-based level have, in many cases, been established by the employers. That is what makes legal collective action in the interest of the working class very difficult, if not impossible. The workers had started a formal legal procedure to be able to officially go on strike but were denied that democratic right.
We had no other choice but to go ahead, is what workers told us. Now they find they are being sued by the company, supposedly for “material losses” as a result of the “illegal” strike on 16 June. The sums involved, according to reports we have received, could easily amount to millions of dollars (USD).
Those courageous workers are confronted with rebuilding the workers’ movement in Kazakhstan and need the solidarity of fellow workers around the world.
Below is a model letter:
To the Nazarlyk trade union,
Dear Karlybaya Tolybaev, Kosain Kulmuratov and Serik Bitikbaev,
We have learnt about your struggle for higher wages and an improvement of health and safety standards by the GUE/NGL delegation from the European Parliament, led by Joe Higgins, MEP for the Socialist Party, CWI, Ireland.
We regard the strike actions you have taken as justified and as an exercise of democratic rights that should be granted to every worker and trade unionist around the world.
The fact that you are being taken to court is clearly an attempt of intimidation by management. We have learnt that the struggle you have courageously initiated struck a chord with many other workers and poor people in Kazakhstan. They feel cut off from the huge wealth that exists in your country and which is handed over to multinational corporations and enriches the ruling elite in Kazakhstan.
We demand your immediate and unconditional reinstatement and the immediate implementation of your demands.
We will follow your case with great interest and wish you all the best in your struggle.
Yours in solidarity,
[Add name and trade union/organisation position]