Kazakhstan: War of nerves as authorities prepare to use force

Strikes spread – solidarity action needs to be stepped up

The 11th June is likely to be a critical day in the strike of oil and gas workers in West Kazakhstan as strikers once again gather in the regional capital Aktau to demonstrate, calling for the release of Natalia Sokolova.

It is clear that the company, “KazMunauGaz” and the authorities have decided not to negotiate and are preparing for an all out confrontation. In preparation for the 11th, the city’s centre has been occupied by police and bus loads of riot troops. The court’s are being prepared for a wave of arrests on charges such as “stirring up class conflict” and “leading an illegal strike, interfering with the work of the company”.

These are criminal charges with sentences of up to seven years. Natalia Sokolova has now been brought to court on the first of these charges and been remanded without bail for two months. The fact that the court was held just hours before today’s planned protest makes it clear that the authorities seem to think they can frighten the strikers back to work. They have already said they will use the second charge against the strike leaders.

But the threats are not working. The strikers are already commenting with black humour that the only thing the authorities have left to try is mass execution. They have become more determined and more radical. Oil and gas workers in the neigbouring regions of Kalamkaz and Atyrau have already promised to join the strike on the 14th or 15th of June if the company has not backed down by then. If the demonstration today is broken up, these regions could well walk out immediately.

The anger has been building after management decided to lay siege to the factory at “Ersai Kaspian Kontraktor”. 700 workers have been isolated with food and water supplies cut off as the authorities have used bulldozers to seal the only two roads to the plant. Helicopters are being used to supply food to the Italian white collar staff whilst the strikers have to smuggle in plastic bottles of water from the nearest village ten kilometers away. (This is essentially a desert region). Those who are on hunger strike are suffering particularly badly and 23 have already been hospitalized.

The strikers have told us they are determined to continue with their demands which, at EKK, include an increase in pay, an end to discrimination between the wages of Kazakh and foreign workers, a collective wage agreement and recognition of the trade union. SMS messages of support can be sent to these strikers on +7 701 813 48 64.

A mass campaign of slander has been waging in the official press against the strikers. Particularly notable is an article which has appeared on the government website written by Siyazbek Mukashev, leader of the official “trade union federation”. He demands that the strikers “work within the law” and participate in an “arbitration commission”. He claims he has done all in his power to arrange this but complains that “the employers are prepared for this, everything should be done within the law, we want to help, but they (the strikers) are refusing and maintaining their position”.

Nowhere does he comment that the strikers can not work within the law because their lawyer has been arrested, nor does he condemn the management for failing to turn up at a pre arranged time earlier this week for negotiations called for by the strikers.

Complete responsibility for this situation lies at the door of the employer and the authorities. They appear to want to provoke the workers further and in doing so, are only increasing support for the strike. Alongside the strikers are marching their families. The mother of one of the strikers, Ersaya has joined the hunger strike and warned that she will take more radical measures if they touch her son. Pensioners who used to work on the oil and gas fields have joined in, demanding that the demands of the strikers are met, including the nationalization of the sector.

It is clear that this war of nerves is likely to boil over soon. Then what will be important is that the workers remain unified and determined to fight on. The Socialist Movement Kazakhstan alongside the whole CWI expresses its support for the strikers and their demands, including the call for nationalization of the whole oil and gas sector under workers control and management and calls on all workers’ organizations to send their support to the strikers, and to demand the immediate end to repression against the workers.

We demand:

  • the immediate release of Natalia Sokolova
  • an end to all repression against the strikers
  • the lifting of the siege at “Ersai Kaspian Kontraktor”
  • the immediate recognition of the independent trade unions
  • the nationalization of the oil and gas sector under democratic workers’ control and management as part of a planned economy allowing the wealth of Kazakhstan to be used in the interests of the people and not those of the ruling clan and multinationals.

We call for pickets outside embassies of Kazakhstan and urgent protests to the following: doverie@kmg.kz, info@mangystau.kz, ppo@s-k.kz, kbm@kbm.kz

Solidarity messages should be sent to: solidar@socialismkz.info with copies to Robert.cwi@gmail.com and alex@socdeistvie.info

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