Kazakhstan: Life of workers’ leader, Esenbek Ukteshbayev, in danger

Strikes of oil and gas workers continue; other workers follow lead

Amidst a bitter oil and gas workers’ strike, it seems that last Saturday a crude attempt was made on the life of Esenbek Ukteshbayev, leader of the ’Leave people’s homes alone’ campaign and of the Socialist Movement Kazakhstan.

Earlier in the week, his car was seized by bailiffs, allegedly after the non-payment of fines accumulated following Esen’s numerous political arrests. After a new exorbitant fine was collected, Esen was allowed to go to the car pound to reclaim his car. However, on arrival Esen found the car pound staff unusually keen to see him drive away in his car. Normally an inspection is made to ensure that the car has not been damaged. This time, however, staff suggested Esen just sign a form and leave.

Suspecting that something was amiss, Esen insisted on a proper inspection of his car. One of the guards seemed particularly nervous. Another guard then warned Esen that the brake pipes on his car were severed. After removing the car wheels, it was clear that not only had both pipes been cut but the handbrake had also been tampered with, sabotaging them. Whoever was responsible for this, also appeared to have made a trail of brake fluid on the ground to where the car was parked, to imply that the damage to the brake pipes occured on the way to the car pound. But the trickle of break oil led in the wrong direction!

When Esen phoned the local police to report a suspected serious crime and asked for a formal investigation, he found the local police too drunk to do anything. In extremely impolite language they told him to ’get lost!’. Only when Esen phoned the city police, and warned that the TV cameras were on the way to the car pound, did the police react. Arriving relatively quickly, they were more interested in clearing the press away than investigating allegations of a serious crime. One camera operator was held for three hours while his identity was „established”.

Oil and gas workers’ strike

The background to this apparently very serious incident is the ongoing oil and gas workers’ strike in the west of the country. One TV reporter, commented on the still strong strike: “As Marx said: ’First social problems, then economic demands, then political reforms become fully realisable’”. If we leave aside the mangling of Marx’s words, this is not far from the truth. Having started a strike over a month ago, the oil and gas workers are finding that they are in conflict not just with their employer but with the state apparatus and with the political system running Kazakhstan. More and more workers are openly criticising President Nazarbayev.

The president is beginning to look less and less ’robust’. New groups of strikers are moving into action. The latest are the workers at the Elevator Repair plant in Kokshetau. The management pleaded with them last Friday to go back to work. The workers’ patience however has run out. Wages have not been paid for months and some now face flat repossession for non-payment of rent. One of the strikers has a young child who desperately needs a medical operation but has no money to cover the costs. The strikers’ anger was increased when it was discovered that management had found money to pay three lawyers to harass workers’ leaders.

Workers at the Elevator Repair plant in Kokshetau

The regime seems to believe that it can wait out the strike and continue piling pressure onto the leaders of the workers’ movement; but as the working class of Kazakhstan is currently demonstrating, they will not succeed. If the regime continues in this way, the country is likely to explode.

Having refused to accept defeat and go back to work last Friday, the Kokshetau workers turned up outside their factory last Monday to discover that the management had suddenly found the money to pay their wages. After wages were paid for April in full and a promise was given to pay those for May, the strikers returned to work. Such a quick victory, within a few days, is unheard of in Kazakhstan. It is all due to "solidarity and decisiveness” that the strikers were able to turn the situation to their advantage, according to strike leader, Andrei Prigor, who is also a member of the Socialist Movement Kazakhstan.

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June 2011