Kazakhstan: Zhanaozen workers strike demanding release of comrades from prison

2,000 Burgylai company workers cease work for two hours

About 2,000 workers at the Burgylai company, which services and installs new pumps for the KazMunaiGaz oil company, took part in a 2 hour strike on 25th July. They held a rally at the company to demand the release of their jailed comrades on the eve of the next court appeal hearing in a regional court. Seventeen oil workers and their supporters have already received long jail sentences. Another 15 were arrested, awaiting trial, following the violent break-up by the regime of the 7-month oil-workers’ strike on 16 December 2011.

Workers at Burgylai took part in a prolonged and bitter strike in April 2009. They were the first workers in the region to raise the need for the nationalization of the oil and gas industry under workers’ control. Following this, many workers in other sectors throughout Kazakhstan have taken up this demand, have taken part in strikes and protests against the attempts by the owners to shut down companies and strip their assets.

And now, as of three years ago, Burgylai workers have shown themselves to be leading the way, in effect declaring a political strike. This is a further warning to the authorities, as they are openly expressing what most workers in the oil and gas sector of the Mangystau region feel. If the authorities continue to persecute Roza Tuletaeva, Akzhanat Aminov, Maksat Dosmagambetov and other leaders of last year’s strike, an all-out strike could develop across the region.

The regional court is now reviewing the appeal of those 37 strikers who were tried over events in Zhanaozen, last December, when scores were killed by riot police. Thirteen strikers were sentenced to between 3 and 7 years in prison. Their treatment contrasts sharply to the release of the former Akims (Mayors) of Zhanaozen (Zh Babakhanov and O Sarbopeev), despite their role in provoking the bloody attacks on the strikers, and the huge corruption that exists in the city. This is causing huge anger not only amongst the oil workers but amongst other residents in the city.

Further industrial action at MunaiFildServis

Also on the eve of the appeal, workers at another section of KazMunaiGaz, at MunaiFildServis, struck for a day in protest at the continuing mass redundancies. These are presented by the company as, “holidays with no pay”! This dispute began to develop last Friday, when the workers’ committee demanded an explanation from management over the job loss announcement. After fruitless negotiations, the dispute spread and culminated in the strike. A mass meeting of 6-700 workers took place outside the company’s office. It should be remembered that last year, on the 2 August, Zhaksylyk Turbaev, a leading trade union activist at this company, was brutally murdered at his workplace.

According to information from the trade union, after the OzenMunaiGaz bosses and the city Akim visited the plant, promises were given that no redundancies would take place and the strike was called off. How long this ceasefire will continue will depend on how long the employers keep their word. Only time will tell. But what is clear that the oil workers, as well as other workers from the region, will not stay silent and simply put up with repression by the authorities and the provocations of the employers.

The attempts to scare the workers using “preventative arrests” on trumped-up charges of “inciting social conflict” and mass interrogations have not succeeded. These are just the first signs of the renewal of new strikes and protests in the region.

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July 2012