Kazakhstan: Angry coal-miners on strike in Karaganda

Saranskaya mine, Kazakhstan

A dramatic strike struggle has broken out in the Karaganda coal mines of Kazakhstan which now come under ‘Arcellor Mittal Temirtau’. Within the first few hours of their strike action, the miners were offered 20% rises and then 50%, but hundreds of the strikers have sworn they will stay below ground until they get the full claim. They are demanding face to face talks with the top owner – Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal who has flown to the country.


The thousands of miners involved had been trying to negotiate on their claim for six months but their patience ran out! Their claims include a 100% wage increase and better working conditions in the pits to put an end to the horrific level of injuries and deaths at work. They also want the restoration of retirement at 50.

The Minister of ‘Social Defence’ has inflamed the stuation by claiming they are already earning more than a thousand dollars a month! In fact, they get less than half that for risking life and limb every day.

In the last couple of days, strikers and journalists – some outside in sub-zero temperatures – have been making videos of the struggle and are calling for international support. As miners in the videos say, the majority of the population in Kazakhstan still depend on their labour for coal-fired power and heating.

One video shows a striking miner declaiming angrily at a mass meeting: “They have their fine homes, their fine cars, their fine incomes and we cannot even feed our families!”. Another video shows a workers’ leader at the Lenin mine addressing a packed mass meeting. To loud cheers he declares: “Lenin will stand to the end!”. Asked if there isn’t at least stability in Kazakhstan, one of the strikers says: “Stability in this country? No!”.

‘December 16th’

At the time of writing, all eight mines are involved in the strike. Tension mounts in the run-up to this year’s Independence Day – December 16 .

In Kazakhstan this date has been a momentous one, historically. On 16 December, 1986, when Kazakhstan was still part of the USSR, the Kazakh head of the republic, Dinmukhamed Kunayev, was removed from office by a decision in Moscow and Gennady Kolbin was appointed in his place. This provoked immediate protests, starting amongst the student youth, who felt they should have someone from Kazakhstan at the head of their republic’s government.

Mass demonstrations took place in Almaty and spread to other cities of Kazakhstan. The protest was viciously suppressed by the forces of the military and the police. There were victims and a number of activists were sentenced to various periods of time behind bars. Some of them died in prison. Many students were expelled from their places of study. Nazarbayev then became the head of Kazakhstan.

After the liquidation of the USSR in 1991, the government of independent Kazakhstan decided to regard December 16 as Independence Day.

On this date twenty five years later, in 2011, after 8 months of strike action for better wages, oil-workers and family members gathered in the centre of Zhanaozen, Western Kazakhstan, to hold a peaceful rally. Without warning they were viciously attacked by armed forces of the state and more than seventy people were killed and many more injured.

Clamp-down and struggle

Because of these events, 16 December has become a day of extreme concern for the authorities; they fear that people will use the date to commemorate the martyrs of the past and express their anger against the continuing dictatorial rule of Nursultan Nazarbayev. They are afraid of mass protests marking this date and leading to an overthrow of the government. In advance of the anniversary this year, the authorities have been making preparations involving the Spetznatz (Special Police), the prosecutor’s office, the KNB (Secret Police), the police and army, organising wiretaps, tailing people, reinforcing police squads and using internal agents – all to cut across any protests.

Recently, on November 30 – the eve of the December 1st national day in honour of Nazarbayev – a spontaneous short strike broke out at a copper mine in Zhezkazgan and seriously worried the authorities. The Kazakhmys management immediately promised increases and big concessions, but nothing in writing. Now they and the authorities are using various methods of intimidation – blackmail, threats, warnings, attempts to split activists and many other dirty tactics. The authorities are trying desperately to prevent protests at this time.

Regime’s tactics will not work

Last year, even on the days around the 16th December, people stayed at home. The streets were empty. This year things could be different. The regime is nervous but also provocative.

Against the backdrop of all its dictatorial measures, the airport in Astana has been named after Nazarbayev! In Almaty they have renamed an avenue after him. There is a university named after Nazarbayev, a park named after Nazarbayev, a school named after Nazarbayev. There are monuments to Nazarbayev. And now, lickspitalling, corrupt MPs are proposing to rename Astana ‘Nazarbayev’!

People are outraged, but so far they have been afraid to say anything openly. Some are afraid of losing their jobs, some are afraid for their family. That’s how the Nazarbayev henchmen work. A journalist – Berig Zhagiparov – has been threatened officially with criminal charges just for publicising the action at Kazakhmys in Zhezkazgan on social media. They will try and pick people off before a real upsurge of anger develops; a strong workers’ movement is more important than ever. And now there is the heroic strike in Karaganda!

Please send support for the striking miners – photos, emails, video messages etc. (in any language!) – via Campaign Kazakhstan. email address: campaignkazakhstan@gmail.com

Please also write to your nearest Kazakhstan embassy to remind the Nazarbayev regime that, internationally, the massacre of Zhanaozen is not forgotten, that workers striking for a better deal are supported world-wide and that the arbitrary arrest of supporters of the workers’ struggle must stop! 

Model protest letter to President Nursultan Nazarbayev:

We write to you and your government to express our fullest support for the striking miners of Karaganda who have launched a determined struggle for decent wages and conditions. They risk their lives daily to receive around €500 a month while a government Minister lies and says they are taking home twice that much. For half a year now they have been asking for a better deal with no response; now they are prepared to stop work, with many staying underground, untill they get a fair deal.

We remember what happened six years ago on 16 December 2011 when oilworkers in Western Kazakhstan waged a struggle for better wages and conditions and your state sent armed forces against a peaceful gathering in Zhanaozen, killing dozens and injuring many more.

You have blood on your hands already and we want to warn you that any further atrocities against striking workers and peaceful protests will be condemned world-wide.

The miners of Karaganda and elsewhere have the support of the overwhelming majority of the people of Kazakhstan. They are fed up with your so-called government. They see the renaming of places that are familiar to them in your honour – for being a dictator for decades. They see you enriching yourself, your family and your favourites from the wealth of the country that they produce and are angry that they still live in abject poverty and in a police state!

We want to tell you that we will never forgive or forget what happened on 16 December 2011 and will continue to campaign for justice – for the families of the victims and for all those who stand up and fight for their just deserts!

We say:-

  • Give the workers what they are demanding or face the consequences!
  • Stand down and hold genuine democratic elections!
  • Release all the political prisoners that you are holding in your jails and drop all charges against them!
  • No administrative punishment for those who support the workers’ cause!

Please send something similar to the above today to President Nursultan Nazarbayev via your local Kazakhstan Embassy. (https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/kazakhstan)

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December 2017