CWI reporters, Moscow 3rd September 2011
Striker’s daughter murdered…Arrest of Socialist activists threatened – solidarity campaign needs stepping up!
For nearly four months, oil workers from Zhanaozen and Aktau in West Kazakhstan have been on strike. This is already the most significant strike, in terms of the numbers involved, the length of the strike, the repression faced by the strikers and the demands that have been raised by the workers that has taken place in the former Soviet Union since a miner’s strikes in the early nineties.
The oil industry management, with the support of the police, courts, KNB (political police) and prosecutors’ office decided to try and break the workers, refusing to negotiate and using vicious repression. Hundreds of strikers have been sacked. Their union lawyer, Natalia Sokolova, was sentenced to 6 years in prison and an elected strike negotiator, Akzhanat Aminov, received a one year suspended sentence. As if this is not enough, in the middle of August, a trade union activist, who was due to attend his trade union meeting where he was likely to be elected president of the branch, was murdered by hired thugs at his workplace. Now Zhansaula Karabakaeva, the 18 year old daughter of another strike activist, Kudaibergen Karabalaeva, has been found murdered, in circumstances similar to the first murder. The police show no signs of conducting a serious investigation.
The company and government say, on the one hand, that the strike involves an insignificant number of workers, but then, on the other hand, they go on to complain that because of the strike, profits are falling and money paid to the national budget is declining. Clearly, the strike is having an effect, but it is wrong to blame the workers for money not being paid to the national budget. Each month, on average each worker is responsible for the extraction of oil worth 30,000 euro, of which 5,500 goes to the government and only 1,500 in wages. In other words, even allowing for investment, repairs and running costs, the company has about 15,000 euro “surplus”. If the structure of KazMunaiGaz and all its daughter companies were to be taken out of the hands of investors and put under the control of the workforce, instead of this money going into the foreign bank accounts of the “investors”, it could be used to provide proper equipment, improve the wages to a respectable level and increase the money paid to the national budget.
Each act of terror, however, only hardens the determination of the workers. The government and the employers seem to believe that by increasing the repression against the workers, they can defeat the strike. But, in reality, they are leaving the workers no option but to continue their struggle.
During the visit of Paul Murphy, Socialist Party (Ireland) MEP, to meet the striking oil workers, in July, a special fund was established to collect money for the families and children of the striking workers. Not only has this fund received support from a number of key cultural figures in Kazakhstan and raised several thousand euro, it also boosted the possibilities for international trade unions to support the strike. Apart from pickets in support of the strikers that have already been held in London, Dublin, Brussels, Poland, Moscow and elsewhere, mineworkers in Sweden have communicated their support, together with a donation of 1500 euro. In Hamburg, German CWI activists collected over 200 euro from passers-by during street activities. At a large political rally organized by the Austrian Communist Party, the CWI will be raising the issue of support for the strikers.
The reaction from workers to the oil strikers’ plight is, as always, instinctive. They understand that when the employer and the state, the police and courts are ranged up against workers, it is important to give all the support they can. But, unfortunately, the workers in Zhanoazenskaya oblast are meeting the same response from their trade union structures as workers often do in other countries. When they tried to re-elect their trade union representatives at the KarazhanBasMunai company they were met with obstruction by the management, threats by the police that their meetings were illegal and the threat of thugs to beat up and even kill opposition activists.
The international trade union bodies rather than condemn these actions and give full support to the workers, have put up bureaucratic barriers. Nearly two months after the start of the strike, representatives of the Geneva-based trade union federations sent a list of questions to the workers that required 64 pages to answer. A trade union official on behalf of these structures merely repeats the arguments given by the company management to Paul Murphy MEP. She complained that “there are still unresolved questions, it is not clear what the mechanism for electing representatives (by the strikers) to resolve the conflict is, and it is also the case that the workers keep ‘reformulating’ their demands”. Apart from demonstrating ignorance about the organizational difficulties faced by the strikers, these bureaucrats seem to be oblivious to the fact that following the election of the first six negotiators, two were imprisoned and a third was left homeless following an arson attack.
The CWI throughout the CIS, supports the work of the Socialist Movement Kazakhstan, and continue to stand fully in support with the strikers and do all we can to assist them in their just demands for
• The release of Natalia Sokolova from prison
• The reinstatement, with no preconditions, of all those who have been sacked
• Negotiations to start with the elected representatives of the strikers
• The nationalisation of the natural resources of Kazakhstan under the democratic control and management of workers
Aware that Socialist Movement Kazakhstan is at the forefront of building support for the oil workers, repression is being stepped up against its leaders. Police sources have stated that they are close to arresting Socialist Movement Kazakhstan leaders, Ainur Kurmanov and Esenbek Ukteshbayev. Esen is accused of the “seizure of private property” belonging to the “BTA Ipoteka” bank following his participation in the campaign to prevent the eviction of families from their homes by bank bailiffs. The charges against Ainur are said to be either the “organization of mass suicides” in which he is blamed for the suicides of those evicted by the banks or the just as nebulous “disobedience” charge, which carries a sentence of up to 7 years!
These charges are in addition to those threatened against Vadim Kuramshin – “organization of a criminal group” and a new charge against Dmitry Tikhonov – “cyber terrorism”. It is alleged he is behind the hacking of the ‘BTA Ipotek’ website, although at the time of the alleged hacking Dmitry was spending seven days in police custody for protesting in support of the oil workers.
These charges are serious. Activists in Kazakhstan are used to having to spend periods under administrative arrest – indeed, since returning home from the CWI School at the end of July, three members of the CWI, Dmitri Tikhonov, Zhanna Baiteleva and Arman Ozhaubayev, spent between 7 and 15 days in police custody. These frame-ups involve criminal charges carrying possibly long sentences. Alongside the 6 year sentence handed down to the lawyer of the oil workers, Natalia Sokolova, this repression is intended to silence the most effective oppositionists in the country.
Protests are urgently needed. What can be done?
Support for the strike:
The strikers have asked Paul Murphy, Member of the European Parliament for the Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), to assist in raising money from the international trade union and workers’ movement and he has subsequently opened a bank account to which donations can be sent.
Workers Solidarity Fund IBAN BE29 7340 3242 2964 BIC KREDBEBB
A longer analytical article taking up some of the disinformation spread by the employers and Kazakhstan state about the strike can be found here.
Please also ask your trade unions to take up the oil workers’ strike.
Protest against the threatened arrests of Kazakhstan’s socialists:
Protest outside embassies or other Kazakhstan interests in your country – (for example, see recent article, on socialistworld.net, regarding public protests in Sweden).
Send email protests to the embassies in your country and also to the Head of the PR Department at the BTA Bank Asel Tynyshbekova at
Please send any reports and messages of support etc to: