URGENT

KAZAKHSTAN Workers’ strikes on the rise

In Kazakhstan (the largest and most industrialised of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia), there has been an increase in strikes in recent months, both in foreign multinationals and in the companies of local oligarchs. 

January 26. Aktobe oil workers go on strike.

In December 2020, for example, machinists at the transport company KM Tranco stopped work, with 300 of them gathering in front of the management, which by 12 December was forced to give up a thirteenth month’s pay and a 45% increase. It is possible that the approach of the legislative elections explains this setback, as the company belongs to a member of the Nazarbaev family (in power since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 editor’s note). On 27 December, the oil workers of the Chinese company CNPC, in the Kyzyl-Orda region, addressed their director, the President of the Republic and the Federation of Trade Unions (former official trade unions still subservient to the current regime editor’s note), to demand a 100% increase in their salary. They too obtained satisfaction. 

On 6 January, around 300 workers of the Italian multinational Bonatti S.p.A. (hydrocarbons) in Karachaganak, in the west of the country, went on strike and hunger strike for a 50% increase, because their current salary (150,000 tenge, about 350 dollars) is not enough to live on. The same demand was made on 12 January by the miners of the « Youbilieïny » gold mine in Aktobe, which belongs to the Kazakh group Altynex. On 15 January, the workers of the Chinese oil company Si Bou, in the Mangistau region, articulated their demands in a general assembly: wage increase to 200,000 tenge (468 dollars), increase in bonuses, etc. On 16 and 17 January, 

the strike began. On 19 January, the strikers had to return to work because of threats of arrest from the prosecutor, the KNB (the name of the KGB since 1991) and the police. Although the strike did not win any satisfaction, it gave new life to the class struggle in the region. On 26 January, the oil workers of the Chinese company KMK Mounai went on strike, demanding wage increases, followed on 26 January by their colleagues from AMK Mounai (South Korean capital), and on 1 February by the workers of MounaiSpetsSnab in the town of Janaozen, where on 16 December 2011 the police had murdered fifteen striking oil workers. 

These strikes are causing concern in high places. On 5 February, President Tokaev asked British billionaire Lakshmi Mittal to « minimise the incidence of industrial accidents and eliminate the wage gap between foreign and local employees » in an attempt to prevent further walkouts, which are not limited to the industrial sector. They also affect public transport and hospitals. On 4 February in Alma-Ata, the former capital of the country, the emergency medical services staff were on strike against the questioning of their covid bonus. The official unions did not support any of these strikes, and the independent unions are subject to repression by the authorities (the independent union in the hydrocarbons sector was dismantled at the beginning of 2021 by the authorities). So, many strikes come from groups of workers. In the course of these strikes, the old demand for nationalisation of privatised companies, which arose during the great struggle of oil workers in 2011, has resurfaced.  

From correspondence from Kazakhstan