Tag Archives: Kazakh labor movement

Support Pussy Riot by all means. But support the Kazakh oil workers too

peopleandnature.wordpress.com
Support Pussy Riot by all means. But support the Kazakh oil workers too
9 August 2012

A court in Mangistau, western Kazakhstan, has rejected appeals by 12 oil workers against prison sentences ranging from two to six years, imposed for their part in last year’s strikes.

One activist, Roza Tuletaeva, had her sentence cut from seven years to five – but her family fear this is part of a campaign to force her to give evidence against political oppositionists in an upcoming trial. Threats against Tuletaeva’s children by the KNB security service have made her suicidal, they warn.

The appeals were heard, and almost all rejected, by judge Maksat Beisembaev in the Mangistau district court on 2 August. The prisoners were not permitted to attend the hearing.

Lawyers appealed against the sentences on the grounds that the defendants had admitted their part in last year’s protests; that they had no previous convictions; that in some cases guilt had not been proved; and that most of the prisoners had underage children and were in many cases the household breadwinner.

The appeal verdicts were another blow to the community of Zhanaozen, the oil town where on 16 December police fired on demonstrators demanding improved wages and conditions, killing at least 16 and wounding at least 64.

Prisoners’ families and other oil workers who crowded the court room told journalists that they were “shocked”. They angrily compared the appeal verdicts with those pronounced on two former akims (mayors) of Zhanaozen, Orak Sarbopeev and Zhalgas Babakhanov, who have both been convicted of large-scale corruption and handed two-year conditional sentences.

Human rights activists fear that the pressure on Tuletaeva by the security forces bodes ill for the trial of political oppositionists Vladimir Kozlov, Serik Sapargali and Akzhanat Aminov. They have been charged with “inciting social conflict”, because they supported last year’s strikes by oil workers.

Tuletaeva’s daughter, Aliya, told opposition newspapers that her mother had telephoned her from detention and said that KNB officers had threatened to “do something” to her children.

Aliya believes that Roza Tuletaeva was threatened by the same KNB officer who was tortured her in pre-trial detention. She also thinks that KNB officers forced her mother to sign a declaration against the opposition politician Vladimir Kozlov, but that they are worried she will renounce it in court.

Thousands of kilometres to the north west, in Moscow, three members of the Pussy Riot feminist punk band, who allegedly sang songs against Russian president Vladimir Putin in a cathedral, are on trial for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. They face a possible three-year sentence.

Young people all over Europe have demonstrated in support of Pussy Riot, and a good thing too. The band has received support from Madonna and other pop celebrities. I hope we can build the same level of support for Roza Tuletaeva and the other activists in Zhanaozen – on whom the Kazakh authorities, having already perpetrated the dreadful massacre of 16 December, are exacting vengeance.

The contrast between the huge media coverage of Pussy Riot in western Europe, and the near-total silence about Zhanaozen, is stark.

Pussy Riot are cool and photogenic; the oil workers are not. The Pussy Riot trial is easy to access for the western journalists based in Moscow, some of whom can feel smugly superior that – for all of the last forty years or so! – supposedly blasphemous artists are no longer so crudely targeted in western Europe. Not only the liberal newspapers (Guardian, Independent, etc), but even the right-wing Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, have sympathised.

And there is a political discourse. In the two-dimensional world inhabited by foreign policy “experts”, denouncing Putin is a priority . . . but attacking the Nazarbayev regime in Kazakhstan is more complicated. Putin is against “western interests”, has mistreated “our” oil companies, and has worried Russian private property by jailing oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Nazarbayev has opened Kazakhstan’s doors to foreign investment, and “our” oil companies – British Gas, Agip, ExxonMobil and others – have invested billions in the very western Kazakhstan oil field where the massacre took place.

So I say: support Pussy Riot, by all means. Dance however you want, in a cathedral of your choice. Use irony, blasphemy, conspiracy. . . . But do something about Roza Tuletaeva and the oil workers too. For example, you can:

• Support the on-line protest, demanding a review of unjust sentences, launched by the Confederation of Labour of Russia, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Kazakhstan and the LabourStart web site.

• Write to the Kazakh government, demanding the release of the jailed oil workers and investigation of the allegations of torture, and send copies to the Open Dialog Foundation which is monitoring events in Zhanaozen and urging international support;

• Especially if you are in the UK, demand that the British government takes action too, as it has close links with Kazakhstan and supports the activity of British oil companies there.

*****

For more information, visit the “Zhanaozen oil workers” site (Russian and some English) 

Information for this article from OD Foundation (here) and Respublika (here and here).

Read why People & Nature, a site about socialism and the natural environment, thinks this is important, here.

8 Comments

Filed under international affairs, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, trade unions

Kazakhstan: Authorities Crack Down on Striking Oil Workers

[Editor’s note: the following press release has been lightly edited to make it more readable.]

13 July 2011

Kazakhstan: authorities engage in violent reprisals against striking oil workers

In Kazakhstan’s Mangistau province, a real threat has emerged to the security and safety of thousands of oil workers participating in a collective action – a strike – which they started on 11 May 2011. Taking part in the strike are oil workers at OzenMunayGaz, Karazhanbasmunay, and Ersay Caspian Contractor (the latter is part of the Italian holding ENI). The workers are continuing a protest action of indefinite duration. The workers on strike are being joined by more and more employees of auxiliary production units and relatives. According to observers, over the past months, eight to fifteen people have taken part. During the strike, some 900 workers have been fired. We have already written about this in the press release “Kazakhstan: inactivity of the authorities pushes oil industry workers to suicide!” (14 June 2011).

This collective action was a response to the inaction of employers – the foreign owners of oil deposits and local authorities. None of these parties has reacted to workers’ demands.

The demands of the industrial action remain unchanged:

  • To allow the creation and functioning of independent trade unions and their structures including the Karakiyak trade union;
  • To revise the collective agreement so that is based on the principle of equality of parties and takes into consideration the interests and rights of the workers;
  • To raise the wages of the workers by 100%, as the current agreement does not provide for actual minimum living standards;
  • To bring wages and other working conditions in accordance with International Labour Standards.

In recent days, alarming events are unfolding in the cities where the enterprises are located and where employees have gone on strike.

At about 16:00 on 8 July 2011, a unit of fully armed special police landed and attacked peaceful citizens in the city of Zhanaozen unexpectedly and without explanation or warnings.

Without entering into negotiations or making demands, policemen started to disperse the gathered people, beating them with clubs. They overturned woks with food prepared by relatives and tore the roof off a makeshift tent where people were sitting. According to witnesses, the police officers’ behavior was aggressive: they were doing this on purpose in order to provoke confrontation. Men and women taking part in the strike tried to stop the police officers but were severely beaten up.  About thirty people were forcibly taken to local hospitals. As of 12 July, a number of the arrested persons have managed to escape from the hospitals.

Realizing that they were outmatched, a group of sixty oil workers on hunger strike poured petrol over their bodies and announced that they were ready to burn themselves up as a sign of protest against the lawlessness and violence of the police.

Over a thousand protesting oil workers were rounded up by the police on the premises of OzenMunayGaz. A special police unit is hindering their communication with the outside world. More than 4,000 people gathered in the main square in Zhanaozen to express their solidarity with the protesting oil workers.

On 9-10 July 2011, after a violent action against the fired employees of OzenMunayGaz (now on hunger strike), a mass meeting followed in the city of Mangistau. Following the violent dispersal of hunger strike participants and sympathizing colleagues, who all this time had been gathering at OzenMunayGaz, city residents started spontaneously flowing into the square in front of the local akimat (city administration) including elderly people, women and children. A fully equipped special police unit brought there on several coaches observed the crowd from a short distance away.

According to striking workers, the reason for the mass discontent was the behavior of the special police unit, which tried to obstruct the traditional “sadaqa” ceremony at the No.5 Oil Wells Directorate No.5 (UOS-5). This was where policemen overturned woks with food and began dispersing people present at the ceremony with clubs.

On 11 July 2011, the crowds of people gathered in the square in front of the Zhanaozen administration building consisted of families including elderly people and children. At the same time, special police units with special equipment were stationed at nearby schools Nos. 9, 18, and 19. According to our information, a water cannon, eighteen firefighting trucks, three military KamAZ trucks, and four coaches with special policemen are hidden in the Kazakhstan gas processing plant (KazGPZ) and ready to start reprisals at any moment.

The unfolding situation poses a threat to the health and safety of active strike participants:

  • Since 25 May 2011, Natalya Sokolova, lawyer of the trade union at Karazhanbasmunay, has been detained under Article 164 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan for “inciting social discord.” There is no information about her condition: she is being denied access to lawyers, relatives and her husband.
  • Kuanysh Sisenbaev, leader of the trade unions of the workers at Karazhanbasmunay, has been subject to the pressure from authorities since 1 July 2011 in the city of Aktau. He is being blamed for organizing a protest march of oil workers that took place in Aktau on 5 June 2011. During the violent reprisals, several demonstrators were arrested by the police. Sisenbaev and two colleagues were driven to suicide, as a result of which they were taken to a hospital. Sisenbaev has been charged under Article 373 of the Administrative Delinquency Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan: “Violation of laws on organizing and conducting peaceful gatherings, meetings, marches, pickets and demonstrations.”
  • On 3 July, Akzhanat Aminov, a leader of the trade union at OzenMunayGaz, was arrested under Article 164 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan “for inciting social discord.” Aminov suffers from diabetes and is in constant need of medical care. Currently, he is being held in a pretrial detention facility. He is being denied medical care, meetings with relatives and a lawyer, which is a form of cruel treatment whose aim is to pressure striking workers.
  • Natalya Azhigalieva, activist of the striking OzenMunayGaz workers and a fifth-class operator at the oil-and-gas production directorate (NGDU) of OzenMunayGaz, has been fired. She was among the thirty detained oil workers who went on hunger strike and who were forcibly taken to a hospital on 8 July in Zhanaozen. On the morning of 11 July, she managed to escape from the hospital, which is under the surveillance of a special police unit. Criminal charges are being fabricated against her under Article 164 of the Kazakh Criminal Code “for inciting social discord.”

According to our observations, in breach of its international obligations, the Republic of Kazakhstan has taken the side of the employer in the industrial dispute and is using law enforcement bodies against trade union activists and striking workers, as well as engaging in violent reprisals against strikes and peaceful protests.

According to our information, during the strike the oil workers offered to start negotiations on peaceful settlement of the dispute. However, Kazakh authorities are ignoring the demands of the workers on strike despite the obligations assumed by the state.

The provisions of international agreements violated by Kazakhstan are as follows:

  • Article 19 (the right to express one’s opinion), Article 21 (freedom of peaceful assembly), Article 22 (freedom of association) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

  • Nineteen conventions of the International Labor Organization including the fundamental ones:

– Convention 81 (Labor Inspection, 1947), pursuant to which the state in the person of the state labor inspectorate shall undertake relevant measures in case the human rights at work are violated;

– Convention 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, 1948), pursuant to which the state shall allow the organization of trade unions of workers created for the protection of their lawful interests and shall recognize them;

– Convention 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949), pursuant to which employers shall conduct negotiations with workers’ representatives and the state shall be the guarantor of the consultative process;

– Convention 111 (Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958), pursuant to which it shall be prohibited to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.

There is well-founded concern that striking oil workers will be driven to despair and to extreme measures inflicting harm to their health, and the authorities will bring violent reprisals against them, thus ignoring their lawful and reasonable demands.

We earnestly ask for your help in urging national human rights protection bodies to respond to this situation to the full extent.

Respectfully,

Lyudmila Kozlovska, Open Dialog Foundation
lyudmylakozlovska@odfoundation.eu

Nadejda Atayeva, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia
n.atayeva@gmail.com

Leave a comment

Filed under film and video, international affairs, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, trade unions

Ainur Kurmanov: The State of the Unions in Kazakhstan

In our previous post, we wrote about the recent arrest and jailing of Kazakh social activist and journalist Ainur Kurmanov, and the international solidarity campaign that has sprung up in his defense. We thus have decided it is a good time to publish a report written by Ainur late last year on the recent history of the labor movement in Kazakhstan and the prospects for militancy and consolidation within this movement. The successful strike in March of this year by KazMunayGas workers in Zhanaozen seems to prove many of the points Ainur makes in the following article.

The Current State of the Trade Union Movement in Kazakhstan

The situation in the trade union movement in Kazakhstan is complex and quite difficult. The processes under way within the organizations and amongst the working masses are in many ways reminiscent of the changes taking place in Russia. In essence, there is no unified labor movement in the country. The old Soviet-era trade unions have collapsed, turning into an aging, parasitic bureaucratic caste. Likewise, the free trade unions that emerged in the early 1990s have seriously deteriorated and thus do not offer a real alternative for union activists who want to engage in genuine struggle. At the same time, the economic crisis, which has staggered many sectors of the economy, has stimulated the growth of a new trade union movement. The signs of this new movement have begun to emerge everywhere and are a cause for optimism. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, international affairs, leftist movements, trade unions