Tag Archives: Mangistau

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.

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Protest police killings of striking Kazakh oil workers! (London, Dec. 21)

Demonstrate – Support oil workers and their communities in Kazakhstan – Protest police killings

at:
Kazakh-British Chamber of Commerce
62 South Audley Street
Mayfair
London
W1K 2QR

on:
Wednesday
21st December 2011
12 noon

On Friday 17 December, the security forces violently attacked oil workers demanding better living standards in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan. Ten people were shot dead, more than 70 wounded, and 70 arrested, according to the government. Opposition activists and Russian media say that the number of victims could be much higher.

In spite of the massacre, the protests continued on 18 November. There were further clashes in nearby Aktau and Shetpe, and a 20-day state of emergency has been declared.

The Zhanaozen protests are part of a campaign for better pay and conditions by workers in the western Kazakhstan oilfield that started in May, grew in a strike of about 16,000 people in June, and continued through the year. (The Kazakh elite has become rich, thanks to oil – but in Mangistau, the largest oil-producing province, one third of the population are below the poverty line.)

Just like anti-capitalist protesters in Wall Street, the City of London and elsewhere, the Kazakh oil field workers established a “tent city”, in Zhanaozen’s main square, in June. When police tried to break it up in July, 60 of them covered themselves with petrol and threatened to set themselves on fire. Friday’s massacre took place in the same square.

Kazakh oil workers’ communities – we are with you!

Kazakhstan, oil and the City:

  • The companies where most of the protesting oil workers work are partly owned by Kazmunaigaz Exploration and Production, which is listed on the London stock exchange and has often raised loans from London-based institutions.
  • The UK is the third largest direct investor in Kazakhstan (after the USA and China).
  • Tony Blair, the former prime minister, is being paid millions of pounds to lobby in the Kazakh government’s interests. Many other British businessmen and politicians help, too. Richard Evans, the former chairman of British Aerospace, is chairman of Samruk-Kazyna, a state-owned holding company that controls a big chunk of the Kazakh economy.
  • The oil produced in Kazakhstan is traded in the offices of big oil trading companies and international oil companies in their London offices.

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Kazakhstan: Stop police violence against strikers!

www.labourstart.org

Kazakhstan: Stop police violence against strikers

Police attack strikers.On Friday December 16th a celebration of Independence Day in the Western Kazakhstan city of Zhanaozen ended up with violent clashes between police and protesting oil workers who have been striking since May, demanding wage increases. It has been reported that oil workers planned to have a peaceful rally on Zhanaozen’s main square but were attacked. According to report we have received, armed police were sent against the demonstrators. Some reports say the police used their weapons and some protestors were killed or injured.

Please send a message to the Kazakhstan authorities calling on them to cease violence against their own people.

Suggested message:

I call upon the government of Kazakhstan to immediately cease violence against peacefully protesting oil workers and their families in the city of Zhanaozen. I believe that no government should ever use weapons against its own people. Violence against workers exercising their fundamental right to strike is absolutely unacceptable. This situation might have grave social and humanitarian consequences. Therefore I urge you to use all your power to to resolve this situation it in a peaceful and just manner.

Please go here to send this message or your own message to Kazakh authorities.

_____

blog.platformlondon.org

December 16, 2011

London listed oil company at centre of Kazakh crackdowns

 

Today The Guardian reports that at least 10 people have been killed in violent clashes between police and oil workers in Zhanaozen, a small city in western Kazakhstan. Local oil workers have been protesting for higher wages and better working conditions throughout 2011. The oil and gas companies, among them KMG, (KazMunaiGaz) which is 39% owned by investors on the London stock exchange, and Ersai Caspian Contractor, a joint venture owned by Italian firm ENI, have sacked hundreds of workers for striking. Police have responded with arbitrary arrests, detention and shootings. The Financial Times suggests the number of recent casualties could be much higher:

An independent source in Astana put the death count as high as 70, with more than 500 wounded, when police fired on protesters.

In this guest blog, journalist Peter Salmon explores the background and root causes of the strikes and the repression that has rocked the Kazakhstan throughout 2011.

Repression intensifies against Kazakh oil workers’ uprising

by Peter Salmon

The Kazakh authorities have responded to the oil workers’ revolt with arrests, jailings and police attacks on demonstrations, while company managements have sacked hundreds for striking. Despite the repression, the unprecedented wave of protests, which erupted in the oil-producing province of Mangistau in mid-May, was continuing at the time of writing in late August. At the movement’s height in early June, labour movement sources reported that 12-18,000 workers were on strike, demanding pay rises and recognition of independent trade unions.

The protests started on 9 May at Karazhanbasmunai, a joint venture owned by Kazmunaigaz, the main state-controlled national oil company, and CITIC, a Chinese holding company. The immediate spark was Karazhanbasmunai’s refusal to recognise the results of a trade union election that had gone against a collaborationist official. On 9 May, 1400 workers refused to eat lunches and dinners, and on 17 May 4500 walked out. They demanded pay parity with workers at OzenMunaiGaz, KazMunaiGaz’s largest production subsidiary – who themselves had won a substantial increase in basic wages, and torpedoed company plans for a greater element of production-linked pay, with a 19-day wildcat stoppage in March 2010.[i]

On 11 May, activists called for a general strike across Mangistau region. Kazakh workers employed by Ersai Caspian Contractor, a joint venture owned by ENI, the Italian-based multinational oil company, and ERC Holdings of Kazakhstan, joined the protests. They demanded pay parity with foreign employees doing the same jobs, who they said were paid twice as much. Ersai refused to negotiate with the strikers, ten of whom went on hunger strike, and retaliated with sackings, according to a news agency.[ii]

In late May the action spread to the larger workforce at OzenMunaiGaz, where workers – including transport drivers and those conducting well servicing and well workover operations – demanded pay rises to make up for rapid inflation since their increase last year and the slashing of bonus payments. On 24 May a local court declared strike action at the company illegal, but on 26 May there was a mass walkout nonetheless.

The strikers in the three companies advanced various demands. The principle concern at Ozenmunaigaz was for a recalculation of the coefficients (i.e. regional weighting, industry premia, etc) on which pay depends, Kazakhstan’s main business newspaper reported. Other demands reported by the Association of Human Rights for Central Asia included: the right for independent trade unions (the Karakiyak union and others) to function; revision of collective agreements “on the principle of equality of parties”; a 100% wage increase to bring workers’ living standards up to minimum; and for wages and conditions to meet International Labour Organisation standards.[iii]

The strike now turned into a grand battle between the workforce on one side, and the companies and authorities on the other. KazMunaiGaz Exploration and Production (KMG EP), which owns all of OzenMunaiGaz and half of Karazhanbasmunai – and is itself state-controlled but with 39% owned by investors via a London stock exchange listing – announced that it now expected to lose 540,000 tonnes of oil production, 4% of its previously projected total of 13.5 million tonnes in 2011, due to the dispute. Ozenmunaigaz’s output had already fallen by 2% in 2010, mainly due to the strike in that year.[iv]

On 1 June, Natalia Sokolova, a lawyer who had advised the workers, was arrested and both OzenMunaiGaz and Karazhanbasmunai began sacking strikers. Tensions were heightened further when Sabit Kenzhebaev, a transport department manager at Karazhanbasmunai who had been instructed to sack strikers against his will, died of a heart attack. On 5 June, 500 Karazhanbasmunai workers gathered in Aktau, the capital of the Mangistau region, intending to march to the akimat (regional authority) building to protest – but were dispersed violently by police. Three strikers, including the prominent trade union activist Kuanysh Sisenbaev, were admitted to hospital with knife wounds after harming themselves as a protest. Local authority employees were instructed to go to work as strikebreakers, and threatened with sackings if they refused, according to labour movement information networks.[v]

During June, some strikers returned to work, but those who remained out grew more determined. Workers established a “tent city” in Zhanaozen, and on 8 July it was broken up by baton-wielding police – to which about 60 responded by pouring petrol on themselves and threatening to set themselves alight. Another thousand demonstrators were encircled by police outside the OzenMunaiGaz headquarters. There were repeated confrontations between police and a crowd of several thousand in the days that followed.[vi]

The movement has a political aspect. Not only was it first sparked by a row over union representation, and featured demands for the right to organise independent unions, but it has also led to mass resignations from Nur-Otan, Kazakhstan’s ruling political party. Workers at state-controlled enterprises are encouraged to join it, in a manner reminiscent of Communist Party recruitment in the Soviet period – and on 11 August a large group marched to the Nur-Otan regional headquarters in Zhanaozen to hand in their resignations. A spokesman told reporters that 3000 of them had quit, since they had been forced to join anyway, and their demands had not been met. The Nur-Otan regional leader, Koshbai Qyzanbaev, acknowledged only 1089 resignations.[vii]

As the summer wore on, the Kazakh courts and police stepped up repression against activists. Natalia Sokolova, the lawyer assisting the strikers, was on 8 August sentenced to six years in jail for “inciting social discord”; Akzhanat Aminov, a trade union leader at OzenMunaiGaz, and Natalia Azhigalieva, an activist, have been arrested and charged with the same crime, while Kuanysh Sisinbaev has been sentenced to 200 hours’ community service. On 16 August, Zhanbolat Mamay, a 23-year-old activist in an opposition political group, Rukh Pen Til, was arrested as he returned from Moscow – where he addressed a press conference and civil society meetings about the oil industry dispute – and sentenced to 10 days’ administrative detention. According to company statements, 373 OzenMunaizGaz employees and 160 from Karazhanbasmunai have been dismissed for “illegal” strike action. One activist, Zhaksylyk Turbaev, has been murdered by unidentified thugs.[viii]

The oilfield conflict makes a mockery of Kazakhstan’s long-standing efforts to present itself in the west as a democratic state, and human rights organisations in western Europe have not lost the opportunity to point this out. On 6 July, with encouragement from Amnesty International, the rock singer Sting cancelled a planned appearance in Astana at a $700-per-ticket concert, stating that he had “no intention” of crossing “a virtual picket line”. The legal persecution of labour movement activists has been denounced in the European parliament by Paul Murphy, a Socialist Party/United Left Alliance member of the parliament from Ireland visited Mangistau, and others.[ix]

The Kazakh oil workers’ struggle bears out the proposition of the labour historian Beverly Silver that “where capital goes, conflict goes”.[x] Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, western capital has made greater inroads into the oil sector in Kazakhstan than in Russia, where it has been somewhat constrained by statist and nationalist policies. In the last decade it has been joined by a gigantic inflow of Chinese capital. The Kazakh elite, who have been immensely enriched by the oil boom of the last decade, is the third part of the unholy trinity that workers face.

In Mangistau region, oil production has expanded at a healthy pace. But the riches have been divided unequally: while billionaires flourish, and living standards have risen in the new and old capitals, Astana and Almaty, Mangistau has in terms of the UN’s development indicators only been lifted to the national average, from below it. And, staggeringly, although Mangistau produces more oil than any other Kazakh region, in 2008 it had the highest proportion of people living below the poverty line (32.4%) and the worst poverty by the UN’s measures.[xi] The immediacy of this injustice, the stark chasm between rich and poor, and a tradition of worker activism that has resurged in recent years, is a potent mixture that has now exploded.


[i] “V Zhanaozene zakonchilas’ zabastovka neftianikov”, Ak Zhaiyk (Atyrau), 19 March 2010; “V Kazakhstane zavershilas’ dvukhnedel’naia zabastovka neftianikov”, Deutsche Welle web site, 21 March 2010, http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5376521,00.html; Linksunten, “Kazakhstan: Mass strikes and protest action”, http://linksunten.indymedia.org/de/node/41875.

[ii] Almaz Rysaliev, “Kazakstan’s Unhappy Oil Workers”, Institute for War & Peace Reporting web site, 24 June 2011, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4e0b2a552.html; Central Asia Newswire, “Kazakh oil workers begin hunger strike”, 24 May 2011.

[iii] “Bastuiushchie udarili po RD KMG”, Kursiv, 30 June 2011; Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: vlast’ massovo raspravliaetsia s bastuiushchimi neftianikami”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/07/blog-post_12.html.

[iv] KMG EP press release, 28 June 2011; KMG EP annual report 2010, p. 26. The 2% fall was in comparison to 2009 output.

[v] “Krovavyi razgon demonstratsii rabochikh v Aktau”, IKD, 5 June 2011, http://www.ikd.ru/node/17048; “V Moskve proidet aktsiia solidarnosti”, IKD, 6 June 2011, http://www.ikd.ru/node/17053; Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: bezdeistvie vlastei”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/06/blog-post_5744.html.

[vi] Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: vlast’ massovo raspravliaetsia”, op. cit.

[vii] “Striking Kazakh Oil Workers Quit Ruling Party”, 11 August 2011,  Radio Free Europe, http://www.rferl.org/content/striking_kazakh_oil_workers_quit_ruling_party/24294248.html.

[viii] Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: bespretsedentnoe davlenie na uchastnikov zabastovki”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/08/blog-post_18.html; “Lider zabastovki neftianikov osuzhden”, Kursiv, 18 August 2011; KMG EP press release, 27 July 2011; “Bolee 400 bastovavshikh uvoleny”, Kursiv, 7 July 2011.

[ix] “Sting nakazal Kazakhstan”, Kommersant, 4 July 2011; the web sites of Sting Symphonicity and Paul Murphy MEP. Sting, who was touring the whole former Soviet Union and did not cancel dates in e.g. Belarus or Uzbekistan, was criticised for being selective in his protest.

[x] Beverley Silver, Forces of Labor: workers’ movements and globalization since 1870 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 41).

[xi] UNDP Kazakhstan, National Human Development Report 2009, pp. 103-109.

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