Strikes in several industries broke out on February 15 in southwestern Kazakhstan. Workers at seven companies in Mangystau oblast walked out on Wednesday to protest low wages, poor working conditions and political repression. In their statements, the strikers expressed their solidarity with each other and insisted that the country’s oligarchs give up part of their millions.
The town of Zhanoezen, where in January police massacred protesters who opposed a sharp rise in fuel prices, is among the places affected by the latest wave of social unrest. Among their demands, drillers from the oil company Ozenmunaygaz are demanding the release of all those imprisoned for participating in the January protests. “The detainees are not terrorists,” as the government claims, said a worker reading a statement. “We demand an end to the torture and their release.”
Oil workers are also demanding jobs for the city’s unemployed, who have been staging daily protests for two weeks to demand the government keep its long-standing promises to the unemployed. While authorities insist that only 8,000 of the city’s roughly 83,000 residents cannot find jobs, ordinary people say the real number is 25,000.
Employees of transport, construction and energy companies, as well as those employed in municipal services, in the cities of Aktau, Kalamkas and Zhetybay also went on strike on the same day. Although the limited reports currently available do not provide information on the number of people involved, video footage indicates that at least hundreds, if not more, are participating. (The video narration is in Russian, and groups of workers from different factories can be seen reading their demands in Kazakh during the second half.)
On Thursday in Aktau, a city of about 180,000 people on Kazakhstan’s Caspian coast, oil workers from Aktaukrantechservice LLP threatened to strike unless the government “stops the persecution and slander against innocent citizens in connection with the events of January” and the company does not “increase salaries” and “return social and living conditions to the appropriate level”. A similar statement was released by employees of energy company BozashyTransKurylys LLP.
Much of the energy workers’ anger is directed at KazMunayGaz, the national oil and gas conglomerate. Despite popular opposition, the Kazakh government is currently preparing to transfer even more of the country’s natural resources into private hands. In a statement issued on February 7, the Energy Ministry stressed that it has no intention, as claimed on social media, to nationalize Kazakhstan’s oil and gas supplies. “The state is actively working to transfer state and quasi-state enterprises to a competitive environment, including in the oil and gas complex,” the ministry’s press service said.
This week’s strikes come just eight days after workers at MAEK-Kazatomprom, a nuclear power plant in Mangystau that supplies the region’s heat, water and electricity, walked out demanding a 100% pay rise.