At Registan.net we’ve been following the bizarre, fascinating story of Kazakhstan’s uranium industry for several years now. What we’ve largely left aside, as a unspoken fact rarely examined, is Kazakhstan’s oil industry. Seeing as to how this was, in some way, the basis for the movie Syriana, as well as a constant trope in lazy writing on the country, I have no excuse for this.
Anyway, so IWPR wrote an interesting profile of oil workers in Kazakhstan, and how they’re starting to organize around established labor groups.
Over recent weeks, hundreds of oil workers as well as drivers and ancillary staff at companies in the west of Kazakstan, where the economy is based largely around oil and gas extraction, have joined what began as small-scale strike actions in May…
What is potentially worrying for the Kazak authorities is that the spirit displayed by the oil industry workforce could spread to other sectors where such open defiance is rare.
The Kazakstan-2012 movement led a nationwide action in support of the oil workers on June 16, prompting statements from staff at major firms like copper-mining giant Kazakhmys and metals conglomerate ArcelorMittal Temirtau, as well as another oil and gas firm, Aktobemunaigas. These statements expressed solidarity with the strikers and made similar claims about their own industries – low and unequal pay, poor working conditions, and the persecution of independent trade unionists.
The problem with gauging this sort of thing is, there’s no real way to gauge how and when this sort of thing will spill over. In Georgia, it is a rolling problem: when will the chronic protests turn into something regime shattering? Based on the very limited reporting about the labor protests in Kazakhstan, it seems clear the government isn’t handling them very well; does that mean, however, that a full-fledged labor movement is about to emerge? I don’t know—it seems a bit of a leap to take it to that extent.
Despite this, it’s a good thing that Kazakh workers feel comfortable protesting. It is, in a way, the opposite of the country’s stilted political parties, which have either coalesced around the government or been harrassed into irrelevance. If labor proves an effective means of organization for petitioning the government and the corporations that control economic life, it is at least an effective means of petitioning. And that’s better than nothing.