Lessons of the Miners’ Strike of the Karaganda Region

Kazakh miners’ action against ArcelorMittal Temirtau (AMT) will be an example of active protection of their labor interests for all workers of Kazakhstan.

At the same time, for a number of reasons, it was not possible to achieve a complete victory. We consider it necessary to consider these reasons in more detail. ArcelorMittal is a very serious opponent; it is a supporter of strict control over costs and has already faced strikes of its employees in Poland, the Czech Republic and Ukraine. It will not be frightened by losses from a four-day strike by a small part of its workers. Only the threat of serious losses from a large-scale and long-term strike will force it to make concessions.

The organization of such a strike requires well-organized, determined trade unions with large strikes funds. As events have shown, AMT workers do not have such trade unions. The strike was not prepared organizationally, informationally, financially. The trade union “Zhaktau” failed to organize a strike of auxiliary services of the steel department of AMT. Even in continuously operating industries, a strike is possible provided that the main equipment is uninterrupted. There was no cooperation with metallurgists of “ArcelorMittal Krivoy Rog.”

As for the “Korgau” miners’ union, the chairman of the trade union, Marat Mirgayazov, called for the termination of the strike and wrote a denunciation to the prosecutor’s office against activists of the “Miners’ Family” organization and the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Is there really no more worthy candidate for the post of chairman of “Korgau” among the organizers of the strike?

The second reason is that the laws of Kazakhstan provide for compulsory mediation procedures preceding a strike. Even though the International Labor Organization (ILO) recommended the use of voluntary conciliation and mediation procedures, of voluntary arbitration. This is how miners should act according to the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan:

– In writing, notify the employer of their demands.

– In case of disagreement by the employer, demand the creation of a conciliation commission.

– If the conciliation commission does not achieve a result, demand the beginning of labor arbitration.

– In case of failure of labor arbitration, notify the employer not less than five business days before the beginning of a strike.

The whole procedure is extremely complex and can easily be stretched to 30 working days, that is, for six weeks. Not once in the history of Kazakhstan’s strike movement has this procedure been observed.

Compare this with the procedure for declaring a strike in Germany. The strike is announced by the results of secret ballot. Each employee receives two voting cards: red and green. If more than 70 percent of red cards are collected during the vote counting, the strike decision is considered to be accepted, and the strike can begin at any time. The difference in approach is obvious, as is the difference in the level of wages.

Each of the strikes held in Kazakhstan could be considered illegal. In the event of continuing an illegal strike, organizers and agitators can be punished with criminal liability, and for ordinary participants, disciplinary actions (up to dismissal) and compensation for damages to the employer. It was for calls to continue the strike, which the court recognized as illegal, that the trade union activist Nurbek Kushakbayev is serving his sentence.

Chapter 16 of the Labor Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which defines the procedure for declaring a strike, is a shackle on the Kazakhstani labor movement. In fact, it deprives workers of the right to strike. It is necessary to achieve a legislative change in the procedure for declaring a strike in accordance with generally accepted world practice. We propose to include simplifying the procedure for declaring a strike in the list of demands for each labor conflict. In addition, it is not superfluous to remember who “graced” us with such laws.

Whenever you vote for President Nazarbayev or for candidates from the Nur Otan Party, you vote for repression against the organizers and activists of the strike movement, for the corrupt, intimidated, impotent “trade unions,” for another increase in the retirement age.

Political Council of the Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan 

Central Committee of the Kazakhstan Labor Union “Zhanartu”

December 17, 2017

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