Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Are the Miner Strikes in Temirtau merely a Grassroots Phenomenon?

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From www.zona.kz.net website. The sign held up in the second picture says "Mittal, share the profits!"

As I noted on September 20, a recent large accident at Lakshmi Mittal’s mines in the Kazakhstan city of Termirtau could lead to increased problems for the British-Indian billionaire and long-time investor in Kazakhstan. While President Nazarbayev has been visiting the U.S., the situation in Temirtau has become increasingly troublesome for Mittal. For a week now, miners in Temirtau have been striking at the Mittal Steel Works complex. They want increased wages and safety improvements, and they are demanding that “Mittal Steel Temirtau” respond to their list of requests by October 7 or face further strikes and protests. According to Kazakhstan’s Channel 31 news program, these are the largest worker strikes in Kazakhstan in sixteen years, and some 35,000 miners and plant workers have signed on to a set of demands being sent to Mittal personally. The demands are understandable, and the fact that workers are organized enough to levy serious demands appears to be a positive sign for freedom of assembly in Kazakhstan. One cannot help but wonder, however, if this is an entirely “grassroots” effort. As I noted earlier, Dariga Nazarbayeva wrote an important opinion piece in the newspaper Karavan in March of this year where she called for the renewed development of labor unions in Kazakhstan and singled out Mittal’s steel works in Temirtau and Kazakhmys as two of the large industrial enterprises that desperately need to be held accountable by independent trade unions. With Nazarbayeva’s “Asar” party now consumed into the “Otan” party, could the disaster in Temirtau that killed 41 miners provide Nazarbayeva with a new entrée into politics via trade unions? If so, Mittal may just be an easy target for now, but she may be more interested in Kazakhmys and the mines and factories of Alexander Mashkevich’s Eurasia Natural Resources Corporation. To date, Nazarbayeva has not associated herself with the strikes in Temirtau, but one cannot help but wonder if her “call to arms” for the trade union movement in Kazakhstan in March is somehow related to the sudden appearance of the biggest strikes in Kazakhstan’s history as an independent state. This is certainly a situation that warrants attention over the next two weeks.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Ben said...

Interesting post. There were conflicting media reports about how much additional pay the striking miners demand. Some articles went as high as $2,000 per month, although this IHT article tells us workers want $1,000 per month each. That would constitute appr. 300% of their actual pay - probably not a very feasible wage-rise demand.

Secondly, I posted on neweurasia about a week ago about the muted criticism coming from Kazakh officials this time (http://kazakhstan.neweurasia.net/?p=172). There was a similar accident in 2004 which saw many more politicians lending their support to the workers, which could have something to do with the renewal of Mittal's contract which was due in 2005.

Is there any information online about trade union organisation in Kazakhstan?

8:22 AM  
Blogger Sean R. Roberts, PhD said...

Trade unions in Kazakhstan have long been very controlled. In general, there are few if any "independent" trade unions, and most are basically of the old Soviet variety (i.e. as close, if not closer, to the management than to the workers). A huge plant and mining complex like the one in Temirtau, of course, can lend itself to the development of more grassroots and less formal organization of workers.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Sean R. Roberts, PhD said...

It appears that today, Dariga Nazarbayeva has already begun to show some public interest in this issue. She has made an official parliamentary inquiry into the situation in Temirtau, where she reiterated the statements she made in March of this year in Karavan concerning the importance of establishing strong trade unions, particularly in relation to Mitall Steel Temirtau and Kazakhmys.

1:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as I know, all unions in Kazakstan are company unions. In reality they are a wild card in the relationship of the company management to the local government. They are usually powerless and supine, but if the local government decides to make life difficult for the company, the trade union provides a good tool.

7:50 AM  

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