Free Nurbek Kushakbayev! Support independent workers’ organisation in Kazakhstan!

April 19, 2017

Trades unionists have launched an international campaign for the release of Nurbek Kushakbayev, who was jailed this month for his part in organising strike action in the western Kazakhstan oil field.

A court in Astana, the Kazakh capital, sentenced Kushakbayev to two-and-half years in jail, followed by a further two-year ban on organising.

Kushakbayev is a trade union safety inspector at Oil Construction Company (OCC), an oilfield service firm based in Mangistau, western Kazakhstan. He is also deputy president of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan, which the government banned last year under a law designed to straitjacket unions not controlled by the state.

In January, workers at several oil companies in Mangistau staged a hunger strike in protest at the ban on union federation, to which their workplace

Nurbek Kushakbayev, in the cage for defendants, and his wife, after the verdict. Photo by Radio Azattyk.

organisations were affiliated. Dozens of participants in the hunger strike were arrested. Most were released without charge, but Kushakbayev and another union organiser at OCC, Amin Yeleusinov, were arrested and Read the rest of this entry »


Investors who profit as oil workers face repression

April 19, 2017

The companies that this month helped to jail trade union leader Nurbek Kushakbayev are linked, via Kazmunaigaz, Kazakhstan’s state-controlled oil and gas firm, to Chinese and international capital.

While workers in the western Kazakhstan oilfield suffer repeated waves of state repression – from the notorious police massacre of strikers at Zhanaozen in December 2011 to this year’s fines, arrests and bans on trade union organisation – investment funds based in New York and London profit directly from their labour.

Kushakbayev worked at the Oil Construction Company (OCC), an oilfield service company, where workers staged a two-week hunger strike in Read the rest of this entry »


Scotland: “We encourage everyone to speak, even if their voice shakes”

April 3, 2017

CATHY MILLIGAN is standing as an Independent candidate in the Glasgow City Council elections on Thursday 4 May, in the Linn ward. Here she writes about how Castlemilk Against Austerity, the community group she represents, is organising on one of the city’s largest housing schemes

I have always been politically minded, in that I think that how we live every day is dictated by politics and the powers that be. I was active politically when I was a teenager. I left school in 1979 when Thatcher came to power so there was a lot to be politically active about. But I wouldn’t say I have been active since – until the past five years.

In 2009 I lost my job due to ill health. I had to claim employment and support allowance, that really woke me up to how badly people on benefits are being treated. It’s horrible, and I am of the mind that no-one would

Castlemilk Against Austerity campaigners

willingly put themselves through this, which is contrary to the many TV programmes portraying the opposite to be true. Life on benefits is full of misery and despair. At one point I was left to live on £47 per week, for ten months.

I was too ill to fight it, and it really pushed me to the edge. I felt scared, alone, worthless. Thankfully, family and friends pulled me through it, but Read the rest of this entry »


Ukraine: trade unionists and communities oppose Donbass rail blockade

March 13, 2017

Trade union activists in eastern Ukraine are working with local communities to demand an end to a blockade of coal shipments organised by populist politicians and military veterans.

The blockade began last month, preventing anthracite coal from mines in the separatist-controlled areas from being moved by rail to power stations in other parts of Ukraine.

The parliamentary deputy Semen Semenchenko from the nationalist Samopomich faction, speaking for the blockaders, has said that they want a law passed that will define the separatist-controlled areas as occupied by Russia and cease trade with them. The government and the majority of parliamentarians oppose this.

In Ukraine, many people think that the blockade may reflect clashes between the country’s powerful business oligarchs. The anthracite mines, and the power stations supplied by them, are mostly owned by DTEK, an energy company controlled by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man.

Disruption to the energy complex hurts Akhmetov, and may also hurt the government and president Petr Poroshenko, an oligarch in his own right.

But communities in eastern Ukraine point out that the blockade hurts them too: power cuts are in prospect, as are factory shut-downs and lay-offs. This in a country devastated by two years of military conflict and economic slump.

Pavel Lisyansky, director of the East Ukrainian Human Rights Group – who has played a role in supporting workplace organisation in the area since the military conflict began in 2014 – has spoken out against the blockade.

“This action is putting many industrial workplaces in danger of being stood down, or permanently closed”, Lisyansky said in an email. “Those in

Demonstration on 6 March. The posters read “stop the blockade”

danger include the Kurdiumovskii clay pits, the Zarya chemical plant, the Nikolayevskaya heat and power plant, and the Alchevsk steel works.”

Workplace representatives formed an initiative group to seek an end to the railway blockade by peaceful means. When a press conference was held, Read the rest of this entry »


“The street has already spoken, gentlemen.” The Russian revolution, replayed in real time

March 10, 2017

The Russian revolution is unfolding in real time on its centenary, via Project 1917, an on-line serial set out like a social network.

The Russian version of Project 1917 has attracted more than a million subscribers since its launch in November last year. The English version started up last month.

All the material on Project 1917 – from diary entries, articles and letters, to photos, paintings and recordings – has been sourced from archives by a team of Russian journalists and historians. It “includes not a trace of invention”, the “About” page states.

This week is 100 years since the first revolution, triggered by women workers demonstrating on international women’s day. (That is, the February revolution, so-called because the tsarist empire was on the Julian calendar, 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere). And things are hotting up.

The entries for yesterday, 9 March, included ones from:

Alexander Spiridovich, a police general in the imperial guard, who wrote: “They sing revolutionary songs. Chants of ‘Down with the government!’, ‘Long live the republic’, ‘Down with war!’ can be heard.” As the police fought demonstrators, Cossack troops – who had always previously been loyal to the empire – stood aside, he noted. “The police are infuriated. One phrase was passed around among groups of dispersing workers: ‘the cossacks support us, the cossacks support the people!’.”

Maurice Paleologue, the French ambassador to the empire, who wrote: “This morning the excitement in industrial circles took a violent form. Many bakeries were looted, especially in the Viborg Quarter and Vassili-Ostrov. At several points the Cossacks charged the crowd and killed a number of workmen.”

■ And the Social Democrat (Menshevik) Nicolas Chkeidze, who would within days become the chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, who wrote: “Disregard of streets is a feature of government and many among us. But the street has already spoken, gentlemen, and this street is now to be reckoned with.”

Project 1917 was set up by the journalist Mikhail Zygar, who is nobody’s puppet. Between 2010 and 2015 he was chief editor of Dozhd TV, one of the last outposts of opposition in Russian broadcast media and the target

Demonstrators in Petrograd (St Petersburg) during the February revolution. Photo: Project 1917.

of Kremlin-friendly witch-hunters. Before that he co-authored Gazprom: the New Russian Weapon, an account of political influence over Russia’s biggest company. His latest book All the Kremlin’s Men, about president Read the rest of this entry »


We need to talk about the Anthropocene

January 16, 2017

Working out the time-scale of the Anthropocene epoch can not be left to natural scientists, a group of researchers argued in Nature journal last month. Historians, anthropologists and others who study human society need to be brought in to the discussion, they said.

“The Anthropocene” is a now widely-used term, signifying that human welcomeactivity is changing the natural environment so profoundly that it has brought a new geological era into existence.

Among scientists, it is accepted that any precise definition would best be
rubber-stamped by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, an organisation of geologists that has overseen definitions of all geological eras.

It has an Anthropocene Working Group that has since 2009 coordinated discussions of the issue among scientists. In August last year, the group reported to the 35th International Geological Congress that it collectively Read the rest of this entry »


‘Tyrants across the world know now they can maintain power through mass slaughter’

December 16, 2016

Interview with Leila al-Shami for Open Left

Leila al-Shami, co-author of Burning Country, a writer who has worked with human rights movements in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, gave this interview to Ilya Matveev and Gabriel Levy on 29 November (before the fall of Aleppo to the government forces). It also appears on the LeftEast site, and will soon be published in Russian on OpenLeft, as part of a transnational discussion between activists.

Gabriel Levy (G): What is the situation right now?

Leila al-Shami (L): The situation in Aleppo is absolutely critical. And the voices which can be heard from there are just showing how much panic and fear there is in rebel-held East Aleppo. People have been trapped in

A picture of Bashar al-Assad riddled with holes on the facade of the police academy in Aleppo, after it was captured by Free Syrian Army fighters, March 4, 2013. Photo Reuters/Mahmoud Hassano)

A picture of Bashar al-Assad riddled with holes on the facade of the police academy in Aleppo, after it was captured by Free Syrian Army fighters, March 4, 2013. Photo Reuters/Mahmoud Hassano)

East Aleppo since late August. There are tens of thousands of people under siege and there’s no way for them to get supplies in, there’s no way for them to get out. So they are effectively in an open-air prison. They are being subjected to extremely heavy bombardments and airstrikes. Gas has been fired at people. Hospitals are being deliberately and systematically targeted. Fuels are running out, there is no water. Civil defence structures have been targeted. People are now using carts to try to Read the rest of this entry »