London rail workers call for action on Kazakhstan oilfield repression

London underground rail workers have resolved to join the international campaign to support oil workers against state repression in Kazakhstan.

On Thursday 1 November, the Central Line West branch of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) decided to join the protest started by Russian and Kazakh trade unionists.

The campaign was launched after the massacre of workers by police on 16 December last year in Zhanaozen, which brought an end to a wave of strikes that had lasted for seven months and involved about 10,000 workers. At least 16 were killed and 60 wounded.

The London rail workers called for international efforts to release activists jailed in the Kazakh oil field after last year’s strike wave, and to investigate allegations that the detainees were tortured by police and security services officers before their trial in May this year.

The resolution has been forwarded to the London region of the RMT, and, if supported there, should have a chance of being proposed as national policy for the union, which represents, among others, oil workers in the British section of the North Sea.

If you are a trade unionist, please read the Central Line West branch resolution and consider putting something similar to your union organisation:

This union notes:

— That the strike last year by oil workers in Kazakhstan, demanding improvements to terms and conditions, ended in a massacre at Zhanaozen on 16 December, with at least 16 killed and 60 wounded;

— That 17 trade union activists have been jailed for their part in the strike for between two and six years, and that political activists are being tried because they supported the workers;

— That detailed allegations of torture and other human rights abuses have been made against the police and judicial authorities; and

— That the British government has close links with the government in Kazakhstan, and British oil companies (e.g. British Gas and Shell) have operations in Kazakhstan.

This union resolves to:

— Support the on-line protest, demanding a review of unjust sentences, launched by the Confederation of Labour of Russia, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Kazakhstan and the LabourStart web site;

— To write to the Kazakh government, demanding the release of the jailed oil workers and investigation of the allegations of torture;

— To make every possible effort to build up an international campaign for the release of the jailed workers and for an investigation of the allegations of torture.

A few days before the London rail workers passed their resolution, the murder of 20-year-old Aleksandr Bozhenko in Zhanaozen served as a grim reminder of the state’s violent revenge on the oil community.

Bozhenko played a key role in exposing police officers who tortured witnesses to produce “evidence” at the trial of trade union activists. Their real “crime” was their involvement in last year’s strike.

During the trial, several activists claimed they had been tortured into making confessions (see earlier report here). Then Aleksandr Bozhenko took the witness stand and said that he, too, had been tortured, in order to incriminate his friend Zhanat Murynbaev, who was accused of “participation in mass disturbances”.

Bozhenko told the court: “I was beaten and forced to slander Zhanat. They broke my wrist. In the prosecutor’s office they beat me in the kidneys.”

Kazakh human rights activist Galym Ageleuov last month told Bozhenko’s story to diplomats and politicians at a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Warsaw. Two weeks later, Bozhenko was dead.

The Zhanaozen police say the killing was “simple hooliganism” and that they have arrested two men who confessed to it. As long as the authorities try to hide the truth about their witch-hunt against oil workers and the December massacre, few in Kazakhstan will believe them.

To support the on-line protest by the Confederation of Labour of Russia, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Kazakhstan and the LabourStart, click here.

See a recent report by Human Rights Watch here. And an article in Red Pepper here.

NOTE (ADDED 25 November): The Solicitors International Human Rights Group has issued a report on the trial of Vladimir Kozlov and other political activists who supported the oil workers. It says that the guilty verdicts pronounced were justified neither by the evidence presented nor by the judge’s summing up. You can read it on the SIHRG site here or download it here.

Previous People & Nature stories:

For more information about campaigning in the UK, email me at

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