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Massive struggles in Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan

2022-04-11 | Asia

Massive strikes are back in Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan. Workers are rising up and fighting bravely. It is a step forward, but organization and coordination are needed for the struggles to be fruitful.

If the effects of the economic and military clashes between the great powers are already being felt through inflation and other forms of income suction from labor to capital in the countries with the most concentrated capitals, their impact is even more brutal for the workers in the semicolonial countries with weak capitals. They mean not only hunger, but also facing states that remain afloat through militarism and repression.

The return of struggles in Kazakhstan

Strike of the ambulance workers of Zhanaozen

Strike of ambulance workers in Zhanaozen

Last January 1st a mass strike broke out in Kazakhstan over the brutal rise in fuel prices, radiating from the gas city of Zhanaozen to the rest of the country.

Read also: Protests in Kazakhstan: 5 keys to understand what is going on

In the west and north of the country, where a whole wave of strikes had been on the rise during 2021, it translated into spontaneous strikes and demonstrations against inflation and for a lowering of the retirement age. In the east, the wave reached the country's main city, Almaty, causing protests and an insurrection with storming of buildings and erection of barricades.

But the movement failed to go any further. Disorganized, without clear objectives and directly confronted by the repressive forces, the barricades were swept away and thousands were arrested. In less than a month, the OSCE military forces - which had been sent by the Russian sphere states in support of the Kazakh state - withdrew and both companies and the state announced (meager) wage increases in the striking areas.

MAEK workers on strike

MAEK workers on strike

However, crackdowns did not deter the workers. Strikes returned to the Zhanaozen region at the end of January. Already at the beginning of February they were demanding improved conditions, better wages and the release of those detained by the crackdown:

Workers at the fiberglass pipe factory in the Mangystau region ‎...‎ on Monday, February 7, issued a warning to the authorities and employers. From the beginning, they asked the authorities for the immediate release of all those arrested during the events of January, and this is an important political demand that accompanies many demonstrations of workers and unemployed in the Mangystau region.

From there on, the strikes spread to other sectors such as paramedics and not even the invasion of Ukraine and the repressive and militaristic discourse of all governments managed to stop the increase in combativeness throughout the month of March:

As can be seen, strikes and rallies in Zhanaozen and the Mangystau region do not cease, and the pockets of strikes are gradually spreading to neighboring regions. This situation continues to require information and political support for the strikers, despite the fact that this class struggle has been temporarily overshadowed by the events in Ukraine.

The strikes continue to grow even today, and we can see their effects on the reactions of the Kazakh state, even through the wall of silence imposed on the Russophone press in the wake of the war. A few days ago, it expressed its concern about the wildcat strikes already on the rise in the north of the country:

The prosecutor of the North Kazakhstan region, Bagban Taimbetov, appealed to the inhabitants of the region not to succumb to provocations and not to engage in illegal strikes ‎...‎ In his speech, B. Taimbetov noted that labor disputes at enterprises in the region have lately become more frequent, often turning into spontaneous strikes.

The combativeness of Kazakh workers, especially taking into account the repression and massacres committed against them in 2011 and again this January, is indeed laudable and exemplary. However, as seen in January, the future of this movement depends on whether:

  1. It succeeds in creating a unitary organization like the one that emerged in last year's Iranian strikes, which brings together the now dispersed struggles under a common structure of assemblies and strike delegates, and on whether.
  2. This organization is capable of endowing itself with its own program that politically articulates the needs of all workers.

Otherwise it runs the risk of ending up squashed as in January or of serving as cannon fodder for a democratic-parliamentary movement of the petty bourgeoisie that will leave the workers stranded when it no longer needs them.

Workers in Sri Lanka rise up against forced militarization of labor and inflation

Strike of health workers in Sri Lanka

Strike of health workers in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, in a precarious political state for years, is facing a revolt and a great wave of strikes caused by the almost total militarization of society with which the present militarist government has tried to quell class struggle.

At the beginning of last year, the government deployed more than 20,000 soldiers in the schools and instituted a military curfew, presenting it as a supposed "covid lockdown" for which it had taken no sanitary measures... and which it used as an excuse to dissolve parliament in March and call legislative elections to consolidate its power.

Meanwhile, the workers were left at the same time without income and at the mercy of covid, while the military was entrenched all over the country.

However, when the key moment for national capital arrived, the opposition and the unions did not hesitate to support militarization and the government's measures to send workers back to work at the height of the pandemic. But things did not work out as they had planned:

To kick-start the return to work, the government got the support of most of the opposition, including the Tamil nationalist leaders, and a large part of the trade union leaderships who wanted to participate in the revival of the economy.

In response, many workers did not show up for work, from teachers to railway workers, and from the first day of deconfinement, the garment workers went on strike, as did the workers of the oil companies and, a little earlier, those of the coconut plantations.

In November, teachers had already been on strike for 4 months against the militarization of schools and for their working conditions. In the same month, the rise in gas prices generalized the shortages. The railroad workers' strikes intensified and already in December the health workers joined in, with huge strikes in almost 1,500 health facilities in various regions.

The lack of government response and the worsening of general conditions led to a new strike in more than 500 facilities this February. And, this time, there was a governmental reaction. The response was simply a ban on strikes on February. The answer of the healthcare workers was to call new strikes at the beginning of March over and above the government decrees.

And the situation has only accelerated between March and April, with inflation, shortages and the threat of starvation triggered by the consequences of the war in Ukraine.

A few days ago riots broke out in the streets and there were attempts to storm government buildings but, even more markedly than in Kazakhstan, workers are not taking the lead in such actions, even though their strikes have paralyzed the country and put the government on the ropes.

Protests in Sri Lanka

Protests in Sri Lanka

The front line of the urban riots is carried by poor peasants and a whole interclassist magma that follows them, wielding contradictory slogans.

Under the ensuing confusion, the absence of coordination of the workers allows the opposition parties - the same ones that had supported the measures that caused the strikes - to try to capture the discontent and bring the revolt into their fold.

Thus Sri Lanka teaches us starkly that without coordination and centralization of their struggles by the workers themselves, the extension of the expressions of discontent to other classes and social sectors, far from propitiating a revolutionary situation, leads to a reactionary solution. For the workers to affirm themselves organizationally, uniting assemblies and committees in a class structure is not only vital to carry the struggles forward, it is vital to avoid reinforcing what they rose up against.

This is not a lesson limited to Sri Lanka, Asia or the peripheral countries. The revolts of the petty bourgeoisie and even of non-exploiting classes such as the poor peasants, by themselves can only propose lower wages or demand new state handouts in their favor. We are sick of seeing it happen in Europe or Eastern Asia itself when small farmers or owners of small fleets of trucks mobilize.

Workers cannot entrust their own emancipation to "social movements" or to "transversalities". Anything other than the development of their struggles and their capacity to organize can only bridge the contradictions of the present situation by aggravating them... at our expense.