Disgruntled oil workers crowded into an apartment inside one of the prefabricated blocks that line the streets of Zhanaozen, a town at the heart of Kazakhstan’s oil country. The grievances they shouted over one another sounded familiar. Some griped about pay, others complained that their right to operate an independent trade union representation was being infringed.
Five years ago, beefs over pay, labor rights and union activity sparked a protracted strike in Zhanaozen’s oil sector that climaxed with the deaths of 16 civilians in clashes with police.
“History is repeating itself,” sighed Sagintay, an oil worker speaking under a pseudonym, as his colleagues nodded vigorously in agreement. “In 2011, there was a strike five years ago. This is exactly the same.”
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.