Class formation and ethnic othering in a former Soviet steel plant: Oralman migrant labourers between nation building and global corporate capitalism in Kazakhstan
(University of Naples L'Orientale)
Paper short abstract:
Post-Soviet privatization and nation building have reshaped ethnically connoted Soviet hierarchies of industrial labor in Kazakhstan. Tensions linger between old-established working class Russians and newly "repatriated" diasporic Kazakhs sharing increasingly competitive industrial workplaces.
Paper long abstract:
This paper addresses of how class, nation building and capitalist restructuring concur in the reshaping of the hierarchy of ethnicity and labor in a former Soviet mono-industrial town in Kazakhstan. Initially part of a Gulag camp Temirtau became Central Asia's largest steel plant and a symbol of Soviet modernity in later Soviet years. After privatization to a global corporate company employment dropped and pressure on remaining jobs augmented. Kazakh contract workers replaced more skilled and paid regular Russian workers. Town and factory are still predominantly Russian, but many Russian speakers have left, while those who stayed feel threatened by "Kazakhization". Behind a facade of ethnic harmony tensions between cultural Russians and newly arrived ethnic Kazakhs trigger prejudice and hostility.
The paper, which is based on 11 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the steel plant, focuses on the vicissitudes of a rural Kazakh from Mongolia turning into a precarious contract worker and on his struggle to get by in an economically challenging and culturally hostile urban environment. Oralmans, diasporic Kazakhs that are beneficiaries of a state-funded repatriation program, enter the factory gates often taking up the lowest position in the hierarchy of labor. Being officially privileged, but marginal in practice, their social position is ambiguous. The state ideologically uses them for its nation building discourse, but under the ownership of a global corporate company the particular conditions and experiences of work and sociality transforms the Oralmans into an industrial underclass.
Laboring racialization in the lived experience of settling, moving, and making place