Thursday, December 13, 2007

Victory for Gulf Labor

I try to keep track of Gulf labor issues, but completely missed most of this:
"The floodgates have opened. It is the beginning of the end for serious labor repression in the UAE, and the rest of the Gulf is likely to follow. Dubai's employers have been forced to negotiate with (illegally) organized labor and come out second-best...

"These foreign workers have had just one thing going for them over the past few years- they have gotten a lot more organized. Earlier this year, for instance, a riot by dissatisfied workers at the construction site for the world's tallest building, Burj Dubai, led to a sympathy strike by workers expanding Dubai airport, which lies on the other side of the city. Such coordination is not easy to arrange given that unions do not exist, and labor organizers are liable to be deported.

"But it wasn't until October that the big one hit. Depending on who you believe, somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 people put down their tools for 10 days after the government threatened to deport workers who had rioted over unpaid wages. The strikers asked for higher wages, better housing, and improved transportation to construction sites. The industrial action crippled one major contractor, but also spread to other firms. Initial attempts to settle the dispute were unsuccessful, and workers refused to cave in despite a police crackdown that saw no fewer than 4,500 arrested and led to the deportation of 159 of their peers. Eventually, they won out. 4,100 of the detained workers were released, and the strikers won a 20% pay hike. Other companies now look set to raise their own pay scales."

Is Top Secret Anonymous Guy right about the implications of all this? He very well could be. This is a sweeping victory for workers' attempts to improve their material conditions. There remain deeper problems with their legal status, and until these are resolved, backsliding will remain an ever-present threat. At the same time, the workers in the UAE have clearly shown the ability to use the muscle of their numbers and necessity to the Gulf economy to effect change, a lesson the region's rulers will probably not forget. At the very least, serious battle has been joined.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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