Sunday, October 09, 2011

Kuwait's Protest Movement

Kuwaitis have a high standard of living, but that isn't stopping the spread of labor activism among both nationals and guest workers:
"Strikes sweeping through the Kuwaiti public sector will increase unless the government comes to grip with the concerns of employees, the head of a major trade union said...

"The recent surge in industrial action was sparked in September when the government gave oil sector employees, who had threatened to down tools, salary increases ranging from 15.5 per cent for senior officials to 66 per cent for Kuwaiti technicians, at an estimated annual cost of 142 million Kuwaiti dinars (Dh1.9 billion).

"When news of the deal spread, so did the strikes. Soon customs officials, port workers, and staff at the ministries of interior, health and social affairs and labour all started mass walkouts in protest against poor salaries and benefits...

"The trade union official said public sector employees have been forced into industrial action by a difficult economic situation. He said Kuwaitis feel they are not being treated equally in their jobs in areas such as promotions, because better educated workers are climbing the ranks ahead of experienced employees...

"Kuwait's hulking public sector employs the vast majority of citizens. In addition to paying some of the highest civil service salaries in the world, the state provides benefits such as free health care and education, land, cheap loans and generous pensions."

Quotes in the article hold that the movement is about rights rather than money, but I wonder if there isn't an element of Kuwaiti citizen entitlement behind some of these complaints. The spread is definitely one a case of one group getting a raise causing others to insist on having one two.

All this is happening as Prime Minister Nasser Muhammad al-Sabah is accused of yet more corruption. Kuwait's premier, who is also the emir's nephew, is always being accused of corruption, but this time the "Arab Spring" context is adding to citizens' assertiveness, while also pushing the government down the road of trying to divert dissent through displays of largesse. I don't expect this labor movement to support the political protests, however, as so far the grievances all seem to be economic, and many of not most Kuwaitis see the Parliament and not the royal family as responsible for keeping economic growth slow.



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