Dubai workers revolt (Daily Times (Pakistan))

Pakistans foreign exchange reserves and a huge chunk of its economy depend on remittances from migrant workers, especially in the oil-rich, despotic Saudi Arabia and the reactionary sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf. Pakistan’s rotten political elite are not only indifferent to the plight and repression suffered by these economic exiles, they have very cordial and warm relations with the tyrannical monarchs who are culpable for unspeakable atrocities against workers from Pakistan and other South Asian countries. Paradoxically, the Pakistani bourgeoisie has wrecked infrastructure and failed to provide any stability to the country. Instead, they are busy investing and shifting their ill-gotten monies and homes to the exclusive neighbourhoods in these artificial states created by imperialism to rob the oil and wealth of the region. Pakistans corrupt ruling elite has stashed away over $ 500 billion in Swiss banks and has invested over Rs 430 billion in Dubai in the last two years, making it the second largest investor in real estate there.
Migrant workers are forced to leave their native lands due to abject poverty in the hope of making ends meet in this spiralling nightmare of price hikes and the dearth of basic facilities. Many workers arrive in the Gulf already heavily in debt, having paid huge sums to middle men to secure contracts and visas. Regional economies from Kerala to Kashmir, from Balochistan to Bangladesh and from Punjab to Khyber Pakhtunkhawa are all being drip-fed by remittances from the Gulf States. In such excruciating conditions, work becomes a matter of life and death for these workers. They are being crushed between a rock and a hard place. Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said that these workers are “effectively living in 21st century slave states. Its appalling…Most companies are forcing their workers to live in squalor. An unconscionable number of workers die due to unsafe conditions. These governments are using and abusing migrant workers.”
Known for its Ferraris, seven star hotels and other ostentatious displays of wealth, fewer than 20 percent of the UAE’s roughly 7.9 million residents are citizens. To attain citizenship, one must typically demonstrate a blood relation on the fathers side to the Emirates dubious original inhabitants. Under the kefala system, a workers legal status in the country is tied to his employer. Foreigners cannot change jobs without permission from their company. According to media, “They are a form of modern servitude. The wage gap between Emirati citizens and blue-collar migrant workers is massive.” In the UAE, the reactionary monarchical state provides a great amount of cover for big construction and other companies that hire immigrant workers. Abuses are commonplace, as these hedonistic and vulgar sheikhs threaten their employees with deportation if they do not step in line. This fetters the immigrant workers ability to go on strike despite their horrendous working conditions. Unions, strikes and public demonstrations are criminal offences in the UAE. The labour laws laid down by the state overwhelmingly favour the bosses. Strikes and protests by workers are considered a security risk in a city that prides itself on being open to investment, tourism and different cultures.
Under such harrowing conditions, these workers have dared to go on strike for the second time in six months in Dubai. On March 10, hundreds of immigrant construction workers went on a brief illegal strike at the Fountain Views construction site in Dubai. It was an explosion of anger at their worsening life and working conditions. Ferocious repression and blackmail failed to avert this eruption of revolt. The workers went on strike in response to recent wage cuts and worsening exploitation from their employer, the Arabian Construction Company, one of the companies that built the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
In the background of the severe crisis of world capitalism, the UAE monarchs are investing their huge oil surpluses through massive construction projects like the new airport, at a cost of $ 32.7 billion. The autocratic regimes of the UAE and other Gulf states can only maximise their obscene wealth by exploiting immigrant workers and giving them no freedom at all, with a total ban on demonstrations, unions and strikes. This explains why last week a few thousand workers simply stayed at their appalling accommodations last weekend and didnt show up for work.
The strike ended with brutal repression from the state, after the workers were tricked under the ruse of negotiating with their employers, only to find the police waiting for them instead. They were arrested by the dozens, slapped, kicked, and beaten with shoes. Management refused to accept the demands for increased wages from people earning about $ 200 a month, while working 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week to complete mega-projects in temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius. The workers demands varied from a monthly pay raise of $ 100-135, to the free food promised them. As many as 15 men are stuffed into small rooms and 40 or 50 men must share one bathroom. Syed Khaled, a concrete mixer for Arabtec, told Al Jazeera: “The company is very cruel and going on strike is a good idea. Its unclear how many workers downed their tools or how many received deportation orders, but hundreds, if not thousands will be forced to leave the country they have helped to build.” In all, more than 3,000 men went on strike for two days, most of them working on the New York University project on the artificial Saadiyat Island. The capitalists of the Emirates and their states fear labour unrest because it could inspire the millions of other migrant workers in the region to take similar action.
During the First World War and as the Ottoman Empire was collapsing, the British and French imperialists machinated to control the region through the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement and the Balfour Declaration. They drew lines in the sand to create new states, primarily for new markets and the control of oil in the region. Most states were created with large populations and little oil, while others contained massive oil deposits and minuscule populations. The UAE is one such artificial creation, which has been built by immigrant labour from South Asia and poor Arab countries. With the burgeoning capitalist crisis, these reactionary imperialist stooges cannot maintain the status quo. This strike shows that workers can arise in revolt, smash the most formidable barriers and fight back these barbaric regimes, even in the face of the most vicious and despotic repression. The despots diverted the storms of the Arab revolution of 2011 by increasing social spending, but with the burgeoning crisis they cannot divert them anymore. Such strikes by immigrant workers can bolster the courage of toilers back home. Similarly, a new upsurge of the workers and youth of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other countries can give enormous confidence and strength to the immigrant workers in their struggle against these atrocious monarchical states, leading to the demolition of their oppression and exploitation and the eventual overthrow of capitalism.