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Exploited workers in Middle East fight back
MIGRANT WORKERS in the Middle East, including CWI members, are fighting against their slave-like conditions and the non-payment of their salaries.
They are showing how the workers of different countries, nationalities, religions, races and languages can be united on a class basis.
Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Egyptian, Filipino and Nepalese workers are uniting against super-exploitation and repression.
Khalid Bhatti, (CWI, Pakistan), reports on some significant strikes in recent months.
Six hundred immigrant construction workers in this tiny, oil-rich Gulf state have won a week-long strike against poor living conditions and the non-payment of wages. They postponed an earlier protest on the basis of a promise from the construction company to improve their conditions and pay their overdue salaries. But the employers failed to fulfil the promise and the workers went on strike.
The management told the workers to end their strike or face deportation. But the workers refused to call off the strike until all their demands were accepted. A week's strike forced the employers to accept the demands.
According to the AFP news agency: "600 workers, mostly Indian, went on strike against the poor living conditions and the non-payment of salaries for six months. This is a new development in a country like Qatar, which is completely dependent on foreign workers". This is the second action of this kind in Qatar in the last four months.
AFP AND Reuters news agencies described a demonstration of 7,000 immigrant workers in Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE): "It is an incredible and unbelievable scene for a city like Dubai, the fastest emerging business capital in the Gulf. Some 7,000 workers chanted slogans against terrible living conditions and non-payment of salaries. Some workers are even carrying red clothes to use as flags. Pakistani, Indian, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Filipino and Egyptian construction workers are protesting jointly against ill treatment from the employers".
The Al-Jazeera TV channel showed the footage of this demonstration, declaring it: "The beginning of endless struggles".
The 19 September protest was the biggest workers' demonstration, so far, in Dubai. The workers gathered from two different construction sites on the outskirts of the city. After holding a demonstration in front of the company offices marched towards the city centre. They walked about four kilometres towards a main street in Dubai. The workers were very angry but they remained peaceful. When they reached a main road crossing, the police stopped them and tried to disperse them, but the workers refused to go back to their camps without negotiations with local authorities and Labour Ministry officials.
The workers remained in the main street for three hours. They dispersed peacefully after successful negotiations with the Labour Ministry. The authorities assured the workers that their demands will be accepted and carried out in one month.
The immigrant construction workers also formed a committee to make contacts with other construction workers.
One worker expressed his anger over the way immigrant labour is dealt with by bosses and the authorities: "They treated us like animals and slaves, but today we have told them that we are humans and workers. We need fair treatment, regular wages and basic facilities at workplace and residential camps".
One of the workers' leaders, an Indian immigrant, said: "We told them [the bosses] that we no longer tolerate slave conditions and wages. We have learnt a very important lesson - that our unity is our strength. They divide us on the basis of religion, nationality and language. But we [are] united because we are workers and facing the same conditions. We are brothers and friends, united against the exploitation and slavery. All the rich Hindus, Muslims and Christians are united to exploit us".
The demonstration was a strong display of class unity and workers' strength and also shows how quickly workers can overcome divisions and prejudices that exist among the different working-class communities.
CWI members participated in the Dubai demonstration. They are discussing with the workers' committee, calling for the committee to open up to workers in other sections and industries.
Paying the price
According to official figures from the UEA Labour Ministry, there were 41 cases of labour disputes reported over the last few months. The Ministry received 5,486 complaints, in 2005, from workers against employers over non-payment of wages.
The potential exists for the formation of trade unions in the United Arab Emirates. Immigrant workers make up 80% of the UAE population and falling living conditions compel workers to organise themselves to fight for their rights. Construction workers are the most exploited and low paid workforce. Many are illegal immigrants and live like slaves.
The authorities are worried about increasing workers' demonstrations and strikes. One government official warned the employers with these plain words "You people are making them [workers] angry. Stop that, otherwise we all will pay the price".
In The Socialist 1 December 2005: