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
Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Egyptian, Filipino and Nepalese
workers are uniting against super-exploitation and repression.
Bhatti, (CWI, Pakistan), reports on some significant strikes in recent


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".