The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

United Arab Emirates:
Construction workers on strike

Dec 3, 2007

In October, several thousand construction workers, mostly Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, went on strike and demonstrated in Dubai, blocking the main road of the industrial zone of Jabal Ali. They demanded a wage increase and the improvement of their housing and transportation conditions. Other strikes broke out, despite the announcement by United Arab Emirate authorities that demonstrators would be deported and banished for life.

Strikes and workers’ demonstrations may be prohibited in the Emirates, but the rulers were forced to answer the strikers’ demands. At Jabal Ali, the strikers not only escaped deportation, but went back to work after their bosses ceded to some of their demands. Forty thousand had struck Arabtec, which is in charge of the construction of the Burj Dubai skyscraper. The project will become the tallest building in the world, and the Emirate wants to make it a tourist showcase. The chief of police even threatened to prosecute businesses that don’t meet health and safety standards in their housing for foreign workers.

There are 700,000 building workers, mostly Asian, working in this country with a population of four million. These workers are employed in the construction of luxurious commercial centers, and hotels for billionaires on artificial islands, for wages of $109 to $163 a month.

The boom in Emirate construction undoubtedly whets local and international appetites for profit. But the exploitation of the building workers, in turn, has now begun to ignite strikes.