Workers’ struggles in Dubai: an example of courage and solidarity

Printer-friendly version

In mid-November, as the workers of Dubai went back to work after a massive and spontaneous revolt, the press and the TV was headlining the story of the nephew of Dubai's king Abdallah, Al Walid Ibn Talal, who had just bought an Airbus A380 for his personal use.

Not a word about this massive strike movement! Not a word about this open rebellion by hundreds of thousands of super-exploited workers! Once again the bourgeoisie clamped a blackout on its international media.

Against the inhuman exploitation of the bourgeoisie....

Dubai has, over the last few years, become an immense building site, in which vast skyscrapers, each one more unbelievable than the one before, have sprung up like mushrooms. This Emirate is one of the bourgeoisie's symbols of the ‘economic miracle' of the East and the Middle East. But behind this shop window lays a very different reality: not the reality presented to tourists and businessmen, but the reality of the working class which has to sweat blood and tears for these ‘architectural dreams'.

Out of the million inhabitants of the Emirate, more than 80% are workers of foreign origin, the majority Indian but also Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and, recently, Chinese. It seems that they are cheaper than Arab workers! They keep the building sites going 24/7 for practically nothing. They earn the equivalent of 100-150 euros a month. They build these prestigious towers and palaces but they live in cabins, several to a room and parked out in the desert. They are taken to work in cattle trucks they call buses. All this without medical care or pensions... and to prevent any danger of resistance, the employers hang on to their passports, just in case. Naturally, no account is taken of the workers' families who have to stay back at home. The workers can only see them every 2 or 3 years because it is so difficult to find the money for the trip.

But you can't treat human beings like this indefinitely and get away with it.

....the massive struggle of the proletariat

In the summer of 2006, the workers of Dubai already showed their ability to enter massively and collectively into struggle. Despite the repression which followed, they have today again dared to stand up against their exploiters and torturers. Through these struggles, they have shown their courage, their extraordinary fighting spirit, uniting against this life of misery and slavery. Like their class brothers in Egypt, they have braved the established power despite the risks involved. Because in the Emirates, strikes are forbidden and punishment is immediate: withdrawal of work-permits and a life-time ban on working there.

And yet, fed up with not having been paid for several months, "On Saturday 27th October, over 4,000 building workers came out onto the street, blocked the roads leading to the industrial zone of Jebel Ali, and threw stones at police vehicles. They demanded more buses to take them to work, less overcrowded lodgings and wages that would allow them to live in dignity" (Courrier International, 2.11.07). Recognising themselves in this massive struggle, thousands of workers from other enterprises joined the strikers.

Unsurprisingly, the bourgeoisie and its state responded violently. The anti-riot squad used water-cannon to disperse the demonstrators and threw many of them into police vans. "Denouncing this ‘barbaric behaviour', the minister of Labour told them to chose between going back to work and the abrogation of their contracts, deportation and a loss of compensation" ( Despite this police repression, and the government's threats, the strike movement continued to spread to three other zones in Dubai. According to a line in Associated Press on 5 November, there were up to 400,000 workers on strike!

The threats of punishment and repression were issued on the pretext that police vehicles had been damaged, something quite unacceptable for bourgeois order! But who was responsible for the worst of the violence? The answer is clear: those who turn the lives of hundreds of thousands of worker into a veritable hell.

What is the perspective for such struggles?

In Dubai, the proletariat has shown its strength and determination. The bourgeoisie was actually forced to take a temporary step back, putting aside its purely repressive tactics. Thus, after announcing the expulsion of the 4,000 Asian workers who initiated the movement, "the tone was rather one of appeasement on the following Wednesday" (AFP). The massive scale of this struggle had "made the Dubai government bend somewhat, ordering the ministers and the enterprises to review wages and install a minimum wage"....officially of course. In reality, the bourgeoisie will continue with its attacks. The sanctions against the ringleaders seem to have been maintained. And there is no doubt that the bourgeoisie will keep a tight grip over this and try to maintain the ferocious levels of exploitation it imposes in Dubai.

Nevertheless, the ruling class has had to take account of the rise in militancy amongst this section of the working class, despite its lack of experience in the struggle. This is why it is tying another string to its bow: as well as repression, it is also seeking to use more ideological means. The first attempt at this, however, has been rather ludicrous and ineffective. Faced with the multiplication of conflicts in the last two years, "the authorities have created a commission in the police force which has the job of dealing with questions from the workers, and have given the workers a freephone number to use for complaints, most of them relating to the non-payment of wages". Make your complaints directly to the forces of repression - you could hardly be more provocative! Rather more adroit than this is the government's efforts to form a trade union in the enterprises in order to control future struggles ‘from the inside'.

The question is not so much the perspective for the struggle in a mini-state like Dubai, but the fact that this struggle is part of a much wider movement: the international struggle of the working class. "The workers have no country" said Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. The present struggles of the proletariat are part of the same chain of struggles against capitalist exploitation. From India to Dubai, via Egypt, the Middle East, the African continent or Latin America, to the countries of Europe and North America, the workers' struggle is on the rise. The international development of the class struggle is a massive encouragement for workers wherever the movement breaks out. In particular, the emergence of massive movements like the ones in Dubai, Bangladesh or Egypt must act as a stimulus for the workers of the most advanced countries, while the latter must assume a particular responsibility in announcing the perspective of a struggle against the whole system of exploitation, sharing their accumulated historical experience, showing in practice how to take the struggle in hand and explaining why we cannot count on the unions and the left to do that for us.

The bourgeoisie and its media do all they can to stifle the news of workers' struggles around the world to prevent this sharing of experience, this development of consciousness. The struggles in Dubai are the proof that everywhere the working class is suffering the devastating effects of the world economic crisis, and that everywhere it is sharpening its weapons of consciousness and solidarity in response. Map, 18th November 2007.


Recent and ongoing: