The boom has been possible due to plentiful investment from oil-rich neighbors and armies of non-unionized south Asian workers whose fear of deportation, until recently, kept them from voicing discontent over low wages.
“The cost of living here has increased so much in the past two years that I cannot survive with my salary,” said Rajesh Kumar, a 24-year-old worker from the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh who earns $149 a month.
The laborers ignored the threat of deportation and refused to go to work, staging protests at a labor camp in Dubai’s Jebel Ali Industrial Zone and on a construction site in Al Qusais residential neighborhood. They demanded pay increases, improved housing and better transportation services to construction sites. On Saturday, workers threw stones at the riot police and damaged to police cars.
Companies, however, do not want more workers to leave as they struggle to find enough to complete existing projects following an overwhelming response to a government amnesty program to persuade illegal laborers to leave.
In June, the government offered, no questions asked, a free one-way plane tickets to illegal workers hoping to leave. They have since been swamped by 280,000 workers who, fed up with a rising cost of living and low wages, were ready to go home.
As amardeep at SM notes, these workers need permission to leave. This is the very essence of indentured servitude... or slavery. The monuments that the Dubai ruling class have built on the backs of their labor are, regrettably, partially funded not just with western money and Arab cash but also with wealthy Desi (Indian and Pakistani) travelers who fly through Dubai in transit and spend vast sums of money on gold and jewelry.
A fitting show of solidarity would be a boycott of Dubai's glittering wares by all Desi travelers, until the enslaved masters gain some measure of recompense and basic rights. But the chasm that separates upper class Desis from lower class Desi immigrant laborers may simply be too vast for this to be realistic.