The real cost of slave labour

7510435-d4f_displayI get this feeling every time the plane touches down at Dubai Intl. Airport. A sort of “I’m home” thought that just involuntarily runs through my mind. It’s hard not to feel this when you’ve called one country your home for 19 years.

This time, that feeling was strangely absent. Perhaps not too strangely. A number of my friends are, like myself, planning to bid goodbye to the country and leave for better futures. My parents, nearing retirement age, are planning to move to India where they have rights and a far more relaxed life free of the constant threat of deportation.

The above is the strange reality gripping all of Dubai. A number of people are leaving the country as jobs are cut en masse. Companies are laying off workers by the hundreds sometimes as the cranes grind to a halt, which is not entirely shocking since Dubai was relying so heavily on the real estate market to keep expanding its size and treasury.

UAE bloggers have been debating the issue hotly, fighting back accusations that the expatriate population in the country is deflating.

They, along with the government-monitored-if-not-owned newspapers are the only ones defending the city as the whole world cackles at a dirty dream that has been exposed for what it really was. British newspapers were particularly smug as they published news of cars being left abandoned at the airport as the immigrant middle class fled the sinking ship (it is rumoured that the only reason the UK newspapers shut up was that Premier Gordon Brown asked them to quiet down as his country asked the UAE for contributions to the IMF).

News like this is hard to ignore, even by the local papers. Facts such as the outstanding amounts to the tune of billions owed by the government to construction companies could not be whitewashed. The figures simply exist.

There are more visual cues as well. You can walk along the promenade and see workers sleeping on the ground in the open.

You can also note the miles and miles of highway left unadvertised.

Of course, the million construction labourers brought in to set up the massive hotels and malls in the city have it the worst. They are the first to be laid off and the last to be considered in any governmental decision.

And all of a sudden, another controversy reared its head. A torture tape that had been known to exist for a year made headlines as it was aired by ABC News.

Of course, a full-on investigation conducted by the police, led by the accused sheikh’s brother, revealed that nothing inappropriate had taken place.

In the face of all this, the businesses are trying to keep stiff upper lips. They are telling people that the recession never hit the UAE. They are saying that what is going on is just part of a cycle which will see property prices and profit margins shoot up in no time. The government chimed in and said that the mass fleeing of workers is actually just a reflection of a large potion of people going on holiday.

Since we have nothing to fear (despite the number of construction projects that have been canceled, such as the $5 billion Jebel Ali Airport), the government is going ahead with several green projects in an effort to become an eco-aware country.

So here we are: the dream is deflating. People are leaving, and the seven percent of the country that calls itself nationals/citizens are suddenly shocked. Other cities of the world laugh, just as they had to sit in envy as Dubai boomed on the broken dreams of migrant workers, exploiting what few others were legally or ethically allowed to.

A long time ago, I’d asked my expatriate friends to stay and fight for Dubai. It was worth it, I’d told them, because it was really the only place we could call home. No, they’d replied, it really isn’t.

For the first time, I understand what they meant. Dubai has been outrageously successful in the mantra that it hammered into our heads: this is not your country no matter how much you get used to it or even if you were born here; one day you will have to leave because the UAE, though appreciative of your labour, doesn’t really want you.

And that sentiment has been reflected right back. Expatriates are not willing to stay and fight to bring Dubai to its former glory; they were in the city to work like dogs for better pay than anywhere else in the world, and nothing else. Where else could a man with a high school diploma from the UK earn $300,000 a year as a bank manager? Once that dream died out, what incentive would he have to stay, especially if he can no longer afford to keep his three maids and chef?

Three things I will miss about Dubai now that I’m back in Vancouver are the food, my friends and family, and the stories. Few narratives on earth can ever outdo an Arab tale (Laila and Majnoon, Sinbad, etc.). Here is one such tale to end this piece, taken and bastardized from one of those in our collective memory.

A man who had lived a life of ease in Dubai died one day, unexpectedly, at the age of forty. In the after-life, he found himself floating somewhere in a strange place where nothing much was happening. His lot at that moment was not particularly unpleasant, so he spent his time thinking. After a short while, he began to wish that he had something under his feet – marble, like the type in his villa. Out of nowhere, marble ground appeared and he was able to stand up. The man was quite pleased.

Not long afterward, he felt peckish. He longed for a continental breakfast, which appeared before him. After eating this, he wished for a few more meals of different kinds, and sampled from each before realizing that he was full. He therefore wished himself a villa and a nice big bed with silken sheets in which to nap.

When he work up, he knew instantly what he wanted. Sex. He wished for a beautiful (and willing) woman, who appeared and pleasured him for many minutes, after which he took a nap. After a few times spent with her, he began to wish for variety. Soon, he was having sex with a multitude of women of all colours and castes – Arabs, Indians, Slavs, Chinese, Latinos and many many more. Eventually he had them all combine together to form massive orgies that lasted for hours.

Tiring of this, he cautiously wished for a man with delicate features, who also appeared and pleasured him. Soon, he had a harem of men from all walks of life with whom he was having orgies on a constant basis. Tiring of this, he called back the women, and had an even bigger orgy with both sexes involved. He even combined food with sex, and found himself experiencing depths of depravity that he had never dreamed.

Ultimately, he tired of even these combined carnal-gastronomic pleasures. Walking out of the villa wearing the silk robe that he had wished for, he said to no one in particular, “Ahem, I’d like to leave now. This is worse than hell.”

A voice boomed down at him, “And Exactly where do you think you are?”

    Tags: , , ,
    This entry was posted on Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 5:49 pm and is poested under Passport Report category.

    7 Responses to “The real cost of slave labour”

  • marlonperera says:

    Great article man… even to this day, I float between fondness and hatred for this place.. Although we had the misfortune of once trying to call it ‘home’, you cant deny that our upbringing there moulded us into who we are now – for that, and shawarma..lol at least I suppose, we should be thankful.

    That being said, the unrelenting decadence of the place makes me angry every time I visit.

    Keep up the good work man!

    • Isaac says:

      I got a reply to my little post from a blogger Seabee that I link to here. Said blogger was so upset as to put up an entire new post to decry mine. I’m just going to reply in the comments here. Also, Seabee only alerted me about the post, which was made June last year, this past week. Odd.

      Seabee describes the Dubai Thoughts blog so: We came because we wanted to watch the incredible development as it happened – when we get tired of it we’ll go back to Australia.

      Basically I am being criticized by someone from the imperialist bourgeoisie class of Dubai. This is to be expected.

      The post is by Isaac K, who lived in Dubai for nineteen years, became disenchanted and has moved on.

      You got it wrong right off the bat.

      After nineteen years of enjoying a good life in Dubai

      I was born in Al Ain, moved to Dubai at age seven, and left it at age nineteen. Al Ain was fun. Dubai was, well you can just read my posts. Do not group me in with your ilk that “enjoy the good life” in DXB. My experience was far different.

      It’s actually an example of the current fad of jumping on the Bash Dubai bandwagon.

      I have been bashing Dubai since I was 15, blogging about it from within the country and then from without. It is not a current fad for me.

      I’m not complaining because someone is doing a hatchet job on Dubai.

      No; you’re complaining because you’re part of an elite privileged class in Dubai that have chosen to use what could be a revolutionary medium to maintain the status quo.

      I hate it when people state untruths as facts.

      Then you’ll hate yourself by the time you finish reading this.

      It’s full of emotive phrases, with untrue statements presented as facts, misleading captions to photographs.

      Nothing wrong with emotive phrases is there? Nice how you try and link that to the idea of lying, but that’s what they call a false association. Not the thing to do when you’re accusing me of lying.

      We all came voluntarily and we’re paid for our work, so where does ‘slave labour’ come into it?

      You’re using a one-dimensional narrow-minded interpretation of the phrase. You might be shocked to know that the phrase has had multi-dimensional meanings. If you’re working for about five bucks a day in fifty-degree heat, being housed in a camp in a small room with ten other people, and have been tricked into coming to a country with false promises (sometimes regarding the very nature of the job), then I’m going to call it slave labour. You should check out this guy, Malik Al Shabaz, aka Malcolm X. He talks about it.

      it does a disservice to those who are highlighting things which need changing, whose constructive criticism is based on facts.

      Facts. Yes I’ve seen your facts, from government-controlled newspapers. Well done. You might try getting out of your ivory tower and actually going to where the real issues are. Like how I went to a labour camp and talked to the people affected.

      I’m sure they’re perfectly normal, peaceful, hard-working, law-abiding people. So why does their son say they live in constant fear of deportation?

      It’s a silly thing: you live in a country for thirty years, working, and they can still deport you if you lose your job. Oh, unless you have taken out a loan. In which case you have to pay it back before you leave, or go to debters’ jail.

      We’re all constantly looking nervously over our shoulders, it says, living in perpetual fear of deportation.

      Not you, I’m sure. But again you are one of the imperialist bourgeoisie. You’d have to come down from your tower to experience that. Say, you don’t have any loans taken out though, do you?

      ‘The whole world’, another of my top hates, like statements beginning ‘we all’ and ‘everybody’. A personal opinion given some fake authority by adding the untrue claim that it’s the universal view.

      Do you know how people here in Vancouver reacted to the news of the rumbling there? How people I talked to from Hong Kong to Karachi to Bahrain to Egypt reacted? With laughter. Now everyone’s just shaking heads. I do concede that there was a bit of hope-it-fails going around though.

      The facts are that there are annually about 1400 cars abandoned across the city. Last year it’s said the figure rose to 3000, of which a few were left at the airport.

      Says you. I’m going to with Riz Khan, Al J and better journos, whereas you choose to go with one of the least transparent media climates in the Gulf region.

      Good heavens! Workers on their break taking a nap! How is that more evidence of a sinking ship I wonder?

      I see the same in Australia, council workers, in particular it seems, at midday sleeping in their trucks parked at the roadside or on park benches. Strangely, no-one there relates it to an exposed dirty dream.

      You’re really exposing yourself Seabee. Comparing indentured labour in Dubai to Australian middle class? I know you left Dubai in the year I was born, so you’re quite old, which is fine since I do respect my elders. What I’m addressing is that your tired eyes did not spy that it was not midday in the pictures but early morning (notice the light). Another thing: do notice the attire. The guys are not in work clothes. This is where they sleep. Because the camps they live at nearby are shit-holes.

      There are clear open roads through unbuilt areas all over the world, exactly like the one shown in the photo.

      That clear open road the year before had an ad on every one of the billboards. Looking carefully with your tired eyes, you’ll notice that that billboard was vacant. So was every one for miles, but I didn’t photograph every single one.

      The airport has not been cancelled. Work is proceeding on schedule.

      It was a project that was on an axe list. But I guess they took some money out of Nakheel or something.

      It accuses the business community and government of being being in denial that there’s a slowdown, when what they’re actually doing is talking it up to try to restore confidence, just as they do all over the world.

      No, it accuses the business community of being greenwashers, racists and denial experts.

      Criticism is justified, necessary even, if something needs be improved. It won’t be if we don’t highlight it, if we don’t make constructive criticism.

      Constructive criticism requires a receiver as well as a transmitter. Dubai govt. does not want this, and neither do the power elite. I will give you some if you like: get out of your little tower and face the facts. Stop reading the controlled papers and hit the streets and see what you find. If you actually seek the truth, go to where it exists.

  • Seabee says:

    Hi Isaac. Let’s continue the conversation.

    You’re doing in your comments exactly what I criticised your original post for, bold statements presented as facts when they’re not facts at all but are nothing more than your opinions.

    I don’t understand what you mean by: “Seabee only alerted me about the post, which was made June last year, this past week. Odd.”

    To the opinions you’re mispresenting as facts:

    You don’t know me, you know nothing about me yet you believe you’re qualified to assert that I am a member of “the imperialist bourgeoisie class of Dubai.” You go on with more assertions: “You might try getting out of your ivory tower and actually going to where the real issues are” “Stop reading the controlled papers and hit the streets and see what you find”. “you’re part of an elite privileged class in Dubai that have chosen to use what could be a revolutionary medium to maintain the status quo”

    You know that I live in an ivory tower, don’t get out, that I don’t see the real issues, don’t talk to all kinds of people, that my sole source of information is just the local papers? That I’m part of a priveleged elite, that I want to keep the status quo? How do you know these things? The answer is of course that you don’t. They are pure fiction and utter nonsense, just more very silly assertions based not on facts but on your own agenda – exactly what I criticised your posting for.

    I can’t be bothered to go through them all but let me answer a couple of your responses to my criticism:

    Slave labour. We disagree on the use of the word. I object to the use of the phrase when it’s applied to people who have come voluntarily to earn more than they can back in their home countries. That applies equally to highly paid management and labourers. They are not slaves. That some, the labourers in particular, are ripped off – almost always by their own countrymen acting as recruitment agents – is another issue altogether.

    You said your parents live “in constant fear of deportation”, which I took issue with. In your latest comments you suggest they were here for thirty years. They weren’t deported and I bet if I asked them they’d say that they did not live that thirty years in “constant fear of deportation”. This is a guest worker society. People coming here are well aware that residency is for three years, renewable, and that the employer is the sponsor for residency. Disagreeing with the system is a very different thing from claiming that people live “in constant fear of deportation”.

    I objected to your use of the phrase “the whole world” when you meant “some people”. That I was right in my objection is demonstrated by your latest comments – you know some people in some cities making the same comments. That’s ‘some people’ not ‘the whole world’.

    “Comparing indentured labour in Dubai to Australian middle class?” Labourers and manual workers in Australia are not middle class, they are proudly working class. You originally said “You can walk along the promenade and see workers sleeping on the ground in the open.” You were implying something different from the reality – workers on their break or waiting for their transport are sleeping in the open. I see it here, I see it in Australia as I said in my post.

    As for the desert road and billboards, your post said “You can also note the miles and miles of highway left unadvertised” which as I said was mystifying. It now seems that you meant the billboards didn’t have ads on them, which wasn’t clear from your caption.

    The airport? You stated categorically that it was cancelled, without bothering to check. That’s what I criticised. It’s one of the many things you are telling your readers which are simply untrue.

    What did I say in my original post? “That isn’t the point of this post. I’m not complaining because someone is doing a hatchet job on Dubai. I’m not leaping to Dubai’s defence, the subject matter is irrelevant, it could be any one of countless topics.

    What I’m complaining about is something right at the top of my ‘Things I Hate’ list.

    I hate it when people state untruths as facts. When something is misrepresented. When the facts are twisted to fit an agenda.”

    Criticise things that happen in Dubai by all means, I have no issue with that. I do it myself. But it doesn’t help by writing fiction, just stick to the facts.

  • Isaac says:

    What I mean when I say that you only recently alerted me about your post is that you made said post in the summer, and then linked it on my page this year. This is odd.

    “You know that I live in an ivory tower, don’t get out, that I don’t see the real issues, don’t talk to all kinds of people, that my sole source of information is just the local papers? That I’m part of a priveleged elite, that I want to keep the status quo? How do you know these things? The answer is of course that you don’t. They are pure fiction and utter nonsense, just more very silly assertions based not on facts but on your own agenda – exactly what I criticised your posting for.”

    I said that you live in an ivory tower, yes. You do. Don’t come at me with this “you don’t know me” bollocks because I know exactly how Dubai works. It’s an easy place to think you’re living this diverse lifestyle when in fact it puts you in a neat little social pocket. The issue isn’t that you don’t talk to all kinds of people; I’m sure you think you do. But if you’re going to take me on on the issue of slave labour in Dubai, I’d like to see a single blog by you about a visit to Sonapur before you talk smack.

    Not that I wouldn’t follow your blog if I wanted to know the latest runabout on a Dubai municipality issue or why a roastery is called that (not really; I know why it’s called that already).

    If you’re going to sit around talking about these kind of tiny issues, then concentrate on that. You have absolutely no frame of reference for an issue as serious as this.

    “They are not slaves. That some, the labourers in particular, are ripped off – almost always by their own countrymen acting as recruitment agents – is another issue altogether.”

    Here I’m going to address your little bit about facts. I know you sit around trying to find out exactly which source of info is correct about a new law and so on. An excellent waste of time, but an important rule – there are no facts. This site is the opinion of several people, but people who are smack right in the fray of movements all over the world. Again, if you want to stick to whimsical comments about parking and cuisine, do so. But do not think you can jump from that to this.

    They are slaves. People were tricked into overseas voyages and not allowed to return. They were slaves. There are labourers that cannot go back because their companies are withholding their money. A number of news agencies have covered this with interviews with said labourers. And the fact that their countrymen acting as contracting agents just adds to my argument because this happened with the Renaissance version as well.

    Ughh back to deportation. Again, you have no idea what deportation means, and how it affects those that aren’t part of the elite. Having a corrupt bunch of sadists controlling the system only adds to this.

    What’s the definition of “some people?” What’s the definition of “the whole world?” When I used the latter in context of every nation laughing at Dubai, that’s exactly what I meant. Every nation is laughing. Not every single person in said nations since some are unaware. But the heads of the states that were told to follow Dubai’s example. And if you’re talking about people people, then a whole lot of people are laughing. Not the people in Dubai though. And yes I reiterate that you have a vested interest in not laughing.

    “Labourers and manual workers in Australia are not middle class, they are proudly working class.” Well and good. But if you’re comparing working class in Australia to labour class in Dubai (it’s not even working class. Working class people here in Vancouver are nowhere in the same league as those poor fellas), then I don’t really need to say anything since you’ve shown your ignorance all by yourself.

    The workers I saw I talked to. See, I actually do that (again, what differentiates me from you). They sleep there because they don’t want to sleep in a room the size of your bathroom with twelve other men. Don’t know if that happens to your precious Aussie council workers, but I’m guessing not.

    “It now seems that you meant the billboards didn’t have ads on them, which wasn’t clear from your caption.”

    I’ve only gotten this complaint from you, so I’ll say it’s a problem with what you inferred. That’s for you to deal with.

    “The airport? You stated categorically that it was cancelled, without bothering to check.”

    When I was told about this, I checked with a few sources in the govt. They said it was. Then it wasn’t. As someone who has several posts going back and forth on little laws where one govt. source says one thing, and then another says something else, and then the first one changes its mind, you see how this can happen.

    “Criticise things that happen in Dubai by all means, I have no issue with that. I do it myself. But it doesn’t help by writing fiction, just stick to the facts.”

    You can run around thinking you’re this great defender of truth if you want. All you are is a shill. Let’s make this clear: I am attacking your Seabee persona. I’m sure the person behind it has an excellent multi-dimensional life and all that. But Seabee is exactly everything I said in my last comment: elitist and ignorant because of the former issue. To boot you are also the equivalent of an armchair anthropologist. You live a typical bourgeoisie life as indicated by your blog, and yet want to talk about slave labour. Before you start talking about “fact” understand that everything is based on perspective (let alone the comic-tragic facade that is Dubai which takes this to a new levels of irony).

  • Seabee says:

    Isaac, I just can’t be bothered any more with your arrogant, self-important posturing, your belief that only you have the right or ability to see and comment on anything you consider serious, big issues. Or with your childish contempt and name-calling for anyone with a different opinion.

  • Seabee says:

    Isaac, I can’t be bothered wasting any more time on your arrogance and self-important posturing, your belief that only you have the ability to see and the right to comment on what you believe are the big issues. Or with your childish name-calling and contempt for anyone expressing an opinion which differs from yours.

  • geheimraetin says:

    Hi, I am still working myself trough your interesting article (I am from Germany and my English is improvable) I just recently found a documentary from a German Filmaker (who in fact is a composer) you might also be inerested in. It’s called: The Dubai in me >>> http://the-dubai-in-me.com/

    THE DUBAI IN ME – RENDERING THE WORLD
    The film was shot on location in 2009 and deals with the business model of Dubai. It includes footage of the online platform second life as well as DVD material gathered at the 2008 citiscape real estate fair in Dubai. It shows similarities of those rendered realities with the real world in Dubai. It has a special focus on “the world” island developement, and it was partially shot there.
    On the other hand, it’s searching for a description of the real work conditions in Dubai. the film is including quotes by the french philosopher Jaques Rancière, reflecting on how to make a documentary film. The film ends with an epilogue, shot in the greenhouses of Almeria and near the six meter high fence of Melilla/Spain, showing similarities of a global business modell found in Europe as well. In this sense, “the Dubai is in all of us”.

    Idea and camera by Sebastian Lütgert and Christian von Borries.
    Translation from hindu and urdu by Nida Ghouse.
    Editing by Ute Adamczewski and Christian von Borries.

    (…)

    download and additional information at http://www.the-dubai-in-me.com

    No rights reserved.

    Introduction

    Once the manic burst of building has stopped and the whirlwind has slowed, the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out. This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery. Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neoliberal globalized world that may be crashing – at last – into the sands.

    “The thing you have to understand about Dubai is – nothing is what it seems, nothing. This isn’t a city, it’s a con-job. They lure you in telling you it’s one thing – a modern kind of place – but beneath the surface it’s a medieval dictatorship.” (Huffington Post)

    http://the-dubai-in-me.com/

  • Leave a Reply

    ferguson_stim

    Ferguson: Chronicle of an insurrection

    An in depth look at the events that unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri following the police murder of Michael Brown, a black teenager. Also features an exclusive interview with former Black...

    riot4Gaza_front

    #Riot4Gaza

    This week in “It’s the End of the World as we know and I feel fine, a look into Israel’s racism, riots in Paris in solidarity with Gaza, resistance to...

    global_fuckin_warming

    Global Fuckin Warming

    This week: 1. Kayapo’s revenge 2. Antarctic meltdown 3. California’s lettuce killing drought 4. Global Fuckin Warming kills! 5. Eco Anxiety 6. Blockades work 7. Women stop Utah tar sands...

    fifa_go_home

    FIFA go home! The battle against the World Cup in Brazil.

    This week on “It’s the end of the World as We know it and I feel fine” we bring you a round up of news from the muthafrackin resistance. Starting...

    attack

    Solidarity Means Attack! May Day 2014

    This week: 1. Worldwide May Day 2014 actions 2. Jeremy Hammond‘s May Day message 3. Against Me! Baby I’m and Anarchist Medley 4. ABC’s of prisoner support -> Anarchist Black...

    history_black_bloc

    A history of the black bloc – Part 1

    This week: 1. Madrid resists austerity 2. A History of the Black Bloc 3. Le Peuple de l’Herbe – Parler le fracas 4. Street fighting in Montréal Download SD (108mb)...

    • Donate with

      Donate with BitCoin

    • or PayPal

      • 32% funded
      • $488 cleared
      • $0 pending
      • $488 / $1500 total
    • @stimulator