Migrant workers left to die in UAE with no way home.
by Eternal Hope, Tue Apr 11, 2006 at 10:54:05 PM EDT
A sweltering fog still shrouded the East Coast & Hamriah Co. labor camp when, dressed in the equivalent of their Sunday best, the migrant workers set out after dawn Tuesday. They didn't shower beforehand. Water was cut last year to their shantytown, now abandoned by their employer. They didn't eat breakfast. They have no electricity to cook.
Angry workers are fighting back and suing:
"Either they pay us or send our corpses home," said Imtiaz Ahmed Siddiq, one of the South Asian laborers, who has made the trek to the court more than 50 times since last year. "If they pay us, we'll go home alive. If they don't pay us, we'll go home dead."
The article goes on to note that migrant worker unrest is growing, including a recent riot involving around 1,000 workers at the Burj Dubai - an attempt to build the world's largest building.
Imtiaz Ahmed Siddiq is the leader of the Hamriah workers. Him and his people will walk miles on foot in sweltering heat in order to pursue their case against the company. Not only do they have no way home to India and other places, their families have medical problems, such as a broken leg that Siddiq's wife has. Here, a broken leg does not matter so much. But in India, with no way for Siddiq to get home, let alone pay the medical bills, this is a matter of life and death given the possibility for gangrene and infections.
And the living conditions that Siddiq and his people have to endure are horrific, resembling the Middle Ages:
Over the year, Siddiq and Bairawa have emerged as leaders of sorts of the 30 or so men who live in the camp, a warren of collapsing prefabricated dwellings set over dirt packed as hard as concrete. Water bottles, white yogurt containers, discarded shoes, newspapers and other trash are piled along one of the shanties. Across other paths, pools of sewage collect, runoff from a latrine flooded long ago. The water dispenser is rusted; water was cut two months ago after the company stopped paying bills. Kitchens -- each little more than a dank room with a butane tank hooked to a burner -- are abandoned. With electricity cut, the rooms are too dark to use.
And the stench and mosquitoes are overwhelming:
The doors in the compound all stay open, letting in a breeze to compensate for idle fans. That, in turn, lets in mosquitoes and the stench. Sometimes seven to a room, the beds are a mix of thin mattresses, tattered foam or, in a few cases, a piece of plywood. On one sits a newspaper advertisement: "Emirates Hills Villas for Sale," it read.
"Everything was a dream," Siddiq said. "We thought we would build our lives and instead they've been destroyed."
Siddiq, like many of his fellow workers, were lured by used-car salesmen types who spoke glibly about the fabulous living conditions there. It was too good to be true, just like Chalabi's sales pitch was for the Bush administration:
Siddiq's story is much like the others': Raised on Indian films and stories told by returning emigrants with cellphones, cameras and fancy clothes, he paid an agent $1,000 nine years ago to help him secure a job in the Emirates. Once here, he was paid about $200 a month. He was almost never paid on time and when he was, money was deducted for housing, medical insurance, visas and so on. Fed up, he quit on Dec. 31, 2004, and demanded what he was owed. The following year, the company went bankrupt: The Lebanese owner went to Canada, and the other owner, from the Emirates, was absolved of liability, according to Hussein Yusuf, the company's attorney.
And the employers are crawling into the warm spiderhole of denial, too scared to face up to the face that people are about to die and that their blood would be on their hands. Most of these people are owed thousands of dollars:
The other men -- most from India, two from Bangladesh and one from Pakistan -- huddled around him, and he pulled out a torn piece of paper, bound with masking tape and folded four times. It bore the date 13 April 2005 and was an order from the Sharjah court for the company to pay him 17,630 dirhams, almost $4,800, in addition to a ticket to his home in Bihar, India. Most of the men have similar court orders, pending appeals; the largest sum is for Chanan Rao, a 26-year veteran, who is owed nearly $6,000.
The excuses of the company's attorney are astounding:
In another room stood Yusuf, the company's attorney. He didn't question the salaries they were owed, but the company, he explained, was bankrupt. Its assets -- construction equipment, cars, an office and furniture -- wouldn't cover what they wanted. Besides, he said, the company also owed far more money to banks, equipment contractors and dealers of building materials.
"They really are honest people," he said of the company's owners. "Their problems just became bigger than them."
I wonder if that was really Baghdad Bob, come back from the dead? Or maybe Scottie is training him to take over as White House spokesman, since he may very well step down any time.
We know from here that it turns out that Bush knew that some biolabs that were supposedly the smoking gun turned out to be bogus. We also know that Bush is continuing to bluster about the possibility of nuking Iran. I suggest that one reason Bush could be plotting war against Iran and one of the real reasons he plotted war against Iraq was economic - it would create a whole new group of migrant workers who would have no choice but to beg at the feet of the elites for a tiny pittance in return for slave labor.
Therefore, we cannot accept the answers given either by the right-wingers or the Bush administration to solve our immigration problem. The right-wingers and their White Supremacist allies led by John Tanton would have you believe that the only solution is mass deportations and walls. The Bush administration would continue their policy of winking and nodding at illegal employers who employ slave labor in our own country.
The right-wingers would deport all our undocumented workers and build walls. But we already are - to the tune of one million a year. It is not working; they are coming back. And building walls will not solve the problem - people would simply build tunnels, stow away on ships and planes, sneak across in cars and trucks, and come via boat.
The Bush administration would slap a bandaid on the problem by legalizing guest workers, but would continue the policy of looking the other way as employers continue to exploit them for profits. We cannot support a policy that is a de facto corporate welfare program. We need a third way.
Our country was founded on the system of checks and balances. As such, we need to do what we can in order to check the unlimited power of corporations to set whatever salaries they want to with their undocumented workers.
First, we need to resurrect the old WPA. Their purpose would be to recruit people whose unemployment has run out and migrant workers to rebuild New Orleans and maintain our country's infrastructure. This would do three things - it would serve as a permanent amnesty program for all of our undocumented immigrants. They would get a green card as soon as they worked two years for the WPA and obeying all laws. It would drive up wages by forcing employers to raise their own wages if they want to keep workers. And it would serve as a safety net for New Orleans residents and other people unable to find work.
Secondly of all, the INS should take a cooperative approach to dealing with undocumented workers. They should have regular trips to places that employ them regularly and advise them of their rights to bargain collectively and organize unions without fear of reprisals by employers. Third, we should aggressively enforce laws against employers who fire workers who try to organize to negotiate for better pay.
The biggest trump card that employers have over undocumented workers is the absolute power that they have. Currently, an illegal employer can blackmail employees by threats of dismissal and deportation if they try to organize for better pay. For many, that would be a death sentence because of persecution or starvation. But raising our legal immigration quotas and reviving the WPA will address that problem by allowing workers to unionize without fear of retaliation and thus driving up wages.
We must reject the false choice between corporate welfare and condemning millions of immigrants to starvation and misery by creating a police state. We must actively address this problem if we are to uphold our American values and our system of checks and balances.
I originially started off with a Voltaire observation that Egypt was built on slave labor to lead into this story. Popular culture, including the Old Testament and the movie "Ten Commandments" have always assumed that Egypt was built on slave labor.
But that turns out not to be the case. The workers who built the Pyramids were humanely treated, with living conditions similar to that of any Egyptian community at the time. The Egyptians were a highly organized society, building communities of thousands of people for the purpose of building these Pyramids.
This history lesson is a valid lesson in its own right -- workers who are well-treated are also more productive. Costco has learned this lesson well -- they pay their workers almost twice that of any other department store along with giving them generous benefits. They discovered that well-paid workers are also more productive workers -- just like the Egyptians did thousands of years ago. This is why they are very competitive with Wal-Mart and can offer prices that are just as low.
Businesses would do well to ponder these two examples.