As Molly Crabapple reports, the Abu Dhabi elites have decided to purchase western culture and bring it to their city are doing so on the backs of horribly exploited immigrant laborers who lack rights. This is the same labor who dies building NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus, soccer stadiums in Qatar, and now outposts of the Louvre and Guggenheim. The workers fight back and fight back hard but between lacking legal status, the indifference of the involved western institutions, and violence, the odds they face are huge. And how do you stop it? To do so, you have to force legal regimes onto mobile capitalism, as some in the Abu Dhabi workers’ struggles understand:
Defenders of Western institutions in Abu Dhabi are right about one thing. They are not unique. The labor abuses at the Louvre or NYU are the same labor abuses that are happening throughout the UAE. The UAE is not the worst country for workers in the Gulf, and the Gulf is not the worst region for workers in the world. Most countries sustain themselves on the labor of transient, disposable people. This may be unofficial, as in the United States (our agricultural industry would collapse overnight without undocumented migrants), or it may be institutionalized, as in the UAE.
“Capital is global and derives its velocity from replicating the same model everywhere. Gulf Labor is arguing for a global, humane, and fair standard of labor and migration regulations to accompany, and slow down, global capital,” said Naeem Mohaiemen, a New York–based Bangladeshi artist who is a member of Gulf Labor. “The implications can be staggering. If Saadiyat implemented world-standard labor and migration rights, that could become a precedent for implementing the same standards in the entire region. Then people would ask, what about migrant labor in Malaysia? In Texas? And so on…”
These are indeed the questions we should be asking, arguing for a race to the top rather than a race to the bottom in workplace standards.