Labor

Labor Organizing on the Rise Among Iranian Oil Workers

Oil workers in Iran have been striking since June 19, 2021, leading some observers to ask whether protests are becoming routine within the existing political system or are a prelude to a bigger uprising. The authors explain what makes these strikes remarkable, why Iran’s neoliberal policies pushed workers to organize and how the state and society are reacting.

The Politics of Commemorating the Abolition of Slavery in Post-Revolutionary Tunisia

In 2019, eight years after the Arab Spring uprisings, President Béji Caïd Essebsi declared that Tunisians would commemorate the abolition of slavery on January 23 each year. It was on this date in 1846 that the then-governor of Ottoman Tunisia, Ahmad Bey, signed a decree authorizing enslaved Black people to request manumission certificates. Dating back to the medieval period, this region—like other parts of the Mediterranean and the Muslim world—had relied on the work of African as well as European enslaved men and women.

Understanding Race and Migrant Domestic Labor in Lebanon

The dire financial and political crises in Lebanon have made migrant domestic workers even more vulnerable to abuses of the kafala system of sponsorship. Kassamali explains the history of this labor system in Lebanon and the intersecting roles of race, class, nationality and gender in the hierarchies it produces.

Remembering Slavery at the Bin Jelmood House in Qatar

Memories of enslavement are often silenced and yet suffuse everyday life in the Gulf. As governments across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries memorialize a maritime, pre-oil Indian Ocean past as part of their nation-building projects, the Bin Jelmood House—a museum in the heart of Doha—stands as a potentially subversive space. The museum forces visitors and Gulf residents to reckon with slavery and the exploitation of labor, in the past and present. Yet the larger context around the museum begs the question: How are national imaginaries produced and deployed in the international arena through museums and heritage projects and do they illuminate or obscure historical and contemporary injustices?

Understanding Race and Migrant Domestic Labor in Lebanon

The dire financial and political crises in Lebanon have made migrant domestic workers even more vulnerable to abuses of the kafala system of sponsorship. Kassamali explains the history of this labor system in Lebanon and the intersecting roles of race, class, nationality and gender in the hierarchies it produces.

Who is “Indian” in the Gulf? Race, Labor and Citizenship

How do race and racism operate in the Gulf? Neha Vora and Amélie Le Renard closely examine how the term “Indian,” as it is used in the United Arab Emirates, refers to much more than national origin. They trace the role of colonialism, capitalism and the state in creating “Indian” as a racialized category in contrast to an imagined pure Gulf Arab identity. Attempts to police the boundaries between citizens and non-citizens obscures the Gulf’s truly multicultural and multiracial history and present.

The Prince’s Speech and Activist Grievances in Jordan

On April 3, 2021, Prince Hamzeh bin Hussein of Jordan was confined by the Jordanian armed forces to his home and cut off from outside communication. While many observers speculate about palace politics, Matthew Lacouture delves into the significance of the prince’s statements decrying corruption and economic mismanagement. He shows how Hamzeh’s words echo the grievances of activists as he traces the evolving discourses of labor, youth and popular mobilizations across Jordan.

Labor Activists, the Living Wage and State Law in Iran

Fruzan Afshar 02.9.2021

Fruzan Afshar traces the contested politics and complex law of setting the minimum wage and cost of living figures in Iran. She shows how Iranian labor activists are making innovative use of the state’s labor laws to secure political inclusion and a platform to voice demands.

Palestinian Workers in Israel Caught Between Indispensable and Disposable

Lucy Garbett 05.15.2020

While people around the world are under lockdown, Palestinian workers in Israel continue to labor in the now accelerated construction sector. While Israel’s project of control and expansion exploits their labor, Palestinians are put at greater risk without proper testing, accommodations or healthcare.

Another Brick in the Wall

Zep Kalb 11.2.2017
At ten o’clock in the morning, Thursday October 5, 2017, about 500 teachers gathered in front of the Budget and Planning Office in Tehran. [1] They were joined by thousands of colleagues protesting in front of education offices in a reported 21 cities across the...

Labor and Class in Iran

Paola Rivetti 05.26.2017
Mohammad Maljoo is a Tehran-based economist researching labor issues and the transformation of capital-labor relations in post-revolutionary Iran. Widely published in several languages, Maljoo is also the Persian translator of numerous books on political economy by...

BDS in a Time of Precarity

The University of Toronto is not known as a particularly progressive institution. Like many universities, it has adopted neoliberal thinking and practice, becoming part of Academia, Inc. But two seemingly unrelated events during the 2014-2015 academic year showcased the increasing political activity of the school’s graduate student body.

Palestinian Workers Campaign for Social Justice

On the hot afternoon of April 19, 2016, thousands of workers and unemployed took to the streets of the West Bank city of Ramallah in protest the labor policies of the Palestinian Authority (PA). As the sun beat down on their shoulders, the marchers remained defiant, shouting “Haramiyya! (Thieves!),” as they reached the rally point in front of the Council of Ministers and Ministry of Interior buildings. Organizers from independent workers’ movements, left political parties and women’s committees took turns addressing the crowd from a makeshift platform on the back of a truck. PA police and security forces were deployed, some in riot gear and armored vehicles, but they did not visibly interfere. The demonstration was the first public, collective manifestation of a campaign against Social Security Law 6, ratified by decree on March 9, 2016 by President Mahmoud ‘Abbas.

A Lonely Songkran in the Arabah

The colonization of Palestine began in the late nineteenth century with the First Aliyah, or Zionist immigration, and the establishment of plantations worked by Palestinians under the management of Jewish settler-owners. A generation later, the “socialist” or “labor settlement” wing of the Zionist movement began its ascendance to hegemony via the “conquest of labor,” with the demand that Jewish-owned farms employ the Jewish proletarians who were streaming into the country in the wake of World War I. The battle ended with a commitment of the central Zionist institutions to the financing of land purchases for communal and collective farms (kibbutzim and moshavim, respectively), which would provide a prestigious if not luxurious livelihood for these European worker-pioneers. The new communities prided themselves on their commitment to labor qualified as “Hebrew”—that is, exclusive of Palestinians—and “self-”—that is, rejecting of “exploitative” wage relations.

Whither Iranian Petrochemical Labor?

On November 4, 2012, there were two snapshots of a deeply unequal struggle between labor and capital in Iran—a struggle that had begun two years earlier with a strike of temporary workers at the Mahshahr Petrochemical Complex. In Mahshahr, at the head of the Persian Gulf, Faraveresh, one of the five public-sector companies at the Complex, reached an agreement with the strikers, committing to remove the private middleman who had hired the workers and to sign direct contracts with them as soon as possible.

Migrant Workers and the US Military in the Middle East

Over the past 15 years, the United States has waged two major land wars in the greater Middle East with hundreds of thousands of ground troops. Shadowing these armies and rivaling them in size has been a labor force of private contractors. The security company once called Blackwater has played an outsize role in the wide-ranging debate about the privatization of war and attendant concerns of corruption, waste and human rights abuses. But this debate has also largely overlooked a crucial fact: While Blackwater was founded and largely staffed by retired US military personnel, the vast majority of the overseas contractor work force is not American.

Seltzer Colonialism

Early each morning, dozens of workers from Jaba’ walk up a narrow set of stairs with trash strewn on either side to reach a bus stop on Highway 60, which bisects the West Bank on its way from Nazareth to Beersheva. As they climb the stairs, the workers pass a tunnel that once allowed villagers convenient access to the highway, but which has been blocked by limestone boulders, dirt and rubble since the intifada of the early 2000s. At this bend in the road, nine miles northwest of Jerusalem, much of the horizon is defined by the 20-foot high concrete separation wall.

The Politics of Egyptian Migration to Libya

The beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts working in Libya, as shown in video footage released by the Islamic State on February 12, 2015, made headlines across the world. The story was variously framed as one more vicious murder of Middle Eastern Christians by militant Islamists, one more index of chaos in post-Qaddafi Libya and one more opportunity for an Arab state, in this case Egypt, to enlist in the latest phase of the war on terror. What was left unaddressed was the deep and long-standing enmeshment of the Libyan and Egyptian economies, embodied in the tens of thousands of Egyptian workers who remain in Libya despite the civil war raging there.

The Yemeni UFW Martyr

In the summer of 2014, director Diego Luna released Cesar Chavez, a feature-length retelling of the story of the 1973 grape pickers’ strike in California that inspired an international grape boycott and made Cesar Chavez a household name. In the film, the first person killed on a farm worker picket line was a Mexican bracero named Juan de la Cruz. In fact, de la Cruz was the third of five “United Farm Worker martyrs” to die violent deaths struggling for social justice in the vast fields of American agribusiness. The first was Nan Freeman, a young Jewish student helping a sugarcane strike in Florida, and the second was a Yemeni migrant called Nagi Daifallah.

Saudis’ Mass Expulsions Putting Somalis in Danger

Laetitia Bader 03.18.2014

In 2013, Mohamed, a 22-year old Somali, was making a living washing cars in Saudi Arabia. Late that year, due to increasing government pressure on employers of undocumented workers, he was fired. In December, after several weeks without a job, Mohamed handed himself over to the police. He spent the next 57 days detained in appalling conditions. “In the first detention center in Riyadh, there was so little food, we fought over it,” he said. “So the strongest ate the most. Guards told us to face the wall and then beat our backs with metal rods. In the second place, there were two toilets for 1,200 people, including dozens of children.” Mohamed is now in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

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