One strike and you’re out for Besix workers

Strikes have a longer history in the Middle East than many people will know. The first one was recorded about 1,200 years BC in ancient Egypt, when one day, a labourer on the Pyramids project shouted “Right lads, everybody out!” To be honest, he may not have actually chosen this form of words. But there is proof of a workers uprising on the Royal Necropolis during the time of Pharaoh Ramses III.

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By  Sean Cronin Published  May 27, 2006

|~||~||~|Strikes have a longer history in the Middle East than many people will know. The first one was recorded about 1,200 years BC in ancient Egypt, when one day, a labourer on the Pyramids project shouted “Right lads, everybody out!” To be honest, he may not have actually chosen this form of words. But there is proof of a workers uprising on the Royal Necropolis during the time of Pharaoh Ramses III. It was all recorded on a papyrus equivalent of the Morning Star newspaper. And it survives to this day in the Italian city of Turin. Of course the Pharaohs were never really known for their progressive take on labour relations, so those trailblazing agitators of the ancient world may well have ended up in the foundations of the Necropolis they were building. It’s very hard to make out from the hieroglyphics you see. Scholars have been arguing for centuries over that final squiggle. Either Pharaoh Ramses III had them all buried in cement with their papyrus placards wrapped around their heads or they in fact survived and are the true descendents of the modern day British steel fixers union. Putting that historical debate to one side, the point is that strikes involving construction workers in the Middle East are nothing new. But the one involving upwards of 8,500 Besix workers in Dubai this week does represent a significant departure from the more spontaneous nature of previous demonstrations. And like the original strike in ancient Egypt, this was not just a news story, but a historical event in its own right. It represented the first time a coordinated and organised strike was staged in the emirate with a specific set of demands that was printed and distributed among the workforce. News travels fast on the bush telegraph that is Dubai’s construction industry — and bad news travels even faster. Which is why we usually hear about protests and demonstrations while they are still in progress. But even we were shocked when news reached us of the Besix strike — nearly two weeks before it actually happened. The reason we knew about it well before the men downed tools was because of the level of organisation involved. It’s not easy to get several thousands of your colleagues to give up their pay and risk arrest and deportation — and when you do, it’s not easy to keep it a secret. The Besix strike has opened up a new chapter in Dubai’s nascent labour movement. If not history rising, a historical rising nonetheless.||**||

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