conjecture: what if all of the foreign workers [in Bahrain], perhaps maybe on direction from their governments, were to hold a massive strike, demanding better wages, better living conditions, and most of all citizenship?
This scenario is closer to happening, and more probable than what you'd think. Apparently there are already clauses in the WTO agreement about fundamental rights for workers, and their rights to citizenship. What if tomorrow there was a strain in Indian-Gulf relationships, and their government urged the workers in the gulf to rise? On a different scenario, what if all the balushis, yemenis and jordanians were to be relieved of their jobs (because of Bahranizations), and then you have, by some estimates, up to 50,000 people that are the only people armed in the country who have not integrated that well into their surrounding society, and who are extremely pissed off? (Continued)
This is something that I have wondered about for several years now. For the short term, I don't think the governments need to worry too much. The economic strain that of the migrant workers here face means that few can afford to stand up for their rights, let alone champion the rights of others. The first and only time I have heard about foreign workers taking a stand in the Gulf was last month, in response to the accident at Dubai airport where are a wall collapsed killing 5 workers. Around 7,000 workers from the labour camps went on strike the next day, and drew up a list of demands from the management. The Khaleej Times reports:
A mob of angry and beleaguered workers of Al Naboodah Laing, the construction company in charge of the Dubai Airport's Terminal 3 project, staged a strike on Tuesday and Wednesday across various labour camps in Dubai in protest against the alleged lack of empathy shown by the company towards the victims of the tragic accident at the Dubai airport expansion site. (Continued)
Within two days however, the labourers went back to work even though it was unclear whether their demands would be met. A few days later it became apparent that they were unhappy with the compensation package for the relatives of the victims. Yet work carries on as usual, the workers don't really have much choice.
But I do agree with Homer that something like this could become huge if they received some logistical support (from their embassies maybe, or if they formed some sort of an unofficial labour union) that would help them to coordinate their actions together. The situation right now is that most of the embassies of the workers don't care about the working conditions of their citizens, so long as they keep sending home foreign exchange.
Homer goes on to suggest two possible outcomes of such action:
1. Either we refuse to comply, which results (or continues) in a strike by foreign labourers. This lead to the absolute collapse of our economy.
2.We do comply, and all the foreing workers and their families are given nationalities. This fundamentally changes the makeup, policies, and dynamics of the gulf, especially since in some places, such as Dubai, about 90% of the population is foreign. It would completely seize to be an Arabic place, and would probably be the twenty-ninth state of india.
Either way, the alternatives are scary.
Yes, outcome #1 would be scary, but I'm not convinced about the second one. I don't think the government would have to give away citizenship to every single foreigner in Bahrain (or Dubai, or wherever) at the time, but could lay out qualification rules as is the case in Bahrain. (The fact that these rules are currently being flouted by certain individuals in the Ruling Regime is a separate issue). In Bahrain one has to have resided here for 25 years before being able to apply for citizenship. It's quite a long time, but I think it should be reasonable to most people. And it will mean that "foreigners" (i.e. Indians) will be restricted to a small minority rather than a majority. And because the turnover of expat workers to the Gulf is so high, it will mean that only those expats who are established and are contributing to the economy and society will ever be able to attain citizenship.
But I will concede to Homer that over time, if the labour problem is not resolved soon, the population will quite quickly lose its Arab identity (since the flow of expats here will continue). And that would be scary. But I think that essentially, today's Bahrainis have to wake up to the reality that the world is a changing place, and they can't protect its racial/ethnic/linguistic purity by employing this irredentism forever. As long as the change comes at a pace that everyone is comfortable with, we shouldn't find it scary.