Panel 8J

Workers on the Move: Labour, Capital and the State in the Contemporary Middle East

11.30 – 13.30
Chair: John Chalcraft, London School of Economics & Political Science

Never too Old to Protest: Pensioners’ Movements and Labour Unions in Contemporary Iran

Zep Kalb, University of Oxford

Social movements in the Middle East are generally believed to be driven by the region’s younger generation. Yet, issues of precarity, welfare restructuring and unemployment also affect the old. So how do pensioners protest their condition? This paper aims to include retired workers in the way we think about labour movements in the Middle East. Specifically, I look at the case of Iran to argue that the dynamics of corporate trade unionism have increasingly made pensioners the core of labour bargaining. Combining months of fieldwork with some quantitative data on protests, I posit that the Workers’ House, Iran’s main union confederacy, has found it easier and more profitable to mobilise the old. Its disapproval of disruptive workplace action, a drive to expand business networks, and a host of political rivalries have turned the union away from its traditional base of industrial labour and towards pensioners. Although these retired workers tend to be more imminently aware of their rights and better organised than their younger peers, the alliance between the union and the Reformist political elite has kept the labour movement within tight limits.

State workers: Egyptian Experts and Soldiers in Yemen 1962-1967

Joshua Rogers, SOAS

The paper interrogates the impact of the extensive Egyptian presence in Yemen between 1962 and 1967, during which some 70,000 Egyptian military personnel and hundreds of civilian advisors were deployed in a large-scale intervention to support the newly formed Yemen Arab Republic. These Egyptian soldiers and experts, including advisors, doctors, engineers, and teachers, were state workers in a dual sense: seconded as employees and representatives of the Egyptian state, their stated mission was to ‘modernize Yemeni institutions’ and build the Yemeni state.  Building on hitherto untapped Egyptian archival sources, supplemented by interviews and memoirs, the paper explores their role as vectors of specific models and ideas about the state: They left in their wake new ministry buildings, institutional blue-prints and thousands of Yemeni civil servants ostensibly following Egyptian procedures. At the same time, there was significant ambiguity in the Egyptian statebuilding project and the new institutional forms these ‘state workers’ created, interacted in complex and unforeseen ways with existing power brokers in Yemen, who selectively adapted, integrated, resisted, and ignored Egyptian-led state building.  On the one hand, the paper highlights the long lasting influence of these ‘state workers’ on the institutional forms that defined the Yemeni state into the 1990s. On the other, in highlighting the contradictions and colonial overtones of the overall project and the conflict-filled adaptation of and resistance to Egyptian models, the paper uncovers the role of these state workers in defining the modes of (dis)function that structured the Yemeni political scene in the following decades.

New Forms of Precarity in Turkey: The Life and Work Conditions of Irregular Migrants

Nazli Senses, Baskent University

Migrants with undocumented/irregular statuses constitute one of the most vulnerable groups in terms of living and working conditions. This paper critically engages with the discussions on precarity in relation to living and working conditions of irregular migrant labour in Turkey.  The number of migrants has grown in Turkey since the late 1980s.  Currently, with the mass influx of Syrian refugees as of 2011, Turkey has become the country with the highest number of refugees. Following that, especially since 2011, the public visibility of migration and associated precarity has increased. Although Syrian refugees has more or less documented when compared to other irregular migrants also their life and work conditions demonstrate various forms of irregularity and precarity.  Deriving from such a context, the paper adopts a theoretical and empirical analysis of the relationship between precarity and migration in the Turkish context by critically evaluating migrant workers’ work and life experiences and the formal rules and regulations governing their lives.  The empirical evidences rests on the findings of existing research on living conditions of migrants (especially on those of which include interviews with migrants themselves), information provided by civil society representatives working with/for migrants, and the analysis of national laws and rules governing the living and working conditions of migrants. An analysis of the latter, the formal regulations, is especially important in understanding state-led development of precarity in migrant lives.

Between Settler Colonialism and Neoliberalism: Casual Labour in Israel

Sai Englert, SOAS

Neoliberal policies have dramatically impacted Israeli society. Privatisation, growing inequality, and emerging economic elites have transformed the living conditions of many of its formerly most privileged Jewish citizens. In the labour market, reforms have gone hand in hand with the growth of subcontracting firms, fixed-term contracts, and falling wages. This growth of precarity and inequality have been key factors behind increasing class tensions within Israeli society, which have led in recent years to large social movements and new labour formations.  However, these forms of labour practices have long been applied to Palestinian, migrant, and Mizrahi workers, complicating the picture of Israel as a once deeply equal society. Indeed, the expansion of Israeli settler colonialism has systematically involved the integration into the labour market of a captive and highly precarious Palestinian labour force. Moreover, the structures of control imposed on this labour force were, historically, administered, at least in part, by the official organisations of the Israeli labour movement.  This paper will discuss the ways in which labour conditions historically applied on Palestinian and other marginalised groups of workers have been generalised in the neoliberal period. Furthermore, it will discuss the centrality of the national question in understanding the segmentation and disciplining of labour as a whole in Israel. Finally, it will offer a critique of contemporary Israeli social and labour movements, which continue to avoid the national question, and argue that by refusing to engage with Palestinian political demands these movements undermine their own ability to achieve reform.

The Working and Living Experiences of Highly Skilled African Migrant Workers in Doha, Qatar

Eneze Baye, Brock University

This paper focusses on the experiences of highly skilled African migrant workers in Doha, Qatar. I conducted in-depth interviews (Skype) with 12 highly skilled migrants from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Egypt, Cameroun and Zimbabwe. The purpose of this study is to explore their motivations for migrating, the pattern of migration, their living and working conditions. The findings of this study show that participants migrated to Qatar for financial gain, career growth, professional opportunities, family ties, and lack of good governance in their countries of origin. Participants migrated to Qatar either as organisational or self-initiated expatriates. Organisational expatriates are recruited directly from their countries by genuine organisations who take up the cost of migration. The majority of the participants in this study are self-initiated expatriates who migrated through the help of visa racketeers who charge exorbitant fee. Depending on the pattern of migration, participant may find it easy or difficult to switch employers (sponsors). In terms of the working and living experiences, all the participants admitted their physical security is not threatened but they all share similar views on job insecurity. Additionally, participants reported discrimination in salary scale providing several examples of how expatriates with Western passports are paid higher than other nationalities in respective of their educational and professional experience. This discrimination is also evident when a job vacancy is announced; the vacancy specifically lists the preferred nationalities excluding other nationalities. Other findings show that female expatriates have more opportunities, salaries are delayed and the cost of living is high.