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Working on the Move: Labor Migration to the Arabian Gulf

Authors: Robert Bridi*,
Topics: Economic Geography, Middle East
Keywords: Capital, Labor, Primitive Accumulation, Migrant, Gulf Cooperation Council
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Ongoing primitive accumulation amid the neoliberal era of capitalism has doubled the global working class from 1.7 billion in 1980 to 3.5 billion in 2019. Each year, millions of workers are propelled from their home countries in search of opportunities, decent work, and human security. Since the 1970s, the Arabian Gulf has been among the major destinations for migrant labor. In 2017, 51% of the population in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates) were migrants with the United Arab Emirates population consisting of nearly 90% migrants. Capital accumulation from the sale of crude oil and natural gas, the formation of a capitalist class, and the integration of the region into the overall functioning of the global political economy has generated significant demand for workers. Laborers are contracted primarily from South and East Asia and Western countries to perform a range of low- and high-skill jobs. The paper is a preliminary investigation into the complex interrelations among cross-border movements of capital, labor, and wages in the social reproduction of class relations in all their multi-dimensionality. While the focus is on the Arabian Gulf, the frame of reference (i.e., the associated regimes governing gendered and racialized migrant workers, border security, and financial remittances) is global, as these are paradigmatic of capitalist social relations of production. The seemingly disparate phenomena of primitive accumulation, dispossession, capital flows, migration, racialization, work, and gender relations illuminate crucial dimensions of the social reproduction of capital and labor today.

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