Belabored Podcast #53: Art, Academia, and Labor Struggles in Abu Dhabi, with Andrew Ross

Belabored Podcast #53: Art, Academia, and Labor Struggles in Abu Dhabi, with Andrew Ross

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Last Saturday, a group of renegade artists staged a guerrilla exhibition at the Guggenheim, plastering the museum walls with Italian futurist–inspired posters bearing slogans demanding workers’ rights. It wasn’t just artistic mischief; the agit-prop protest was calling attention to the Guggenheim’s new development in Abu Dhabi, where legions of migrant laborers from South Asia toil with virtually no rights for unconscionably low wages. These construction workers are part of vast network of guestworkers in the Gulf governed by the kafala system, a transnational labor exchange resembling modern-day indentured servitude.

As word of their conditions has spread, there has been a groundswell of activism surrounding the Guggenheim site as well as NYU’s shiny new Abu Dhabi campus. The academic and arts communities have condemned both institutions for failing to protect workers’ rights and stonewalling demands for greater transparency. This week, Belabored speaks with Andrew Ross, NYU professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and an activist with both the Gulf Labor campaign and the Coalition for Fair Labor at NYU, about global labor struggles and the role that the arts and academic communities can play in transnational movements for social justice.

We also look at Sheryl Sandberg’s latest “Lean In” fail, Jeff Bezos as the World’s Worst Boss, Uber organizing, and the non-recovery for low-wage workers. Plus: recommended reading on civil rights and co-ops of color, and the politics of language of the “new” and “old” economy.


These Housekeepers Asked Sheryl Sandberg to Lean In with Them. What Happened Next Will Not Amaze You.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Wins ITUC’s World’s Worst Boss Poll

Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers

Uber drivers to form association after arbitrary shift cuts

The Case Against Sharing

The Recession Blew A Hole In Middle-Class Jobs

Conversation with Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross’s website

Michelle: Activists Invade the Guggenheim: Holding US Institutions Accountable for Labor Abuses in Abu Dhabi

Workers at N.Y.U.’s Abu Dhabi Site Faced Harsh Conditions

Human Rights Watch: The Island of Happiness Revisited

Coalition for Fair Labor at NYU

Gulf Labor

Argh, I Wish I’d Written That!

Michelle: Mike Rose, “The Talkin’ New Economy Blues: How Mainstream Discourse on the New Economy Diminishes Workers” (Work in Progress)

Sarah: Carla Murphy, How Co-Ops Helped Produce Foot Soldiers for Civil Rights (ColorLines)

Belabored at Left Forum

Sarah: Cloud Labor: Working in the Digital Economy

Michelle: Working in Fear: Deportation and Labor Exploitation in the Obama Age

Sarah: In Defense of Bad Art

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