Exploitation for dummies
It's a perennial problem. Your economy is built on extracting the surplus value from a more-or-less indentured labour force, the human resource equivalent of opencast mining. Rape-and-run tactics, as the environmentalists call them, consist on extracting profits short term using morally questionable and environmentally damaging methods - dousing rocks in cyanide to extract tiny amounts of gold, for example, and leaving the accumulated chemicals to seep into the ecosystem; or piling tailings behind fragile dam and hoping that the dam doesn't breach, flooding the rivers and homes beneath it with water rich in heavy metals toxic to most forms of life. In human resource terms, the tools and techniques are intangible, hence harder to discern, but they largely work the same way. Build a dam - be it with guns or law - stop people from organising, take away their liberties by confining them with prison guards or by taking away their passports. Invest the bare minimum in the resource you are mining and extract from it surplus value that will make you rich and powerful. Pile up all your problems behind the dam, and hope that they won't come back to bite you.
Every now and again, though, the dam breaks. In the UAE, there have long been signs that the dam was under strain, but it was when workers blocked Sheikh Zayed Road that the first cracks appeared. The government stuck a thumb in the dyke, creating a meaningless 'black list' of companies that had not paid their workers and then backing down quickly on its initial promises to make the company pay immediately and in full. Then it went back to business as usual.
The riot at the Burj, though, has shown that the dam is in serious need of structural reinforcement. So the government has decided to co-opt the labour movement to buttress the dam.
"Labourers will be allowed to form unions. We're going to have one union, with separate representatives for the construction, fishing, agriculture and other industries," Labour Minister Ali Al Kaabi told The Associated Press.
It is a tactic with a long pedigree. The Soviet Union only allowed state-sanctioned and -controlled unions; Egypt's trades unions have long been a means for the state to force its will upon labour movements. In Mexico, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional's co-option of labour movements helped perpetuate its institutional dictatorship for 80 years. Italy's Syndical Laws of 1926 meant that only fascist trade unions would be recognised; in Nazi Germany, only fascist civil society organisations were tolerated, and collective bargaining was only mediated through the state - that is, not mediated at all. Third Reich Germans didn't have the right to move jobs without express permission from their employers, either.
I'm not saying the UAE is some neo-fascist dictatorship - far from it. But the government could damned well take a better inspiration for its labour policy.