Gulf Labor Protest Shuts Down New York Guggenheim Museum

Have the protests finally gone too far?

Photo: via Instagram/ @kyledidthis.

Protestors shut down New York’s Guggenheim Museum today in protest over what they call the museum’s inaction in ensuring decent conditions for workers in Abu Dhabi, where the museum is planning to open a new museum, according to reports at Artinfo, which broke the news, and the New York Times.

The occupiers unfurled a giant red banner reading “Meet Workers’ Demands Now! May Day 2015.”

Protestors “dropped 10,000 leaflets about workers’ rights, styled to look like art in the On Kawara exhibit currently on view,” says the New York Times, which adds that the protestors are promising to occupy the museum indefinitely.

For background on this evolving, ongoing story, see What’s Really Going On at Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island? and Artist Sneaks Into Future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Site to Interview Workers.

Protestors have hit the museum on several previous occasions (see Demonstrators at Guggenheim Protest Labor Abuse in Abu Dhabi and Protest at New York’s Guggenheim Calls Attention to Labor Conditions at UAE Expansion) but this is the most serious interruption of museum activities to date. It may also be illegal.

Mostafa Heddaya of Artinfo reports that a police officer told the protestors, “You’re upsetting the people that run the museum.”

Way to miss the point, officer.

In a press release, the organizers of the protest say,

On International Workers Day, G.U.L.F. declares its solidarity with migrant workers in the U.A.E. by occupying the Guggenheim Museum. The Gulf Labor Coalition, an international group of artists and writers, has been pressuring the museum for five years to ensure fair labor standards for the workers constructing its new Saadiyat Island branch in Abu Dhabi. Neither the museum nor its Emirati partner has responded with any adequate program of protections.

A series of field investigations has established a systematic pattern of human rights abuse among migrant workers in the Emirates. While Abu Dhabi has the roaring wealth to purchase the names of high-profile cultural institutions like the Guggenheim, Louvre, British Museum, and New York University, it will not afford dignity and fair wages to the migrants who make up 90% of its population. Compliance monitoring programs put in place by NYU were not adequately enforced, and hundreds of workers who stood up for their rights were beaten and deported.

The Gulf Labor Coalition has asked for the Guggenheim to:

1) pay a living wage to its museum workforce

2) reimburse workers for their crushing recruitment debts

3) respect their right to self-organize

The Foundation has responded that meeting these demands lies “outside the Guggenheim’s range of authority,” because “they are matters of federal law.”

According to Andrew Ross, an NYU professor and labor expert, “nothing in UAE labor law prevents an employer from compensating workers for recruitment fees. In fact, the employment practices policy on Saadiyat Island specifically instructs them to do so.”


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