WOID XVII-41. Museumwatch: United Arab Workers

Not fair. Not fair to John Sexton, President of New York University, the man who performs at NYU the same functions that his colleague up the street, Butcher Bob Kerrey, performs at the New School.

Sexton recently announced the formation of “NYU-Abu-Dhabi,” a branch of the University he’s planning to set up in the United Arab Emirates. The project is in line with Sexton’s long-range focus on speculative real estate and grant hustling.

Not surprisingly, Sexton’s also known for his contempt for Organized Labor – or for labor, period: Teachers who teach he dismisses as “Knowledge Providers.” Sexton’s heroes are the “Knowledge Creators,” those who spend their time getting grants from rich Arabs and research institutes. Sexton lost his adjuncts to the United Auto Workers a few years back, but he stopped the UAW from organizing the graduate assistants – at least until the Bush Administration’s gone.

Now this. It turns out the United Arab Emirates's not the Non-Worker’s Paradise it was supposed to be. A country made up of 20% hideously rich “natives” and 80% hideously poor immigrants, many illegal, most of them hideously exploited, should make a New Yorker feel right at home, except that in a misguided attempt to prove how civilized it is the United Arab Emirates decided to proclaim an amnesty for illegal workers, mostly from India, Bengal and Pakistan, most of them employed in the building trades. What happened next is what happens next in the United States if illegal immigrants are ever amnestied: so many ran for the exits in Abu Dhabi that there’s a serious labor shortage there, now, meaning (gasp!) the wage-slaves of Abu-Dhabi are starting to ask for raises, and even to hold public protests – which under normal circumstances would get them forty lashes.

Of course John Sexton’s not the only one with plans to bring the Light of Western Culture to the UAE (not, obviously, to the UAW): Tom Krens of the Guggenheim Museum, New York and Nicolas Sarkozy, the owner of the Louvre in Paris, are also planning large-scale projects in Abu-Dhabi. Unfortunately the gallery guards at the Guggenheim are unionized, and I imagine even the poorest employees at the Louvre have decent salaries. And since your average NYU adjunct still makes slightly more teaching four hours a week than the average skilled electrician makes in a month in Abu Dhabi, bringing in strikebreakers from New York or Paris isn't yet an option. The best-planned lays of men by rats...

Paul Werner is the author of Museum, Inc: Inside the Global Art World