Arab activists could not have achieved their stunning successes without Blackberries, iPhones, laptops and the other weapons of contemporary revolution. But what few have noticed - or at least wanted to think about --- is that the spread of these technologies across the Arab world is the result of intense and often crushing exploitation of the millions of workers on the other side of Eurasia who produce the devices that have enabled the revolutions. The economies of scale and efficiencies in production technologies that have put prices for computers, HiDef video cameras and smart phones within the reach of middle and working class Arabs have pushed the workers that produce these products to the edge.
Mohamed Bouazizi was the last of three Tunisians who committed suicide in 2010 in protest against a life without hope. In Egypt, four self-immolations preceded the call to Tahrir on January 25, 2011. In China, 18 workers at just one Apple production complex attempted suicide in 2009-2010. Many more have threatened suicides, and hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers have staged labour actions to protest on-going violations of workers’ rights throughout the country.
Of course, millions of workers have little choice but to go to that edge - according to numerous reports by Chinese and foreign activists, journalists and human rights groups, workers will grudgingly accept mandatory and unpaid overtime, 18-hour days spent standing until legs swell, the use of toxic chemicals and other violations of international (and often Chinese) labour laws. They do so because the wages, however low by Western standards, are better than what could be earned in other jobs. But this doesn't justify the conditions under which they are forced to work, or the fact that they suffer as corporations like Apple are making unprecedented profits from the devices these workers build.