Socialist Worker 2240 - 26 February 2011
Saudi Arabia is now being rocked by strikes as the mood of resistance spreads across the region. A socialist in Saudi Arabia reports on how struggles in the Middle East are even spreading to the most vicious dictatorship, which is sponsored by the US.
‘I went to my workplace on Thursday of last week, and I found out that there were over 3,000 workers demanding their rights before they called a general strike in the construction site in Saudi Binladin Group. The workers were very angry. Their workplace is one of the largest construction projects in the country, which is worth SR.100 billion.
However, they live in a terrible conditions. One of the workers told me, “I live in a room four metres by three metres with eight people, and for every ten people there is only one toilet.” Another Egyptian worker told me about the working conditions and the restriction of religious freedom: "They are Zionists, they don’t even allow me to pray on time!"
And another worker was speaking about the water at the site, which is infected and full of filth and insects: "The managers wouldn’t even wash their hands with it, but for us we have to drink it because it is the only drinking water at the site.” The others talked about the delayed salaries and the unpaid overtime: "Van you believe that some of the workers here are paid only 700 riyals a month, and I am paid 1,000 riyal. How would we survive?"
They couldn’t continue in the old way. They organised themselves and decided to do a demonstration at the site, to demand their rights immediately. It was the most interesting scene that I have witnessed in my life. When a group of coordinators and security guards tried to persuade them to go back to work the workers replied by smacking their hats on the walls and they shouted we demand “food, money, accommodation – we need to be respected”. All the managers, for the first time since the start of the project four years ago, took the workers seriously.
The police force couldn’t control the workers. When a police officer told the workers that they need to return to their accommodation and their issue will be solved later, the worker replied by throwing stones at him, and they managed to frighten all the police officers around him. The stones missed the police officer, but unfortunately it did not miss his car! It was the first time in my life I saw a police car smashed in Saudi Arabia.
When several coordinators, sent by the managers, tried to promise the workers change, I and several other socialists pushed for the occupation of the construction site, though that did not work. However, when one of coordinators said, "We will give you a new accommodation with a football pitch," one of the workers replied, “How would we play football after 13 hours of work with an unpaid overtime?" Then the coordinators promised that every worker will be paid after five days. Someone replied, "What would we do with today’s bread after five days, we need it now, we are sick of excuses, a billionaire cannot pay his workers today?"
In the end, the owner promised the workers that they will pay them on Saturday. The workers went back, and on Saturday they received an extra SR, 500 on top of their salary and the owners promised them that they will improve their accommodation and they will pay them 100 hours for their overtime each month.
The workers started to organised with a sister company, which belong to the same owners to start a new wave of strikes in different parts of the construction site. Through this week, there were several strike actions in King Fahad Library and in a construction sites in King Saud University.’