The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Slave Labor Conditions in Saudi Arabia:
U.S. Imperialism’s Staunch Ally

Sep 27, 2004

"Unimaginable working conditions and extreme exploitation," says a report from "Human Rights Watch" describing how immigrant workers are treated in Saudi Arabia.

Eight million foreign workers, mostly from Asian and African countries, work in a real hell there. These workers, making up a third of the population of the country, are tied hand and foot to their employers, deprived of any way to fight back. Slavery may have been officially abolished in Saudi Arabia–in 1962!–but immigrant workers continue to suffer under a form of "extreme exploitation," which is little more than slavery.

The report testifies to impossibly long work days, with no breaks, unpaid overtime, even entire weeks or months of salary stolen, all kinds of bad treatment. A worker from Bangladesh worked 10 or 12 hours each day and sometimes all the night, without getting any extra pay, repairing underground tunnels in Tabuk. Unpaid for the first two months, he had to borrow money from his co-workers to eat. An Indian worker told of being paid $133 for a month of 16-hour workdays. A Filipino restaurant worker talked of working 16 and 18 hours per day. A Bengali working as a butcher was driven out of the country by his employer, who paid him NO salary for the six months he had worked.

The situation of women workers is still worse. In addition to what the men suffer, they are shut up in buildings next to their workplaces, living packed into a tiny room with many other women. Add to that the women being raped and beaten by their employers, who know they can do what they want without the slightest consequence.

On top of the horror inflicted by their bosses is the horror of what the Saudi state may do to the immigrant workers, hidden under a veil of secrecy. Foreign workers can be arrested after being denounced by their employer, thrown in jail on someone’s whim. In jail they suffer not only isolation and beatings but sometimes torture and "confessions" extorted from them in a language they don’t even understand. Some are condemned to death by having their heads cut off. Workers might simply disappear, with their spouses, parents, and children never knowing they were given a secret trial and executed. How many such cases are there, right this minute, of workers held in secret waiting for execution? No one knows.

The responsibility for this situation certainly lies with the wealthy Saudi classes and the Saudi state administration–these feudal reactionaries who bring such pressure on hundreds of thousands of workers to keep the oil royalties flowing like water. But while oil makes the Saudi bourgeoisie rich, it makes the American, French and British oil company shareholders even richer.

Behind the barbarous Saudis–and above them–stand the imperialist barbarians who are content to go along with this situation and who depend on this dictatorship to maintain order for them.