Yayha al Faifi fled Saudi Arabia in 2002 after he was sacked from his job with British Aerospace for trying to organise a workers' meeting to discuss new contracts. He has continued the struggle for workers' rights in Saudi Arabia ever since.
Sacha Ismail spoke to him at a Socialist Youth Network demonstration coinciding with the state visit of Saudi King Abdullah.
Can you tell us about your campaigning?
I have continued to campaign peacefully for workers' rights. What Saudi workers want is the right to negotiate - but the regime will not even grant this. They have no interest whatsoever in granting any workers' rights. Do you have contacts inside Saudi Arabia? I maintain links with worker activists inside
the country, through internet chat rooms, for instance. It is very difficult, but we do what we can, mostly just distributing information. Recently the Saudi minister of labour abolished Article 75 of the Saudi labour code, which
provided some job security. The powers of this article have been broken up among other articles, making them much weaker. It will be easier to sack workers; employers will be able to say, do as well tell you or starve. Yet most Saudi workers are not even aware this has happened. We are trying to let them
Are your contacts native Saudi or migrant workers?
Saudis. Migrant workers are in an even more difficult situation. But I have been encouraging my contacts to try to contact and organise migrant workers, from places like Pakistan, the Philippines and Africa. The situation in Saudi is
very bad: elsewhere in the Gulf, things are more liberal and you hear of protests. In UAE, recently, there was a strike of migrant workers
over immigration regulations and work conditions. But in Saudi Arabia there is no space at all.
What other issues do workers in Saudi Arabia face?
One very important issue is healthcare. If a worker gets sick and needs a major operation, he will often be sent home and his contract terminated. If anything bigger than basic medicine is required, employers will not want to pay
it. And in Saudi Arabia you have to pay for healthcare - despite the oil wealth. 90% of national income goes to 10% of the population.
How do you feel about King Abdullah's visit to Britain?
No matter who is in power in Britain, this special relationship continues. They call it a "healthy relationship", but that is the exact opposite of the truth. It is a disgrace.
What is the attitude of young people in Saudi Arabia?
Some students have tried to organise meetings in their universities, but they face the same problems as workers. It is very difficult for youth to do anything. You must remember that Saudis are generally very ignorant of their rights, or in some cases have greedy, individualistic attitudes. But the
main thing is the repression. When I lived in Swansea, I used to attend the branch meetings of the Socialist Party every week. If workers tried to do something like that in Saudi Arabia, the emergency rooms would be full of mutilated bodies! There is a regime of terror.
What support have you had from the British trade union movement?
I have had lots of contact. But so far people have not done much. I am not too
critical: people face a lot of pressure, and British workers have their own problems to fight. But you should understand that what is happening in Saudi Arabia is a catastrophe. We need a broad perspective, internationalism.
What should activists in Britain do?
Be more ambitious. Rail workers in Wales, London and elsewhere have said they will take action in support of Saudi workers. I hope this will go ahead. Britain has the greatest trade union movement in the world, and Saudi workers need its support.