The Political Economy of Work in Saudi Arabia: A Comparative Labour Process Analysis in Two Firms
The aim of this thesis is to contribute to an understanding of the specific nature of state-capital-labour relations at the workplace in order to shed light on the contradictions and class struggles that underpin Saudi capitalism. Theoretically, it challenges the 'functional' image of Saudi capitalism as 'Patrimonial Capitalism'. This political economy approach focuses on 'coherent' state-business relations underpinned by the coordination mechanisms of coercion and co-optation and the resultant 'institutional complementarities' of Saudi capitalism, neglecting the role of labour as an actor. The thesis argues that a focus on 'patrimonialism' draws attention away from the pressures of global capitalist dynamics (most notably through migrant labour), struggles at the workplace between different actors, and the institutional incoherence and incongruence of Saudi political economy. Instead, it engages with critical-materialist perspectives and looks at the workplace through the lens of labour process theory, hitherto under-researched in scholarship on Saudi Arabia. A comparative qualitative case study of a state-owned joint venture in the petrochemical sector and a family-owned firm in the construction sector yields three key findings. First, divisions among workers, particularly through reliance on non-Arab male migrants, are at the core of Saudi capitalism. Segmentation through the Kafala system is used as a spatial fix, for control at the workplace for wider social control, and for maintaining low costs of labour. Second, the workplace is a site of contest to a greater and lesser degree despite the high control over labour. Migrants as well as Saudis resist through sabotage, high turnover (particularly of Saudis) and in extreme cases though suicide (among migrants). Third, the evident conflicts at the workplace have implications for the functioning of state policies and firm practices. Neither migrants nor Saudi workers are passive recipients of state and firm policies: migrants are able to avoid the Kafala system through obtaining a 'free visa' and seeking recourse to concealed businesses known as tasattur. Both firms were seen to adopt creative techniques to circumvent, avoid or modify Saudisation policies at the workplace, while the state struggles to address unemployment among its citizens. Notably, the state is unable to enforce its Saudisation policies in its own firm. The thesis concludes that state-business relations, as argued by existing studies, are not sufficient to understand Saudi capitalism. It is essential to include the role of migrant labour, workplace dynamics and institutional incoherence and incongruence in the analysis. A focus on the workplace reveals and suggests that relations between various actors and spheres at various levels are not always coherent or complementary. Conflicts exist between different categories of workers, between capital and labour, and between the state and firms. The two patrimonial modes of coordination - coercion and co-optation, as exemplified by Kafala and Saudisation - do not function as expected, contradicting the patrimonial model of the alleged smooth state-business relations and of institutional complementarities.
- PhD