Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stop Firestone - Support the strikers


While your company has reaped millions of dollars in profit from Liberia, you have handed back just pennies to the workers . And now you are compounding these violations of the dignity of workers through your efforts to stymie the freely expressed wishes of the workers for an independent union.” - The United Steelworkers of the USA


On July 7, 2007, workers turned out in massive numbers to participate in the first genuinely free and fair union elections in the 81-year history of Firestone’s operations in Liberia. Workers of the Firestone Rubber Plantation in Liberia say they will continue their strike action until the management of the company recognizes their elected union representatives.


Workers employed at the Firestone Plantation in Liberia earn a little more than $3 a day. They live in shacks with no electricity, no running water or toilet facilities. Their children have no access to a high school education.

The International Labor Rights Fund in November 2005 sued Bridgestone/Firestone for the slavelike conditions in its rubber plantations in Liberia. Firestone's operations allegedly forced children as young as 11 to work in the fields from before sunrise until late day. These kids typically walked one to two miles carrying two 75-pound buckets of rubber to storage or collection tanks. If the children refused to work, their parents risked losing their measly $3.19 daily wage, all while Bridgestone/Firestone celebrates record-level profits for 2005 and 2006.

Tappers and their children are held in virtual bondage, isolated from the world on a million—acre plantation and dependent on Firestone for everything from wages to lodging to food and medicine, all of which are desperately inadequate. Bridgestone/Firestone housing has not been renovated since its construction in 1926. Most of the houses do not include running water or indoor toilets.


Enviromentalists have been documenting Bridgestone/ Firestone’s abuses and have confirmed the habitual release of suspected toxins into the environment and the Farmington River as well as the exposure of plantation workers to compounds and chemicals that are internationally recognized as toxic and environmentally damaging.Bridgestone/ Firestone’s dumping in the Farmington River is polluting Liberian’s waterways and is hazardous to the communities that live along the river; depending on it for fishing, bathing, and drinking water. Bridgestone/ Firestone’s actions have made a once vibrant ecosystem and river way into one that is nearly dead.


For years, workers on the Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia have been represented by the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), which is affiliated to the General Agriculture and Allied Workers Union of Liberia (GAAWUL). However, for years, the leadership of the union did not truly represent the concerns of workers and was what is referred to as a “company union” . This means that Firestone management controlled the previous union leaders .

Since the union leadership on the Firestone plantation has not historically represented workers, workers formed another organization called the Aggrieved Workers Committee.The Aggrieved Workers ran candidates for each union leadership position in the July 2007 elections and overwhelmingly won each seat . The election process was extremely open and democratic.

Since the elections, Firestone management has refused to meet with the newly elected leaders and is continuing to give workers’ union dues to the old, illegitimate leadership. Firestone management has arranged for paid leave for workers related to the old union leadership to “conduct education for members of FAWUL on their role in keeping the Plantation stable to avoid labor unrest.” This is a clear union-busting strategy being used by Firestone to avoid having to negotiate with a truly representative union.


Comfort Willie, the newly elected treasurer general of the Firestone Agricultural Workers’ Union of Liberia, has also accused the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of engaging in witch-hunting against union members.


1 comment:

tim.c.newman said...

Alan,

Thanks for this great post and for spreading the word about Firestone's abuses in Liberia. To learn more and take action, check out the Stop Firestone campaign website at http://www.StopFirestone.org.

You can sign up for e-mail action updates by going here: http://www.unionvoice.org/laborrights/join.html