Falling right behind coltan mining in the Congo and diamond
mining in Sierra Leone, being a rubber plantation worker in
Liberia has to be one of the most gruelling jobs on the planet.
That's why the recent announcement that the Firestone Agricultural Workers of Liberia (FAWUL) has secured a new contract which guarantees them modest raises and democratically elected representatives comes as a great relief.
For years the management of Firestone Liberia has been trying to undermine collective bargaining efforts and has employed brute-force at times to keep the workers from exercising their right to organize.
It is fair to say that conditions at the Firestone plantation in Liberia are one step above slave labor. It is also fair to say that the workers at Firestone are glad to have a job since there is precious alse to do in Liberia at the moment. This gives the company (owned by the Japanese giant Bridgestone) a lot of leverage in negotiations, but with the help of the United Steel Workers who represent Firestone workers in the United States, FAWUL was able to get the job done.
Whether Firestone actually abides by the contract is another matter since they are downright draconian about letting outside observers wander about their province. The good news for Liberia is that their Minister of Labor, Kofi Woods has been on Firestone's case for quite some time and is unlikely to let them backslide.
Mr. Woods, a charismatic labor leader with much international experience, might be one of the leading candidates to contest the presidency when the election cycle heats up next year. The world has fallen in love with President Ellen Sirleaf, but in Liberia there are many doubters and a tough customer like Woods may have a chance to unseat her.