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Liberia labor victory.

WORKERS ON FIRESTONE TIRE'S Liberian rubber plantation--the world's largest--signed an historic collective bargaining agreement in August. The agreement marked the successful conclusion of negotiations between the company and the first independent and democratically elected union to represent the plantation workers.

For more than 80 years, workers on Firestone's plantation in Liberia were forced to meet exceedingly high quotas for paltry wages of $3 a day, before the new contract was signed, according to the Washington, D.C.-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). In order to meet those quotas, workers brought their families to work with them, frequently removing their children from school to do so.

Workers toiled without adequate safety gear and were forced to carry 150 pounds of latex for miles. Workers and their families are housed in crowded shacks without running water, electricity or indoor bathrooms, according to ILRF.

"Firestone has an 82-year history of exploitation in Liberia," says Tim Newman, campaigns assistant for ILRF. "For the workers to sit at the table with Firestone is historic."

The agreement comes after years of international campaigning, brutally repressed strikes and a lawsuit by ILRF. However, Newman notes, the agreement is just the "first step to really changing conditions at the plantation."

The new contracts include a 24 percent increase in wages and a 20 percent reduction in daily quotas. The wage increases will be retroactive to January 2007. The contracts also lay out an "improved housing standard" and guarantee every house will have an indoor bathroom or "safe and sanitary latrine" by the end of 2011.

Other benefits include transportation to bring the latex tapped from rubber trees to collection stations, which workers previously had to carry in buckets for miles, and the building of three new high schools on the plantation.

"Firestone has paid the back pay agreed to in the new contract," says Tina Gaines, spokesperson for Firestone, "and continues to implement the various elements of the new agreement."

The agreement will also encourage better labor standards throughout Liberia, according to Newman. "It has been really energizing for the labor movement as a whole," he says, because other companies look to Firestone as a basis for their own labor practices.
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Title Annotation:BEHIND THE LINES; Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.
Author:Wedekind, Jennifer
Publication:Multinational Monitor
Geographic Code:6LIBE
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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