Liberia

In Liberia, the Solidarity Center and the United Steelworkers union (USW) continue to partner with workers in key extractive industries such as mining, timber and rubber, as well as with domestic workers, to enable unions to better serve their members and organize new workers.

Before Ebola hit in 2014, Liberia’s economy was growing rapidly. Gross national product grew by more than 8 percent in 2012 and 2013 after rising by 5 percent annually every year since 2005. The growth was fueled by more than $16 billion in foreign direct investment following the country’s second civil war which ended in 2003.

Yet while rapid, Liberia’s economic growth is not sustainable. Liberia’s economy depends almost entirely upon the export of raw materials, particularly rubber, iron ore and timber, yet most workers have not shared in the country’s economic prosperity. Liberia imports most of its major staple foods. Lack of transportation, electrical, and communications infrastructure, as well as shortage of educated workers, have blocked sustained growth. In 2015, Liberia ranked 177th out of 188 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. Full-time jobs are concentrated in the extractive industry, which is dominated by multinational corporations.

A democratically elected government came to power in 2006, yet political corruption and widespread popular disillusionment with politicians is growing, and has accelerated after the government’s handling of the Ebola crisis.

The United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) signed an historic collective bargaining agreement in 2012 with Liberia’s largest mining multinational, ArcelorMittal, which is also the world’s largest steel and mining corporation. The agreement sets a standard for freedom of association and labor-management relations in the Liberian mining sector.

The UWUL pact followed years of Solidarity Center and USW shop steward trainings, which also helped set the stage for the first free elections for union representation at Firestone Natural Rubber Company in 2008. The groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement between Firestone and the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL) ended child labor and increased wages on the rubber plantation. The company agreed in a subsequent pact to build a school for workers’ children and partially mechanize raw latex collection.

The Domestic Workers Union of Liberia, (DOWUL) is leading a drive to mobilize domestic workers and champion their rights. Most domestic workers are young women who view the work as an opportunity to earn a living, but too often find themselves vulnerable to abuses. With support from the Solidarity Center and the USW, DOWUL trains domestic workers to organize and recruit members. Together they discuss workplace issues with employers, such as wages, working hours and job safety.

During the 2014 and 2015 Ebola crises, Liberian unions, with support from the Solidarity Center and unions worldwide, held education and prevention workshops for workers and their families and provided essential supplies for preventing spread of the deadly disease.