After laying off more than 800 workers in 2019, Firestone has announced a decision to lay off an additional 374 workers under the guise of “reducing costs to maximize profitability” amid the COVID 19 pandemic. Firestone is the most powerful symbol of capitalist exploitation in Liberia. The Firestone concession which is a state within a state was negotiated and concluded in 1926. A million acres of land was given to Firestone on the cheap for 99 years. In 2006, the Sirleaf’s administration renewed the agreement for an additional 25years. The agreement turned Liberia into a strategic outpost for rubber production and supply to American Automobile Industry when British control of the commodity negatively affected US economic interest. This laid the cornerstone for the integration of Liberia into the unequal international division of labour as a supplier of cheap raw materials (mainly iron ore and rubber) to advanced capitalist economies and an importer of costly manufactured products from industrial economies.
With ownership of millions of hectares of arable farmland, Firestone has racketed billions of dollars in profits from the production and export of synthetic rubber for almost a century. Courtesy of the brows of thousands of workers and peasants who have suffered the scars of starvation wages, appalling working condition, pollution of waters in concession areas, etc. Apart from the vast exploitation of its workers, the multinational has enjoyed largesse from the state under the veil of investment incentives. Tax holidays, zero duty on import and export, carte blanche to repatriate profits, the monopoly to export rubber, thus subjecting smallholder rubber farmers to the price-fixing of Firestone, are among the many avenues the Liberian state carved out for Firestone to exploit the labour of the poor and working masses.
The role of the Liberian state is to sustain and maintain the capitalist system of exploitation which Firestone relies on to feather its nest. Reports of bad working conditions, wage cuts, layoffs and environmental pollution have been ignored by the gentlemen and ladies who occupy the apparatuses of the incompetent state. Where pressure has been mounted as the result of an organized strike by the workers, the company has had its way as it usually bribes and intimidates officials of government and leaders of the workers union into submission. Strike actions which threatened the profits of the corporation have been crushed by the forces of repression trained by the state and the company. The neoliberal method of de-unionization has disintegrated the labour movement in Liberia, a phenomenon which is not unique to the West African country but very common in every post-colonial African society where capitalist penetration and the expansion of neoliberalism have deepened.
The pandemic has brought global capitalism to its knees. But it must be noted that the capitalist system whether in the global south or global north was on the brink of collapse before the pandemic. COVID 19 is just a catalyst that brought the crisis to ahead. As the capitalist cores grapple with the worst economic fallouts since the Great Depression, peripheries such as Liberia are of course not let off the hook. The Liberian economy is also in the depths of a recession. According to the World Bank, GDP has contracted by 2.6percent and is expected to further contract by 3.6percent at the end of 2020. The fiscal deficit widened from 4.8percent in FY2018/2019 to 6.2percent in FY2019/2019 according to the World Bank. This indicates a continuous fall in domestic revenue which is a reflection of the contraction in gross domestic product. This has ballooned the debt stock by 71.5percent in two years, three months or from 898.68million at the end of 2017 to 1.503.8billion at the end of March 2020.
As humanity suffers from the disastrous consequences of the global economic collapse, it is expected that human lives are valued over profits. Sadly, this runs contrary to the logic of capitalism. The fallouts of the pandemic have been put heavily on the poor mass of people especially in the global south where decades of neoliberal capitalist assaults have robbed governments of the fiscal and monetary tools to intervene and cushion the economic and health impacts of the pandemic. In Liberia, workers in the service and trade sectors are being furloughed without their wages while public sector employees face continue cuts in their salary and benefits and hundreds of small and medium enterprises collapse; thus plunging more people into extreme poverty and deprivation. According to the World Bank, about 335,000 to 526,000 Liberians are at risk of falling into extreme poverty in 2020. Suffice this to mean that more than 3.3million Liberians would now live on less than $1.90 a day. This would account for more than 68percent of the total population.
The workers of Firestone should not get deluded to cave into the negotiation between the company and national government with the hope of securing their jobs and wages. Doing so would be an exercise in grand futility as the government would in the final analysis cosy up to the management of the company at the expense of the workers. We call on them to mobilize in unity and resist the decision to lay off more than 370 workers. The leadership of the workers must call for a general strike to demand the following: rights to a safe and hazard-free workplace including the provision of personal protective gears; right to paid sick leave and access to healthcare insurance and other social benefits; right to wages and other compensation for all non-essential workers, etc. Production on the plantation must be halted until their demands are met.
This form of organization and struggle of the working people must not be limited to Firestone alone. The mass mobilization of the working masses must be extended to other sectors including the mining, service, public and the informal sector of the economy. The organized struggle for economic gains would have a profound impact on the consciousness of the working masses. Through strikes, go-slows, etc, the condition is created to put forward political demands. This is how the working class is transformed from a class within itself to a class that struggles for the revolutionary transformation of society.
Revolution is when the organization of the workers in alliance with the peasants and urban poor, under the banner of a revolutionary workers party, wage a bold struggle against the neoliberal capitalist state, take over the productive forces and produce wealth to meet the basic needs of humanity as opposed to the profit interest of a parasitic caste. Suffice this to mean that an alternative to capitalism cannot be imposed from above. Instead, it must be built from below with the people being the driving force. The task of MOSODA is to build a political force which will intervene to direct the radical energy of the masses of workers, peasants and urban poor and make possible an alternative to neoliberal capitalism!
Down with exploitation!
Down with layoff!
Forward to the creative spirit of the working masses!
Forward to the Liberian revolution!
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