The United Steelworkers (USW) extends its congratulations to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, and to Leymah Gbowee, the organizer of Liberia's Women for Peace movement, on being awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
President Sirleaf has served as Africa's first elected female president since 2006. During that time, she has overseen Liberia's transition from years of war and conflict to peace and the expansion of civil society, including the dramatic growth of Liberia's labor movement.
USW International President Leo Gerard said: "The election of President Sirleaf helped set Liberia on a peaceful path during which the right of workers to organize unions has been upheld by her Ministry of Labor. Workers have used this opening to establish democratic and independent unions at the Firestone rubber plantation and at the Arcelor Mittal iron ore mines, bringing respect and dignity to Liberia's workers."
Soon after President Sirleaf's 2006 inauguration, thousands of workers went on strike at Firestone, demanding better wages, improved housing, access to education and the right to elect union leaders of their own choosing. The President authorized her then-Minister of Labor Samuel Kofi Woods to work for a fair settlement of the strike issues, setting in motion a series of events which culminated in the election of new leaders at the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL) and significant gains for workers who had been exploited for decades.
The USW, working in partnership with the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center, has worked closely with Liberia's unions and the Ministry of Labor to monitor workers' rights and strengthen the role of trade unions in workplaces and throughout Liberian society.
President Sirleaf has supported the USW's efforts to work with Liberian unions on capacity-building programs. She has met with USW International Vice President Fred Redmond and leadership from the USW's Women of Steel program regarding how these initiatives can be expanded.
USW Vice President Fred Redmond said: "The ability of Liberian workers to organize unions and bargain collectively for a better life has been greatly expanded during President Sirleaf's tenure. This stems from the courageous efforts of Liberian workers to organize under challenging conditions, but it's also a testament to the steps that have been taken by political leaders and activists to create an environment of peace and stability."
Here is a video that tells the story of the Liberian rubber workers and the USW: