Twenty-four dockworkers are today back at work after a struggle of epic proportions.
Members and leaders of ITF affiliate the Dock Workers’ Union of Liberia (DOWUL) were wrongly suspended by APM Terminals in Monrovia, the country’s capital.
Those wrongful suspensions set in motion more than seven months of struggle, hardship and stress for these brave and determined dockers.
The workers have been supported by unions in Liberia and the wider region, the ITF Dockers’ Section and, in the end, the government of the Republic of Liberia itself.
Just two weeks ago, the Liberian Minister of Labour made clear that APM Terminals (APMT) had “failed to prove its accusations against the 24 suspended workers” and called for their immediate reinstatement. But APMT didn’t act.
Following direct action at the port by trade unionists, their supporters at the terminal and civil groups the port effectively stopped operating.
Enraged by the failure of APMT to reinstate the 24 Dockers, a fresh letter from Liberian Minister of Justice, Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, warning APMT to comply immediately and unconditionally with the government’s numerous determinations was sent.
Today APM Terminals Monrovia finally conceded. The workers have returned.
At the centre of this dispute with global ramifications is Jackie Doe, the strong and principled female leader of the Dock Workers’ Union of Liberia.
“I am very happy today. It is a long time coming, and we have endured much to get here. But this is victory, and it is victory shared,” said Jackie.“I think what has happened shows all the people, from the multinational corporations to non-union workers at the terminal, the extent of our power when we are together. When we are together – we win. I am telling everyone: this is why all dockers at the terminal should join DOWUL!” Doe said.
Doe thanked the ITF family and the ITF Dockers Section for the unrelenting support offered throughout the dispute.
“Only with the support of the ITF Dockers family,” she continued, “have we walked this long road of struggle, back to the terminal gates and back to work.”
ITF regional secretary for Africa, Mohammed Dauda Safiyanu, said he was “delighted” for his sisters and brothers in Liberia.
“Injustice has been overcome, and this victory has delivered a very clear message to employers in the region: ‘show respect to your employees and work constructively with their unions – or we will not hesitate to defend the rights and jobs of our affiliates and their members,” said Safiyanu.
Victory felt globally – Crumlin
ITF Dockers’ Section chair and ITF president Paddy Crumlin said it was difficult to overstate how much the victory meant for the 24 workers, their families, and the Liberian trade union movement.
“This is a victory that will be felt globally.”
“Chalk it up to the power of trade unionism. Chalk it up to the power of collectivism, of internationalism. Chalk it up to the pluck and courage and pure bravery of Jackie Doe and her 24 comrades determined to win justice,” he said.
Crumlin said the ITF Dockers’ Section was fully committed to meaningful dialogue with employers, and he expected to see industrial relations return to normal over time.
“However, and I say this as seriously as possible, we will be keeping an eagle-eye on what transpires at Monrovia regarding these workers. Our dockers family will not hesitate to provide local, regional and international support and solidarity whenever required.
“No operator should attempt to stifle the human rights of dockers to associate, to organise, to collectively bargain, and to stand up for their health and wellbeing.”
“We’re not stepping backwards in Monrovia, or anywhere else,” said Crumlin.