876.062/1–550: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in Liberia 1


5. Urtel 2, Jan. 5. Firestone informs Dept strikes continue occur Harbel and that there are several versions for strikers action.2 Firestone also reports Wilson has not been able obtain audience Tubman in order discuss new approach strike situation and present Firestone proposals for concessions. Firestone points out in its opinion situation cannot be controlled by Presidential Comm, and continued walkouts by employees merely reduces usefulness and effectiveness of Comm, which in actuality reflects on LibGovt, particularly since Tubman reportedly gave assurance there wld be no further stoppage work.

As you are well aware it is not Depts intention interfere this matter. However, in view many factors involved, such as (1) threat production important raw product now being stockpiled by US (2) adverse [Page 1707] effect on Libs principal source revenue and (3) possible creation labor precedents which might deter private Amer business from investing in Lib, particularly at time when we striving interest other private Amer capital in the country, Dept believes LibGovt shld exert every effort effect expeditious settlement dispute.

We have endeavored impress upon Firestone reps need for reforms and believe considerable efforts will be made by Firestone this direction. Firestone has telegraphed instrs Wilson which wld appear dispel any misunderstanding on part Tubman that Firestone plans remain adamant and refuse deal properly and fairly with labor.

Firestone reports Comm has requested info which wld reveal its business secrets. In this connection Dept believes LibGovt shld be careful recognize right civil or mercantile companies, without distinction as to nationality, to safeguard their business secrets, and grant such companies fair and unbiased treatment in controversy between labor and management.

At your discretion you may discuss foregoing in most tactful manner with Tubman, and use your good influence impress upon him need settlement this matter before labor strife envelops entire Lib economy such as now prevails neighboring Brit territories. You shld exercise great caution not leave impression with Tubman that Dept supports Firestone; on contrary you shld make clear Depts concern applies immed and future impact on Lib economy by continued strikes at Firestone.

  1. This telegram was drafted by Harold Sims of the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs, was concurred in by Leo G. Cyr, Officer in Charge of Southern African Affairs, and by William J. Handley, Acting Labor Adviser of the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs.
  2. In early December 1949 a strike occurred at the Firestone Plantations at Harbel, Liberia. The strikers’ numerous grievances included wages, hours, and working conditions. Liberian President William V. S. Tubman appointed a Special Commission to determine the causes of the strike and make recommendations. A detailed report on the early stages of the Firestone Plantations strike was transmitted to the Department of State in despatch 203, December 20, 1949, not printed. The telegram under reference here, not printed, reported that the strike had resumed on January 4 due to the firing of a supervisory native employee. The Presidential Commission was continuing to hold meetings but was making no apparent progress. Following discussions with both President Tubman and Ross Wilson, General Manager of the Firestone Plantations, the Embassy believed that the President was ready to take a personal interest in seeking a settlement of the strike provided Wilson would permit reasonable concessions to the workers (876.062/1–550).

    The information and comments exchanged between Department of State and Firestone officials set forth in this telegram summarize significant points made during a five-hour conversation on January 5 between Harold Sims of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs and Byron H. Larabee, Executive Vice President of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company (Memorandum of conversation by Sims, January 5, 1950: 876.2395/1–550).