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That translates into a 21-hour day. If employees don't make that quota,

their daily wage of $3.19 is cut in half. To avoid this, workers call on

their wives and children to help them hit the number—and they go unpaid.



Books By Dave Zirin

Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports (2007)

What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States  (2005) / Muhammad-Ali-Handbook (2007)

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Super Bowl Slavery

By Dave Zirin


The Super Bowl is perhaps the last cultural event that unites a majority of Americans. Whether the game is a thriller or a snooze, Super Bowl Sunday is a day to gather with friends, rate the commercials, assess the halftime show and wear pants with elastic waistlines.

On Feb. 3, though, pay close attention to the halftime show. Tom Petty is performing, which means that any wardrobe malfunction could lead to the fall of Western civilization.

The show also stands to be a commercial bonanza for its sponsor, Bridgestone/Firestone. The Fortune 500 company has been crowned the "Official Tire Sponsor" of Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLIII. As John Gamauf, an executive with the company, said, the sponsorship "is an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the Bridgestone brand to the world."

Peter Murray, the National Football League's senior vice president of partnership marketing and sales, chimed in: "By teaming with a global leader like Bridgestone, we can make America's favorite event even more powerful."

But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might want to be more careful about who the league cozies up to, especially when the partner is known in some parts of the globe not for high-velocity tires but for highly exploitative labor practices.

The rubber business has historically been horrific for African workers, known as tappers, who collect sap from rubber trees on plantations south of the Sahara. The labor practices of the Firestone Natural Rubber Co., a subsidiary of Bridgestone/Firestone, in Liberia seem in keeping with this history.

For 81 years, the company has operated a plantation in Harbel, a company town in the truest sense. Its very name comes from founder Harvey Firestone and his wife, Idabelle. The town received its name after Firestone signed a 99-year lease with the Liberian government in 1926 that gave his company access to 1 million acres of land on which rubber trees grow. The sap—known as latex—collected on the plantation is shipped to the Bridgestone/Firestone plant in Nashville, where it is used to make tires, among other goods.

According to a 2005 lawsuit filed by the International Labor Rights Fund, a Washington-based advocacy organization, Bridgestone/Firestone allegedly overworks, underpays and exposes its 4,000 Liberian employees to hazardous chemicals and pesticides. Its subsidiary also oversees what has been called de facto slavery.

Dan Adomitis, president of Firestone Natural Rubber Co., said that "each tapper will [draw sap from] about 650 trees a day, where they spend perhaps a couple of minutes at each tree."

That translates into a 21-hour day. If employees don't make that quota, their daily wage of $3.19 is cut in half. To avoid this, workers call on their wives and children to help them hit the number—and they go unpaid.

In addition to the lawsuit, which is pending in Indiana, Bridgestone/Firestone has drawn fire from other quarters. The Liberian Environmental Protection Agency has cited the company's subsidiary for dumping toxic waste in Harbel's Farmington River, and in early 2007, the corporate parent won the "Public Eye Global Award" for irresponsible corporate behavior because of its record on child labor and the environment. The "award" ceremony is held concurrently with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Bridgestone/Firestone says that the plantation jobs pay well by Liberian standards and that they come with an array of essential social services.

Liberian workers may disagree, but in a country with 80% unemployment, they can't just walk off the plantation and find another job. "In our country, you are young, then you get married, then you have children and then you die," Junior Tokpah, a tapper, was quoted as saying in a McClatchy News Service story published at the end of 2006. "There are no other prospects. That's why I can't complain about this work too much."

In July, the Firestone workers on the plantation took a different tack to protest their working conditions: They held an election and voted out the leaders of the longtime company-controlled union.

But the ousted company-appointed officials challenged the results in court, and Firestone refused to bargain with the new elected union leadership. In December, workers walked off their jobs, demanding that the company recognize their union.

Then later that month, the Liberian Supreme Court ruled that the July elections were legitimate and that Firestone would have to negotiate with the union. Austin Nantee, the newly elected president of the Firestone Agriculture Workers' Union of Liberia, said workers "are looking forward to carving out a new collective bargaining agreement with the company."

But Firestone has not definitively accepted the election outcome and still has not negotiated in good faith with the newly elected union leadership.

So the question remains: Should the NFL be offering an international platform to a company accused of using child labor and refusing to bargain with a union whose leadership was democratically elected?

Goodell has been quick to levy tough suspensions and stiff fines on players who run up against the law off the playing field. He should be as vigilant in picking sponsors for his league's marquee game.

Dave Zirin is the author of the new book "Welcome to the Terrordome" with an intro by Chuck D (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by emailing This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Contact him at

Source: Black Agenda Report  / This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

posted 23 January 2008

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
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#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

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#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

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#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


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#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

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#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 24 February 2012




Home  Satchel Paige Sports Table

Related files:  Dave Zirin on Muhammad Ali  The Defeat of the Great Black Hope  Clines Reflects on Clemente, Stargell, and the Team of Color     Unforgivable Blackness    

Dick Tiger  Pediatrician Eliseo Rosario Dreams Like Roberto Clemente   Leroy Robert ("Satchel") Paige   Battling Siki: A Tale of Ring Fixe  Baseball: A job African Americans won't do?  Super Bowl Slavery