Labor Strikes in Hawaii
1840s: In the earliest strikes, plantation workers protested the poor pay and living conditions.
June 21, 1850: The Masters and Servants Act was enacted. This new law legalized apprenticeships, indentured service, the contract-labor system, and large importation of workers. Under this law, a laborer who has absenteeism issues or leaves a position before the contract’s could be captured by “coercive force” by employers and face strict punishments. They included working extra hours beyond the time specified in the work contract (usually twice the original contract period) and serving a prison sentence and perform hard labor there. Workers could not organize labor unions or go on strike.
1851: Sugar plantation laborers organized the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society and went on strike. However, because the sugar plantation owners could easily hire replacement laborers from the surplus of imported labor, this strike failed.
1852: Workers started immigrating from other countries to work in the plantations, starting with the Chinese.
On January 3, 1852; 175 Chinese workers arrived on the ship Thetis. Eventually, other ethnic groups would work in the plantations, including the Portuguese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Spaniards, Russians, and Norwegians. This extreme globalization contributed to the multiculturalism of Hawaii and the Hawaii Creole English, or “Pidgin.”
1857: Sugar plantation laborers organized the Hawaiian Mechanics Benefit Union. However, they failed because the sugar plantation owners hired replacement laborers.
June 14, 1900: Under the Organic Act, Hawaii became an American Territorial government. Thus, citizens of the Republic of Hawaii automatically became American citizens of the Territory of Hawaii. Consequently, the contract labor system became illegal. Within a month, 8,000 laborers went on strike for better pay and working conditions and the employment of Japanese luna (supervisors).
Early 1900s: New unions formed, including the Federation of Japanese Labor, Carpenters Local 745, American Association of Masters, Mates and Pilots, the Longshoremen, and the Filipino Labor Union.
1905: All 1,196 cane cutters at the Waialua Agricultural Company on Oahu went on strike. After a week, the management met most of their demands and allowed them to return to work on the fields. This victory was seen as one of the first significant victories for Hawaii’s growing unionized workforce.
1909: About 5,000 Japanese workers, or about 70 percent of Hawaii’s plantation workers, went on strike. Plantations immediately employed Chinese, Hawaiian, Korean, and Portuguese strike-breakers at $1.50 per day, more than double the original pay. After three months, the Japanese workers negotiated a deal with the plantations and ended the strike. The plantations raised the pay and ended the wage differentials based on race. However, they kept the workforce racially segregated and imported new labor from Puerto Rico, Spain, and the Philippines.
1920: In the Oahu sugar strike of 1920, the Japanese and Filipino laborers went on strike together for six months on four major Hawaiian islands. The first inter-ethnic collaboration in Hawaii demonstrated the importance of organizing by class-based solidarity rather than by ethnicity. They fought for a pay increase and improvement in the bonus system. One of the largest strikes yet, this strike strengthened the growers association and led to the start of a primitive social welfare program, which mitigated some negative aspects of plantation life.
1924: Around 13,000 Filipino sugar laborers went on strike. During the failed eight-month strike, the picket-line violence killed sixteen workers and four police officers in the “Hanapepe massacre.” Afterwards, the Territory of Hawaii did not have the money needed to prosecute the strikers, so the HSPA gave money to conduct the court cases. Sixty of the sixty-six strikers received prison sentences, many of them for four years. Afterwards, at Washington, D.C., the plantations lobbied for loosening legal restrictions on immigration. Uncomfortable about the developing relationship between the Japanese and Filipino workers, they wanted to import workers from many countries and prevent worker solidarity.
1946: Before 1946, in Hawaii, the “Big Five,” a sugar oligarchy with five companies, controlled the prices of goods and services, politics, social structure, and employment. The 1946 sugar strike challenged this social structure. Laborers realized all ethnicities must collaborate in an organized effort. Thus, labor leaders, mostly from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, coordinated this collaboration, which protested low pay, poor working conditions, and racial segregation. For 79 days, 21,100 laborers struck at 33 out of the 34 largest plantations, shutting down the sugar industry. Because the sugar cane dried up on Oahu, the Big Five sugar companies lost about $15 million. The employers had to concede to the laborers’ demands, and the laborers went from the lowest to the highest-paid agricultural laborers in the United States. This victory allowed the laborers to finally exert leverage in negotiation compensation and paved the way for other laborers to strike.
Keywords: strike, labor union
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Articles from Chronicling America
Masters and Servants Act (legal ad)
Polynesian., September 21, 1850, Image 1
“Third Strike: Japanese on Ewa Plantation Strike in a Body”
The Daily bulletin., November 25, 1892, Image 2
“Oahu Plantation Strike: Lunas Object to Dietary Regulations and Quit Work”
The Hawaiian star., May 05, 1898, Image 1
“Strike at Kihei: Five Hundred Japanese Make Demands and then Quit Work”
The Hawaiian star., May 04, 1900, Page TWO, Image 2
“Trying to Save the Plantation”
Evening bulletin., August 13, 1900, Image 1
“The Waipahu Trouble”
The Independent., May 06, 1904, Image 3
“Waipahu Manager Discusses Strike: Plantation Will Pay Off Part of the Japanese Laborers”
Evening bulletin., July 23, 1904, 2:30 O’CLOCK EDITION, Image 1
“Notley Solves for Plantations Labor Question”
Evening bulletin., September 10, 1904, 2:30 O’CLOCK EDITION, COLORED COMIC SUPPLEMENT, Image 1
“Police Go to Waialua to Queen Jap Strikers”
The Hawaiian gazette., December 09, 1904, Image 1
The Hawaiian star., May 10, 1909, SECOND EDITION, Image 1
“Waipahu Joins Aiea in Strike”
The Hawaiian star., May 12, 1909, SECOND EDITION, Image 1
“Ewa Strikes Tentatively; 5000 Are Out”
The Hawaiian star., May 14, 1909, SECOND EDITION, Image 1
“Substitute Labor Is Being Collected and Sent Down the Line”
The Hawaiian gazette., May 14, 1909, Image 1
“Mixed Labor Replacing Japanese”
The Hawaiian star., May 17, 1909, SECOND EDITION, Image 1
“Strikebreakers by the Hundreds Caring for the Big Plantations”
The Hawaiian gazette., May 18, 1909, Page 2, Image 2
“Seven Thousand Idle Japanese”
The Hawaiian star., May 24, 1909, SECOND EDITION, Image 1
“Oahu Strikers Denounce Their Leader” and “Japanese in Pilikia”
The Maui news., June 05, 1909, Image 1
“Strike Boss Threatens Some More”
The Hawaiian star., June 10, 1909, SECOND EDITION, Image 1
“Strike Shows No Immediate Change”
The Hawaiian star., June 15, 1909, SECOND EDITION, Image 1
“May Order a General Strike”
The Hawaiian gazette., May 14, 1909, Page 2, Image 3
Evening bulletin., May 20, 1909, 3:30 EDITION, Page 4, Image 4
“Strikebreakers at Waipahu Are Not Needed”
Evening bulletin., September 20, 1909, 3:30 EDITION, Image 1
“Strike Prediction Branded False”
Evening bulletin., April 23, 1910, 3:30 EDITION, Image 1
“Filipino Laborers Ordered to Strike January 19”
The Maui news., January 09, 1920, Image 1
“Plantations on Oahu Tied Up by Strike”
The Maui news., January 23, 1920, Image 1
“Japanese Laborers Ordered Out Monday”
The Maui news., January 30, 1920, Image 1
“No Apparent Change in Strike Situation”
The Maui news., February 06, 1920, Image 1
“Japanese Labor Union Disbands to Put an End to Public Distrust”
The Garden Island., March 28, 1922, Page 7, Image 7
The Garden Island., September 14, 1920, Page 6, Image 6