My name is Franklin S. Odo. I’m director of the Asian Pacific American Program here at the Smithsonian Institution.
HARSH LABOR CONDITIONS. GLOBAL MIGRATION AND LARGER CONTEXT OF 1800S.
:49 There’s a lot of labor migration going on at the time. And the specific, particular groups that come to Hawaii, come to Hawaii because they’re not part for example of the French empire or the British empire, where you have Indians going to the Caribbean or to Africa, for example. So the Chinese first and then the Japanese and Koreans and Filipinos, happen to fall in a geographic sector that isn’t colonized by anybody else in Europe. And so that helps explain which particular groups come to Hawaii. This is happening all over the world, partly as a result as industrial agriculture having taken root. 1:40 So plantation cultivation taking place, which accounts for slavery, African slavery, or Caribbean plantations, tobacco, rum, sugar, and tea and coffee, and cocoa. All of these plantation commodities require a large numbers of cheap labor. And so that’s the overall framework where this takes place.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE PLANTATION LABOR CONDITIONS FROM THE BEGINNING AND HOW DID IT EVOLVE
2:34 The first workers recruited were natives, natives Hawaiians and what the planters found is that they weren’t reliable. Partly because they could run away and go home and they could find places of refuge, so they were not a good, controllable labor force. But to the question about Beechert’s comment, I think what he means to say by that is that it wasn’t as oppressive as say conditions in the Caribbean or in Africa or in South East Asia or parts of Fiji for example where from a comparative point of view, they’re not as horrible. But from the point of view from the people being brought from China, Japan, or Korea, the conditions were very bad. I would say oppressive is a useful term to descsribe conditions where people couldn’t barely send enough money to send back to their families in Asia, where the gender imbalance was so huge that you had prostitution rampant, gambling, social disorders that were extremely difficult for the primarily male workforce to survive. So I would say oppressive is a pretty good term.
WHAT WAS THE WORK LIKE
4:12 If you do that you need to look from the 1850s-11880s-early 1900s. Things get gradually better as there are strikes, as people dessert, as the plantation owners and managers realize that they have to maintain minimum levels of comfort and stability for the workers so that they actually have a reason to stay. So early plantation history is rife with stories of desertion and planters using detectives and a police force to track these folks down.
WHY WERE THEY DESSERTING AND WHY WAS IT SO HARSH WORK
5:03 Sugar plantation work was very harsh, long hours six days a week, [mic noise] low pay and coerced workforce. They were, the lunas or managers, the straw bosses, were not constrained from using physical force, so using whips and so on was something that may not have been common, but was certainly always at the beck and call of the managers and the workers understood this. They knew they were subject to physical abuse if that became useful to management. And there was no union, there was no recourse to anything but running away if conditions got really bad.
DESCSRIBE LIVING CONDITIONS
6:04 The earliest, when we look at photographs going back to the 1870s and 1880s, for example, and I know the JA labor conditions the best, because that’s what I studied most intensely, and that begins in 1868, the Chinese are there primarily before then, but the early plantation housing was shacks basically that were hardly better than habitation for animals, so it was pretty bad. Those eventually evolved into barrack-like buildings that for example housed into the 1880s, you had long row houses, type of buildings that had bunks like shelves that ran all the way around the rooms and stacked 3-4 high. So you had one section of the barrack used as a kitchen, and so people would cook there. And then move down the hall to sleep on these, really, they looked like shelves, and like I said, they might be stacked 2 or 3 or 4 high. And these would house couples as well as individual men, so sometimes as a favor, they’d let married couples have the lowest bunk. And you can think about having babies who cry, so there are stories of mothers who would have to take their babies, if they got up at night and were crying, because the men had to get their sleep, and so they would force the women to take the baby out into the sugar cane until the baby calmed down. So I’d say these are pretty bad conditions.
WHAT WAS A DAY OF LIFE LIKE
8:22 Labor was highly stratified and you had, the reason I hesitate is what kind of a laborer? One of the things that the Japanese government insisted upon in 1886 before the first major group of workers were allowed to come to HI was that there be a minimum of 20% [cough] of the workers be women.
If you take for example a woman laborer in the 1890s, let’s just say, you would have probably come as a married woman, your husband was probably also a laborer on a sugar plantation. You would have one or more children. Your yourself would be employed or you would be earning money by working for other workers or caring for other children. So you would be working. Every woman found herself employed in one form or another. So if your husband was a worker and you were also the plantation’s employee, you would probably get up at 3 or 4:00 in the morning and you’d cook. You’d cook for your husband, you’d cook for your children, you’d cook for yourself to take lunch out to the cane field, and you’d cook for breakfast. And then you’d go out and work and the typical day would start at 6:00 in the morning and would end at about 4:30 or so and with 15-20 minutes for lunch. And then you’d come back and start cooking dinner! And take care of the babies and clean up and then you’d go to bed, probably at 10 or 11, which means you’d be getting 4 hours of sleep! So the men folk on the otherhand, would be getting up maybe at 5:00, having breakfast, going out to the fields, working, and the likelihood is that they’d be doing harder labor, although this was not always true. There were women doing jobs like carrying the cut cane to the flumes or the oxe cart or wherever the transportation system was that took the cane from the fields to the mills. So it wasn’t always true that women had the easier jobs, but by and large, this was the case.
2:30 So it depends on where you were and what you were doing. And among the men, cutting the cane, carrying the cane, these were the kinds of jobs that were most difficult. But as I said, they worked six days a week, so Sundays were their only days off.
DESCRIBE WHAT PLANTER PROVIDED (BASED ON CONTRACTS)
3:07 Some of the conditions obtained on different plantations allowed for workers to receive different goods and services from the plantations. In the earlier contracts, the plantations provided housing, fuel for cooking, and sometimes some medical care. And the medical care was very uneven to say the least. There might be a plantation doctor on a plantation, but that doctor was working for the plantation, which means that his job might well be described as trying to get the workers to work. So if someone came in to his office and said, “Doc, I’m really not feeling well today. I need to stay home and rest.” And the doctor might look at the person and say, “You look fine to me. Get on your feet and get out to work.”
DESCRIBE PATERNALISM UTILIZED BY MANAGEMENT
4:38 Paternalism was a very important part of management control because in general, it’s impossible to only use the stick to try to control a labor force. Some carrots were necessary so trying to provide for somewhat better housing, making sure there was rice rather than potatoes. Some of those accommodations were made to try to keep a plantation labor force more satisfied. Later in the 1900s as plantations required a second generation, “Nisei” in the JA labor force, to become part of the labor pool, partly because after 1900 when HI became part of the US after the 1898 annexation, then the ability to generate immigrants diminishes as more exclusion acts are passed by the US congress, the gentlemen’s agreement, begin to reduce the plantations ability to bring in the different workers as they want. Then it becomes more important to provide a different level of paternalism. 6:10 So for example, whereas with the immigrants, the plantations might provide plots of land for a Buddhist church or a cemetery that had some ways in which the ethnic specific cultural practices might be utilized, or as a second generation was being born, to provide land for schools, to J language schools. Those kinds of things they could do. And as kids grew up, to provide a playground, to provide baseball fields for the kids to play on. So that kind of paternalism was very important to making sure that they tried to keep some kind of stability in the labor force.
RELATIONSHIP TO NATIVE HI HEIRARCHY
7:40 By the time the immigrant labor force becomes a significant part of the plantation labor system, the older forms of native Hawaiian cultural practices with the hierarchy are not particularly relevant. It’s really a white, haole controlled stratification. So native practices are seen with intra-working class relationships. A lot of the immigrants saw very little of the white managers and owners, but they were in touch with other ethnic group workers and with native Hawaiians.
HOW DID LIVING/WORKING CONDITIONS PLAY OUT FOR EACH SUCCESSIVE WAVE OF IMMIGRANTS
9:07 by and large, it was true that subsequent groups inherited slightly better conditions, but there are a lot of exceptions to the rule. For example, when Europeans were first recruited in 1900, there were Puerto Ricans who were recruited from Puerto Rico, there were even Californians who came in 1900, but those people were generally provided much better, qualitatively better than either the Chinese or Japanese who came before them, or Koreans and Filipinos who came after them. So there was a skin colored privilege, including a number of Portuguese who were incorporated into the system in late 19th and early 20th centuries.
LABOR RESISTANCE: WHAT WERE EARLY FORMS
10:22 Workers always have some way in which to resist inequitable treatment or treatment that they consider to be oppressive. Sometimes it was just simply not working on the job or doing as little as possible and I’m sure there was a lot of that. So this whole things of looking at Asians or Asian Americans as being energetic or doing their job properly was not true. Organized resistance by asking somebody to become a leader in pre-union times (anytime before 1940s), anything before that time would be very sporatic. But you could have just a group of workers who went up to a supervisor and say, “You’re making us work too fast. We need a break. We need to get some water.” Those kinds of things always took place.
BRING UP OTHER EX. OF INDIVIDUAL ACTS
11:41 People who would either ambush in a group or fight back against a supervisor. Pull somebody off a horse and beat ‘em up. Those kinds of things took place and sometimes what would happen, those individuals understood that committing those acts of violence that they would become hunted, targeted by law enforcements, by the other goons the plantations employed. So those people are often the folks who had to dessert. In the Japanese community, there were known areas of refuge. Specific places like Kona on the Big Island or Waimanalo on Oahu where individuals knew that if they got there, they’d be provided refuge. They’d be provided an alias, a false name and be incorporated into the community.
THIS WAS A NATIVE COMMUNITY OR FOLKS WHO MOVED OFF THE PLANTATIONS?
13:06 another JA community. 13:18 While the vast majority or workers were imported for plantation use, there always were pockets of individuals who were doing other things. For example in the JA community, you had people who were barbers or independent farmers or houseboys or doing other kinds of work to maintain the community from birth to death: mid-wives to people who ran mortuaries. So you had a community that might have had enough size and complexity so people who deserted from a particular plantation might be able to find refuge in one of those communities like Kona or Waimanalo.
TALK ABOUT WHAT MAKES 1920 AND 1946 SIGNIFICANT OVER THE INDIVIDUAL ACTS OF RESISTANCE
14:33 There are lots of strikes that take place on one plantation, one ethnic group, one incident throughout the period of plantation labor. And it’s really only in 1909 that you get an organized strike by an entire ethnic group, and this time it’s the JAs. By in large the J immigrant population., which struck the plantations on Oahu. So the other Japanese workers on the other islands continued working, so it wasn’t a total strike of the territory, so that’s a significantly different event because it’s organized at least on an island-wide level by people who came from Japan. But it doesn’t include other people and it doesn’t include people on neighbor islands.
15:40 1920 is often seen as a different kind of animal because for a time there was a partnering and communication between the J strikers and the F workers. But it didn’t’ last very long and it was very easily, the F were very easily broken away from the J and part of the way in which plantation owners, the press, the territorial legislators, the ability to drive those two groups apart relied on a lot of state power: the territorial government, the state officials, everybody else really acted together in this hegemonic power structure that made it very difficult for the F to stay with the J and they left pretty quickly.
TWO KEY MOMENTS IN LABOR ORGANIZING IN PLANTATION HISTORY
17:05 The two key points in time in plantation labor history are probably 1909 and 1946. 1909 because it’s the first concerted strike which brings together workers from different plantations, at least on one island, but it’s only one ethnic group. And it’s not until 1946 that you get a successful, union-led, organized strike that takes place across the territory that brings together working class consciousness and employs that specifically with their communities to employ a successful strike.
1909 WHAT LED UP TO THE STRIKE
18:06 I think 1909 happens partly because the workers are involved with family creation. There are, as I mentioned earlier, J are the only Asian group that is brought with significant numbers of women and the J government insists on it and the planters agree because they both feel this is a way of stabilizing the community so you don’t have the kinds of things that were alleged to be happening with the C workers: that is huge unbalanced gender ratios that encouraged if not forced thigns like prostitution, alcohol, drug abuse, gambling, so the more stable community life was seen as a way to provide for a more stable workforce. What was an unintended consequence was stable community life meant more babies and families being formed. And families being formed meant the wage structures that permited single men or couples without children to survive on barely adequate wages out of which they sent some portion back home to their families and were able to save some to return to J or go on to the US or whatever they wanted to do, quickly became inadequate because then they had to buy clothes for the children. They had to pay for teachers for their language schools. They had to do all sorts of things that require capital and so what used to be adequate in what we whould call inadequate, but what used to be adequate to maintain body and soul, quickly became inadequate for these families and communities. So by 1909 you could really see this happening and the workforce understood that tye had to stand and show some solidarity for this.
20:40 The other part, I think, is that by the early 1900s and certainly by 1909, the nationalistic sense of pride in being J, a conscousness of coming from a country, coming from a race as they saw it, that was rapidly modernizing, and not only modernizing vis-à-vis other parts of Asian, but by 1909, J had defeated Russia in a war, and by 1909, J had begun making significant inroads into colonizing Korean. So the J were thinking and being told, telling themselves, that they were coming from a superior race, so they objected mightily to being treated like other Asians. So there was that kind of leadership communication going on: discussions with the homeland, a sense that they ought to be treated differently, and that they deserved to be treated with more respect.
WHAT WERE THEIR DEMANDS AND TACTICS
22:03 in 1909, the strikers really were looking for slightly better wages that kept up with inflation, less work hours, less diversion in pay between men and women, and better conditions in terms of housing.
22:32 The leaders of the 1909 strike were pretty much intellectuals among the immigrant generation and they saw themselves as leading a group of relatively uneducated workers. So there was a gap between the leaders of the strike who were communicating with the plantation and the workers themselves. And that eventually proved to be a difficult to overcome.
FIRST ISLAND WIDE STRIKE, SO HOW WAS IT COORDINATED
23:32 In the 1909 strike, the J community was communicating within itself in a highly organized fashion. The newspapers were pretty well established by then. You ahd folks being able to travel among the islands, so there were strike dues that were being taken up, so the strike was, essentially withholding their labor was the way that they wanted plantations to agree to terms and the strategy was to strike all of the major plantations on Oahu, shut them down, and keep the neighbor island plantations working, partly so their compatriots on neighbor islands would continue to earn their salaries and be able to support the strikers. So the plantations in retaliation, for one thing kicked the workers out of their housing, because that was one of the things they provided, so they were forced out of their homes and onto the streets. So that was one of the things the leaders understood was going to happen. So they had to make accommodations with people who were living on Oahu, other Js to provide space for them, to create tent conditions for them, to create other communities and provide for huge kitchens to feed all of these people. They had established fishermen to provide fish, rice growers provided the rice, doctors provided free medical care since the plantations weren’t doing that. So there were medical workers within the community who helped the strikers and their families. And people who were hunters would go out into the woods and hunt wild pig or pheasant or birds. And fairly organized community of grocers and export/import community members would provide other kinds of foodstuffs that came from Japan.
WHAT DID PLANTERS DO BESIDES EVICTION
26:23 In 1909, the planters were able to utilize a wide variety of tactics to try to break the strike. Which they did without too much trouble. The workers were valiant about trying to carry on their work, but one of the things the planters did was to hire strike breakers: Koreans, Chinese, native Hawaiians, and began to systematically bring more Filipinos in to break the strike. So that was one thing, to create an alternative work force that could work the fields.
27:09 A second tactic was to use law enforcement to harass the strikers, harass the families, so controlling the state apparatus was another way. A third way was to try to get the other communities to see that the J were not an economic force, but a national force, so to use nationalism and racism as a major tactic. So the newspapers for example, uniformly, the white newspapers painted the J strike as being from Tokyo. And as an advance guard, the J were planning to take over the territory and not as a group of workers trying to better their own conditions.
J NATIONALISM, WAS PLANTER CLAIM OF J PUSH TO TAKE OVER THE TERRITORY VALID?
28:23 The planters and the newspaper editors and writers understood that this was a working class movement and not a plot guided from J to infiltrate and take over HI for J purposes. I think this was a cynical use of the nationalism and pride of race that already existed. So it was manipulating the sentiment and the kinds of experessions of nationalism that the issei, the J immigrants, really had, rather than feeling that there was a threat that was coming from across the Pacific.
WORKERS LOST THE STRIKE BUT DEMANDS WERE GIVEN SHORTLY AFTER
29:32 It was very important for the planters in 1909 to break the strike first and not discuss terms with the workers, to basically invalidate the organization that existed, driving the strikers. Later, and after the strike was broken, the planters could then, in their own form of paternalism, acquiesce to some of the conditions and pay scales that the workers had been demanding in the first place.
TALK ABOUT % OF LABOR FORCE THAT WAS J. OTHER ETHNICITIES BROUGHT IN AS STRIKEBREAKERS SO WHY DIDN’T THIS DIVERSITY OF IMMIGRATION CONTINUE?
30:48 Let’s say by 1900, the Chinese Exclusion Act had been passed by Congress in 1882, so as part of the US, it became impossible to recruit more C to come into the plantation. The native population had already been decimated. Even if they were able to recruit from there, there weren’t that many people left to recruit from. So those two sources, early cheap labor, no longer existed.
And as I say, the planters were constrained by the global nature of labor recruitment so where the French had controlled SE Asia, or the Dutch and the British S Asia, those areas were off limites to American planters. So the two subsequent areas, later, if we exclude for a moment places like Portugul (the Azors), or even California, where some people had been recruited. Those areas included individuals who came from white or European countries where the whole racial profiling didn’t permit for forced labor on that level.
So in the case of Hi, the places open to them were places like Korean for a small period of time. And the Korea situation which begins in 1903 with systematic recruitment, ends with only about 7,000 Koreans who are recruited, largely because J colonizes K and because the J government sees that the K are being used against their own subjects in Hi, they don’t permit the K to leave.
WHAT IS THE LESSON LEARNED BY WORKERS AND PLANTERS AT CLOSE OF 1909
33:26 After the 1909 strike ends, the planters learn that the workers have the capability of organizing along ethnic lines with fairly considerable skills so that they need to be taken a little bit more seriously. The planters learn that they can use community pressure, propaganda, use of the newspapers. That race is a highly potent and volatile form of pressure that can be used to divide the workers: F from J, K, and so on. They learn that some form of communication is probably useful. They learn that they can be proactive in providing some levels that will help to prevent complete worker dissatisfaction (improving conditions in housing).
34:45 The workers learn that they have some power. They learn that they don’t need to depend on a small group of outside intellectuals within their community. They learn that it’s important to try to partner with other ethnic group to try to get a broader, united front. Yeah, I think those are the major things that they learn.
MORE EXAMPLES OF WAYS PLANTERS USED RACE AS A DIVIDE
35:35 The way the planters use race, and it’s pretty consistent between 1909, 1920, and through the 20s and ‘30s is to target the group that is going on strike and to obfuscate, they complicate the issue as a race issue rather than a work or employment or a wage issue. And to point to the homeland as a threat. In this case, J.
36:29 There is some controversy over the degree to which race is employed to divide and rule, divide and conquer on the plantations. I think some of the disparities in wage scales come organically in that the groups that are most recently arrived get placed in sections of the camp that are racially segregated, that Look like they’re racially segregated. But it may be true that this is not a necessarily divide and rule tactic, that in fact immigrant groups prefer to be with one another. That you would set up housing in a different section rather than in one that’s already occupied by C or J who are already working on the plantations. So while it’s clear to me that the planters have a very good sense that ethnicity, nationality, and race are useful organizing concepts by which to keep the labor force disunited, it’s not clear to me that setting up wage scales or segregating camps is part of that whole scheme. I think it flows organically from when people come in and where they’re placed and it fits with the concept that keeping the force separate is useful, but I don’t know that it’s a first organizing principle.
1909-1946 IS A BIG LEAP!
38:40 I think it’s useful to go from 1909 to talk a little bit about 1920 and to talk about 1924. And the 1930s when the F take the lead in organizing strikes. And I know that specifically in the ’24 strike in Kauai and in ’30 on Maui, the F strikes are certainly not supported by the J community and I think this is partly because they see 1920 as having been a case in which the F deserted them.
39:31 And abandoned that project. So they didn’t see why they should particularly respond to F. They also see F as inferior and not necessarily anybody to work with. But I think the 1920 strike is devastating. I know other people have written about it in a different kind of way, that it’s the harbinger of change and pro-union work, but I think for two decades, the JA community has been defeated, feels defeated.
40:28 the 1920 strike begins with a great deal of enthusiasm, there’s unity, largely between the 2nd generation workers born in Hi and the Issei men and women who are still working in the fields. It’s as much a worker led strikes as it is an intellectual driven one. So there’s a lot of enthusiasm for it. There’s a lot of hope that the inter-ethnic, inter-national, inter-racial union can work. This turns out to be largely untrue within a couple of months. So the legacy is of failed optimism where people had thought that maybe things would be different this time around.
GO OVER THE NUTS AND BOLTS: HOW DID THE DISTRUST SET IN AND WHAT WAS THE OUTCOME
41:50 The 1920 strike begins technically with the F union beginning a walk out against the wishes of the J union leadership which had asked for a simultaneous opening of the strike itself. On the J side, a lot of the planning had taken place in Buddhist churches among the American educated youth so there was a lot of work going on independent of one another and then some modicum of communication between the J and the F. The planters very skillfully used the division and targeted the F leadership and created the conditions which pretty much mandated that the F would abandon the strike.
One of the characterizations of the F community was that it was largely male, it didn’t have the kind of community infrastructure that could provide for continuity: for example, doctors and nurses, the hunters, the fisherman, the stores, all that infrastructure the J community had even in 1909, F didn’t have in 1920. So it was much easier to fracture the F leadership and the community. 43:40 So essentially, that’s what happened, that planters were able to sew the seeds of discontent within the F union and convince the workers that their leadership was fraudulent and then convince the leadership to disevolve the relationship with the J and go back to work.
And still it took, the J community lasted something like six months anyway, so it was a pretty prodigious effort. And the community expended a lot of it’s energy and capital in that effort and it was like an all out effort that failed, so it was hard to get them going again for decades.
TALK ABOUT WHAT KIND OF SUPPORT THE COMMUNITY OFFERED. WAS IT SHARED WITH THE F COMMUNITY. MORE ABOUT THE DISTRUST. HOW WERE THEY BETRAYED
44:58 The F community itself in 1920 was not a sophisticated community in hving an infrastructure. There were not that many women, so you didn’t’ have communities with families. You didn’t have the whole midwives to mortuary community structure that the J enjoyed, so it was much more difficult to really think about how they would work on strike as a long term project. The J had 1909 as an example, so they had a long history of working together to try to better conditions for work on the plantation. The F were not that fortunate. So what the planters did with the F was to sew the seeds of distrust by talking about having bribed the F leadership, for example. And that may or may not have been true. It’s hard to know from this vantage point in time. But it was widely believed and so that a major way, if not the major way. And the J community, people were not sophisticated enough for people to say we’re in this together for any length of time, so it wasn’t that difficult to drive a wedge between these two groups.
WAS THERE SHARED SUPPORT
46:49 I think in the very early part of the strike in 1920, there was a lot of good will on both sides and there was an attempt to share resources, but I think that broke down fairly quickly.
SO THE DISTRUST ON THE J SIDE WAS THAT THE LABOR LEADERSHIP SOLD OUT
47:00 Yes, that was reported in the press controlled by the plantation circles, so by the time you get into the first month of the strike in 1920, it’s pretty clear that there are rumors that the J workers are being fed at least, stories that the F leadership has sold out.
1920 DEVASTATED THE J COMMUNITY, BUT IT SEEMS IT LAUNCHED THE F LABOR POWER
48:00 The 1920 strike really does devastate the J worker community. I don’t think that leads to F leadership of a working class movement because the groups are pretty much separated. So the F are organizing themselves out of the same kind of imperatives that created the 1920 strike. They come from a country that is ruled by, colonized by the US. They’re receiving basically an American education until the point in time they come to the US as workers. So they think about themselves…they have a sense of themselves as American, that they are entitled in a way to being treated better than they are and being treated better than K, J because they are part of the US. And so there is that along with the fact that they are given the worse jobs, the worst housing, so there are those things there. Plus, where the J had a nationalistic pride in a rising state from which they had come, the F had a growing sense of entitlement out of their sense of being part of the US So those two things come together to propel the F workers to demanding better treatment and wages.
HOW DOES THAT LEAD US TO 1924
50:13 the fact that 1920 that the planaters DON’t treat the F with any respect and don’t do very much better by them with wages and treatment, that coupled with a growing sense of being part of the US and deserving a better treatment combines to get to the strikes like 1924 or 1930s where they don’t even try to forge inter-racial or inter-ethnic strategies.
HOW DID GLOBAL POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AFFECT PLANTATION LIFE (DEPRESSION, WWI, WWII, ILWU)
51:44 It’s important to put Hi plantation history in a global context and that’s why I say even before 1909, the rising sense of nationalism among J workers is heightened by J’s victories in military conflict with C in 1895 and Russia in 1904-05 anad colonizing K in 1910. The first WW is important to 1920 because in that period, a lot of people make money. Wars are bad for a lot of people, but they’re good for some folks (laughs). Some people make a lot of money in conflict, so by the time you get to 1919, when most of the war is over, the workers certainly know that the plantations have made a great deal of money. Sugar became a highly useful product and one that was very much valued, so the planters made a lot of money during WWI. And the workers could see this and they knew some of the figures, because some of the figures was open and the information was open to the public. So their outcry was in addition to the long litany of injustices that they had endured, look at all the money you’re making, why can’t you share some of that!
53:52 By the time the F strike of 1924 takes place, the major international issue is rising tension between US and J. Among other things, the US has concluded the London treaty that allows for parity of warships being built by US and London, relegating J to a second tier nation and while it was a second their nation, but the 1920s, it was aspiring to be a first their leadership in the world. So J as a nation and a modernizing country, deeply resented the US and so that was the tension that was going on between US and J which affected the J immigrants.
55:00 The Koreans, of course by the time you get to 1920, Korean march 1919 attempt, uprising in protest of J colonization has failed, been stamped out by the J military. There are K workers who are chomping at the bit to try to help reclaim K independence from J. So some of them are actually training as military in the sugar cane fields. They’re actually doing military drills, looking forward to the day they can go home to fight and be in combat against the J. So there’s really strong antagonism between the K and J being played out in Hi, but the K are such a small number, no more than 7k at it’s largest, so the K community is not very influential.
WHAT WAS GOING ON WITH THE US LABOR MOVEMENT THAT THEN INFLUENCED HI’S MOVEMENT
56:30 The US labor movement is really largely irrelevant to Hi until the ILWU begins its attempt to try to unionize firs the docks and then the plantations, but this doesn’t happen until the late ‘30s and not very successfully at first.
WHEN AND HOW DO THE PLANTATION WORKERS UNIONIZE
57:00 The ILWU, is a union of seamen and people who work on the docks, so that union based in SF consciously attempts to try to organize the workers in Honolulu because that’s a very important part of the trade, particularly the sugar trade, that goes on between HI and the west coast. So the ILWU sends its organizers and they begin successfully organizing the longshoremen and to a certain extent in Hilo. And by the mid- to late-‘30s in fact there is a significant, what is sometimes called the Hilo Massacre in 1938, when armed law enforcement officials shoot a number of longshoremen and their families who are on the docks peacefully protesting the use of scabs.
And the war, WWII prohibits the ILWU from organizing openly, but in many ways, WWII is a major step in weakening the Big 5, the haole oligarchy, the stranglehold that had characteriaed the white leadership in HI, becaue that leadership depended on control of the sugar plantations, pineapple, and all the infrastructure that came with it: the courts, the law enforcement, the banks, the insurance companies, the construction firms, the utilities, everything. So if a dissident group tried to emerge out of the working class elements and organize something to disrupt the power of the all republican party through the public sector, they could be effectively blackballed an cast out of the social and economic network that would allow them to function.
59:58 This is disrupted beginning as early as the ‘20s although you can’t see it, but certainly by the ‘30s you can feel the presence of the military. And the military, although it’s still racist, and it’s still white, it’s different white people who have a different agenda from the haole elite that runs HI. The US military doesn’t have to pander to a small group of oligarchs in HI. They have a larger mission and that is to defend or support a Pacific empire and defend it against a growing J threat. So they have, while they’re interested in stability, they have no problem with white folks being in control, their mission and focus is sometimes at odds with the haole oligarchy and it creates an opening wedge for other economic interests to come to the fore. And the other part of globalization that’s coming into play is the spread of commercial interests. 61:33 Where in a relatively sealed Hawaian economy the haole oligarchy can afford to have some parts of the universe operating at less than optimum, that is to say they can subsidize some of the things that are going on. Where you have growing businesses, Sears is a good example, Sears tried to open a store in Hi and for years it was blocked by the oligarchy because it would threaten the merchandising control that it had. So the Big 5 prevented Sears for a long time and I can’t remember when it first opened its stores, but it could have been the late ‘30s but it certainly is trying by the mid-30s to establish an outlet in HI and it doesn’t succeed for quite a long time even though these are white controlled business operating from the US mainland.
HOW FROM WWII WHERE MARTIAL LAW WAS DECLARED, HOW DID UNIONIZATION OCCUR
63:15 While the Martial Law in WWII prohibited union organizing openly, the ILWU leadership were very astute about communicating with community leaders, with labor leaders. Strikes were illegal, but a lot of communication was taking place, so there was a concerted effort to organize without organizing openly. So there were secret meetings being held. So it’s not an accident that as soon as the war is over basically, the unions take off. As soon as Martial Law is over in 1944 and it becomes legal to organize again, by ’44 or ’45, not only the docks, but much of the sugar cane plantations are already organized. So when 1946 strike takes place, plantations are pretty highly organized.
SF DOCK WORKERS WANTED TO UNIONIIZE THE HI DOCK WORKERS. WHY AND HOW DID THAT TRANSLATE TO GOING INTO THE FIELDS
64:32 I don’t know the specifics of how the dock workers take to the fields in terms of organizing but the logic is pretty clear. Until the 1950s or 1960s even, sugar is the most important part of the HIan economy and that’s where the largest sector of workers is. That’s where the strength of the working class movement would be and so it must have seemed totally logical to move there cuz this was industrial agriculture and workers were highly concentrated in places that were easy to reach. So they could be organized and mobilized fairly quickly and they could shut the HIan economy down pretty quickly.
With 1946, were the workers already unionized or is that what they were striking about?
:09 It was recognition of the union. They were organized, but they weren’t recognized by the planters. The workers were organized.
WHAT WERE THE DEMANDS AND WHAT ROLE THE UNION PLAYED
:24 The union represented the workers, so they played the lead role and this was the first time you had afull on strike with the ILWU representing the workers. And I don’t remember the details about the … wages certainly. For the …there are a lot of comparisons between what HI workers were earning as opposed to the continent, US workers were earning. So the disparity in wages was one of the big things. 1:11 The sheer, the insistence that the union represent the workers was clearly one of the important factors. And that the strike settled. There after, the planters would not try even to suggest that the ILWU was not a legitimate union representing the interests of the wokers. 1:45 One of the really interesting things that illustrates this about the fact that they now really had an inter-ethnic, inter-racial, pretty solid working class movement was the attempt of the planters to bring in strike breakers from the F. 2:06 This was a very highly celebrated attempt to bring in (I forgot the number) a group of F to help break the strike and what happened was the seamen on the ships organanized the F, so that when they came, when they disembarked in HI, they joined the picket lines! Instead of becoming strike breakers, they became part of the labor force.
TALK ABOUT HOW THE UNION WAS ABLE TO BRIDGE THE ETHNIC DIVISIONS
2:50 The union, beginning in the late ‘30s and into the ‘40s, the organizers who came from the wEst Coast learned very quickly, the intricacies of racial politics and racial organizing and the necessity to force the local population to accept what we would now call affirmative action, or proportional representation. And somehow in the case of the plantation workforce, it largely meant bringing together J and F workers. By the ‘40s, the largest number of J workers were Nisei (second generation). These are now American born, American educated workers. 4:04 They know English (pidgin English) as native speakers. They grew up in the educational system, as opposed to the F who were still primarily immigrants. Not as skilled at working through the system. So the logic of a natural progression was to have Nisei leadership and what the ILWU leaders forced the local folks to recognize was that they needed to include F representation at leadership levels. And this was not always appreciated by the Nisei because they felt that either the mainland haole organizers resented JAs or didn’t adequately respect the leadership qualities they exhibited. So there was talk among the JA that the haole organizers really wanted a weakened local representation by incorporating F. The F would not agree with that. But that was the mandate, which eventually proved inspite of damaging some Nisei egos, proved to have been quite effective.
TALK ABOUT THE SIG 1946 PLAYED FOR THE FUTURE OF HI WORKERS
6:30 1946 is a culminating movement strategically because it brings the major components of the workforce together under one leadership. And it forces the Big 5 haole leadership to acknowledge that. Once that’s done, then everything subsequent in terms of social and labor history falls into place along lines that are no longer haphazard. Then you have two very well defined competing groups for influence and control. Then you have workers and you also have the military on the other side and you have global forces coming in and eventually, you have J coming in as another economic force. But for the time, you have the “local workforce” and you have the Big 5 management squaring off against one anther and it’s a fairly well-defined world and workers can see that they can win. That in fact, they don’t have to constantly lose. There are some struggles that can be won.
TOSSING AWAY OF PATERNALISM? UNION KNEW WORKERS NEED TO BE INDEPENDENT
8:15 That’s part of it. In 1946, and I know there’s disagreement about this by the way. Housing is no longer a perquisite, freebie, given by plantations because the workers insist that they be paid wages instead of being given accommodations. Then they can buy their own houses or rent their own houses and they’re not dependent on the plantations for housing in case they go on strike and they cannot be evicted like the planters did so before the war. So yeah, those are all parts of the equation that shifts so that people can see that workers’ interests are at odds with plantatation interests.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT A WORKERS’ MOVEMENT FOR INDEPDENCE FROM THE PLANTATION IN CONTRAST TO THE PATERNALISM THEY ACCEPTED BEFORE
9:25 in 1946 as a result of the strike, and I think that the ILWU has played a large role in educating workers to understand that paternalism is not in their interest, that they need to be provided wages that they can control in order to establish an independent frame of reference away from the plantations. And this 1946 does.
TALK ABOUT THE ANTI-J SENTIMENT IN HI AND WHAT INFLUENCE THAT MIGHT HAVE HAD ON LOCALS AFTER P.H. WAS BOMBED.
11:10 There is a long history of anti-J sentiment and Gary Okihiro’s Cane Fires will show you that. In HI there’s a whole set of legal, political, cultural, educational devices used to try to prevent JA from reaching their full potential in HI before WWII. AFter PH, a lot of this becomes much more overt and it’s clear that ….There’s two things that become really clear after PH. 1, the 37% of the population that’s o fJ decent, have to be accommodated in some form, during the war as a measure to prevent race riots, that would harm the effort to prosecute the war in the Pacific in the effort against J. And even after the war that unless we kill all the JA, somehow society has to be able to accommodate them into some kind of a society that can tolerate a substantial number of people and make society stable if not progressive. 12:54 The second thing that is clear is there is a huge amount of hostility, antipathy towards the JAs. Certainly the white population feels it. The US is their country. It has been bombed. J have openly declared that they are trying to liberate yellow people from Europeans and Americans. That it’s a race war. The other substantial communities are C, K, and F, all of who’s contries are being pillaged and ravaged by J. So on that basis, and many of them are immigrants, so there’s no love lost. And as I said, there were K folks training to join the military once the war broke out, so they were delighted to see a war happening because they could foretell that an American victory would mean a J end of colonization of K. They couldn’t see what else would happen, but they could see the end of J domination.
So from the point of view of the military governor and leadership, there had to be crafted some kind of an overall social standing, social contract that would accommodate both the necessity of keeping JA aligned with the war effort and not so alienated that they would become an impediment to the war. And they had to keep white, native Hawaiian, and other Asian communities able to see that anything like mass internment was counterproductive. That there had to be some equitable way of dealing with the situation such that immediate demands or urges for retaliation need to be squelched and that some form of positive working together needed to be forged. And that’s what they had to do.
SO HOW DID THEY DO THAT
15:40 One short way to answer that is to read my book! No Sword to Bury is a book that I did that started out as an oral history of a couple dozen of these young Nisei guys who were prevented from enlisting in 9142 so they became labor volunteers, mostly out of UH. But that story then is overlaid by the military governor, the moral section, the civilian section, and incorporating some of the more enlightened Big 5 to create this policy that I mentioned to try to keep the JA engaged in a positive fashion as well as try to keep the other ethnic groups sensing that HI was moving in the right direction.
YOU SAID J MADE A POINT TO HAVE FAMILIES IMMIGRATE, BUT IT WASN’T GENDER EQUAL, SO CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THIS INSISTANCE TO HAVE FAMILIES IMMIGRATE, BUT THEY WHAT WERE THE DEMOGRAPHICS THAT WOULD NECESSITATE PICTURE BRIDES
17:37 So we’re talking about picture brides and what was J’s interest in trying to create a community in the US that was not so dysfunctional as was being reported about the C and Chinatown communities. So in the 1880s, the government required that 20% of the immigrants be comprised of women. Now, that’s 1 out of 4/1 out of 5. That means that 1 out of 4 of the men would be married and the other 3 would not! On the one hand, you did create a nucleus of single family units, of schools and community groups and all the rest. So to a certain extent, this helped organize a more stable community. On the other hand, you still had these other 3 males with a lot of testosterone running around. And they’re doing stuff, not just in HI. I mean, who to they go to? They create prostitution rings. They kidnapped wives of other men. They certainly try to get them. So the picture bride institution is an outgrowth of the fact that there is a major gender imbalance. And the J government certainly has no interest in trying to be positive about trying to create conditions that are good for J women. That’s not what they’re about. They’re trying to make sure that their payments are coming back to J, that these people are creating conditions for certainly not expansion overseas, but certainly that J is respected in the world order. So the picture bride institution comes out organically out of conditions of gender imbalance.
WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE IN J FOR WOMEN? WOMEN WEREN’T LIBERATED, THEY NEEDED TO BE TIED TO A MAN. DID THEY CHOSE TO GO OR WERE THEY FOLLOWING PARENT’S WISHES?
20:44 the picture bride phenomenon takes place a little before 1910, but large numbers (we’re thinking 16,000 women) come to HI alone between 1910 and 1920. 1920 is when J agrees to stop issuing passports to the women. So basically, a few come after that and 1924 the Exclusion Act stops all immigration from J to the US. But in that period, from 1900-1920, it’s a very interesting period in J history and there are a lot of folks who have been studying the status of women and what women were doing. And like 21:44 in the US, there is a feminist movement, a circle of women intellectuals who are writing, who are talking about women having rights and being able to live on their own. There’s a lot of , there’s two things I want to say about this. In traditional J society, not because there is a value provided for women’s rights, but because of the way traditional society is organized, women from the working classes, certainly, women have a great deal more flexibility and autonomy than women in the aristocracy or in business circles. An example, in household economies, 22:57 cottage industries, making things for sale where the household is the production unit. You cannot have women thoroughly and totally subjugated simply to keep a patriarchical society because the household unit has to come first. The ie, is the primary unit of J society. And women are an integral part of that. There’s a great deal of patriarchy. Men rule society, but at the household level, you cannot keep women uneducated. Because if the boys in the family, somebody has to run the household or the household suffers. So women are educated. They have to add, subtract, multiply. They have to read. They have to be able to do contract. So they cannot be simply subjugated. It was very important that the ie continue and that the ie as a household be able to compete. So on that level aalone, you have lots of women who have something to say. Now they may not be able to say it in the same way that boys do to the parents or the fathers, but they say it. And in matchmaking for example, choosing suitors, the whole way in which marriages are arranged allow for not just the men, who are part of the match, but for women, to exercise the veto. And they do and so that’s why there are serial matches that are omiaai, that are arranged. And for the most part, the women are allowed some considerable leeway in determining whom they’re going to marry and the picture bride situation, my understanding of that is that in some cases, in many cases, these were women with some sense of agency. That they didn’t like the men in the village. 25:32 They wanted to get out of J. They wanted to freedom to exercise some level of choice. Now many of them were misled, pictures of husbands who were sent photographs from a decade earlier or pictures of friends or pictures of them in a suit in front of a big building when they lived in a shack. So there is all of that, and many of the stories are true.