Oral History of Lou Goldblatt

May 18, 2004

Introduction by Harvey Schwartz

Louis Goldblatt, who was the ILWU International Secretary-Treasurer for 34 years, was the subject of Dispatcher oral history profiles in October and November 2002. A brilliant strategist, negotiator, and orator, Goldblatt was one of the union’s most successful and widely celebrated representatives. His Dispatcher testimony, recounted here, focuses on the ILWU’s early days in the Islands, his own leadership there, and his relationship with long-time Hawaiian Regional Director Jack Hall.

In the mid-1930s, during the intense uptown organizing push called the “March Inland” that followed the 1934 Maritime Strike, Goldblatt became a San Francisco warehouse worker and union activist. He served as Vice-President of ILWU Warehouse Local 6 in 1937. That year Harry Bridges, recognizing his unique talent, appointed him to head northern California’s new CIO structure.

Goldblatt was elected Secretary-Treasurer at the California CIO Industrial Union Council’s founding convention in 1938. He held this post for four years before returning to the ILWU. Toward the end of his CIO stint, in February 1942, shortly after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Goldblatt took a courageous and then unpopular stand when he told a congressional committee that the government internment of Japanese Americans amounted to “hysteria and mob cant.”

The next year Goldblatt became ILWU International Secretary-Treasurer. He developed an immediate interest in organizing Hawaii and played a central role in the union’s 1943-1945 success in unionizing the Islands. Goldblatt was a key ILWU negotiator during important Hawaiian sugar, pineapple and longshore strikes of the latter 1940s and the major sugar disputes of 1958 and 1968.

While International Secretary-Treasurer Goldblatt also contributed to several historic ILWU achievements on the mainland. One dated from the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he helped initiate the Northern California Warehouse Council, which turned years of tension between the ILWU and the Teamsters into a powerful bargaining alliance. Goldblatt served too as president of the ILWU Longshore Redevelopment Corporation that built St. Francis Square, a highly successful San Francisco housing cooperative opened in 1963. He retired in 1977 when he was 67 and passed away six years later.

In the testimony below, Goldblatt describes the decision to organize the Islands and explores the strategy that brought unionization to thousands of diverse Hawaiian workers. The ILWU’s early strategy called for integrated leadership and industry-wide bargaining in sugar and pineapple. The idea was to prevent fragmented single-nationality, plantation-by-plantation, or island-by-island strikes. Goldblatt argues that this approach helped the union win the great 1946 sugar strike.

The union’s insightful former Secretary-Treasurer also discusses how the ILWU’s workplace organizing in Hawaii fed its political organizing and how that in turn strengthened the union. Along the way he shows how the ILWU brought a sociological transformation to the Islands that dramatically improved workers’ lives. He describes, too, how he and the ILWU dealt with the challenge of red-baiting in 1947 and assesses the long-term impact of the union’s response.

Goldblatt goes on to explore the union’s loss of industry-wide bargaining in pineapple during 1947 and its re-capture in 1951 with a successful strike on the island of Lanai. Ironically, the ILWU favored industry-wide bargaining over potentially vulnerable single-island strikes, but the single-island Lanai strike won back industry-wide bargaining for the whole union. Finally, Goldblatt looks at the way the ILWU handled the mechanization of Hawaiian agriculture in the 1950s.

The original interview excerpted here was conducted in 1979 by Edward D. Beechert, a leading authority on the history of labor in Hawaii and the author of “Working in Hawaii: A Labor History,” “Honolulu: Crossroads of the Pacific,” and “Aupuni i La’au: A History of Hawaii’s Carpenters Union, Local 745.” He is also coeditor of “Patterns of Resistance: Plantation Labor.” We are greatly indebted to Beechert, today professor emeritus from the University of Hawaii, for releasing the transcript of his discussions with Goldblatt for use here.

LOUIS GOLDBLATT

Edited by Harvey Schwartz, Curator, ILWU Oral History Collection

In 1943 I began to consider organizing in Hawaii beyond the waterfront jurisdiction we had in Hilo and Honolulu. I took office then as Interna­tional secretary-treasurer and started going through materi­al on the back­ground of various locals. I made it my business to cover as much ground as I could.

We had gotten started in Hawaii in the organi­zation of long­shoremen, first in Hilo around 1935 and then in Honolulu. In 1938 they took a bad setback in Hilo in the IBU’s Inter-Island Steam­ship strike with a number of people shot up and hurt. I read about the ILWU’s long waterfront strike at Port Allen in 1940 that lasted damn near ten months. It got to the point where all the workers were living under a huge tent. The union salvaged recog­nition and little else. The thing that struck me was that in no case had we really made it over the hump.

In the case of Honolulu they signed some sort of a makeshift agreement which never became truly effective because in 1941 World War II came along and that brought military rule to Hawaii. As far as the mili­tary was concerned, unions might be around, but you don’t pay any attention to them. There had been some initial organiza­tion of plantations, mostly under Jack Hall’s leadership. Still and all, we had never been able to get an effective base.

I recall doing a lot of reading on Hawaii and its closed struc­ture. Not just longshoring, but everything from land, to banking, to insurance, to factories, to supplies, to shipping was domi­nated by the Big Five corporations. One of the conclu­sions I reached was that longshoring played a different role in Hawaii than it did on the mainland. Instead of being a general industry of longshoring, in Hawaii longshoring was just a branch of the Big Five.

Jack Hall and I later had lengthy discussions. We had both reached the same conclusion, namely, that by tackling longshore first in an effort to strengthen and widen organization in Hawaii we would not succeed, even though longshore had the very direct appeal of being tied in with the same industry on the West Coast and had been organized and gotten ILWU charters in the 1930s.

Anyway, I was thoroughly convinced that Hawaii ought to be given a whirl. Initially we sent down Bill Craft, a longshoreman from Seattle, who reported that the workers wanted a union, and not just for the waterfront alone. We sent another old-timer, Matt Meehan, who had a distinguished record in Portland. He came back with a more detailed report and a positive recommendation that the individual who knew the greatest amount about the economy of Hawaii and about trade unionism and had already done a great deal of work was Jack Hall.

We hired Jack as regional director in 1944 and that’s when organization really began. For a while we were sending all of our supplies by ships through seamen we knew. We didn’t trust the mail. We opened a small storefront down off the waterfront in Honolulu. I think it was the street just before Maunakea, where the flower vendors are. That was the headquarters until we got going.

My first trip to Hawaii was in 1944. I remember going down there in the Maunakai, a big tub that carried 14,000 tons of cargo. It was awfully slow; when it did ten knots that was good. It broke down during the trip, so an extra day was lost. They had put doghouses, sort of, on the afterdeck and carried a few passen­gers. Getting plane transportation was out of the question at the time with the war still on.

That’s when I first met Jack. We hit it off well. There had been a lot of correspondence before then, back and forth, stressing the importance of trying to tackle the Big Five at its roots–that would be the land, agriculture. We agreed that the basic source of their power was sugar and pineapple. It was towards the tail end of the war and the atmosphere of military rule by then was not that tight. So we began not only the rebuilding of the longshore union but mainly going after the plantations.

Resentment had piled up around the plantations and all through the society on the manner in which manpower had been handled during the war. A number of people wanted to get out of the jobs they were doing, like laundry jobs, and go to work in Pearl Harbor where better jobs were opening up. The military had frozen people on these laundry jobs so the colonel could have his shirt washed.

That was the situation when we got going on the organi­zational push. We began putting some money in. We decided we needed a guy in the field like Frank Thompson, who was as good an organizer as this country has ever seen. He was quite a character, an old-time Wobbly (member of the militant Industrial Workers of the world, or IWW), a hardy, efficient guy with an endless amount of energy.

Frank worked well with Jack, although they didn’t see too much of each other because Frank spent so much time in the field. As soon as the initial breakthroughs began and the word went out that the union was signing up people, everybody got into the act. There was a real wave of organization.

The waterfront fell into place very quickly. There wasn’t too much of a problem there. At that point we had to do some heavy duty thinking. Do you sign up everybody? What is the purpose if you can’t follow through? The signing up itself is a very prel­iminary step toward genuine organization.

The big decision we had to make was how wide could we scatter our forces? We only had so much money and manpower. Ultimately, the conclusion we had reached did not change–namely, we wanted to make the break primarily in sugar and secondly in pineapple.

We decided that we could not repeat the mistakes made in the past. Jack and I knew a great deal about the whole background of lost racial strikes, if you want to call them that. So under no circumstances would we have a racial strike, no matter what the rate of speed in organiz­ing one group as against another. The Japanese were an active group and organized very quickly. The Filipinos were not too far behind. They would move with a lot of strength once they felt they were getting a straight and honest shake and that the union was going to do exactly what it prom­ised, or try to.

We were spending a fair amount of money organizing, but it wasn’t a lot, even for the time. I think we paid Frank $75 a week. I don’t know that Jack got much more. The whole thing was a very low paid operation. With a few orga­nizers, supplies we sent from the mainland, plus the volunteers who pitched in, I’d say that if you had to compare it to any organizing push in the history of the country, the cost of orga­nizing one worker must have been one of the lowest ever.

I remember that in 1944 Frank did something very novel. Before National Labor Rela­tions Board (NLRB) elections for union certif­ication took place, he would go to these plantations one by one and conduct a rehearsal election. He would put out a sample ballot, call a meeting, and say, “We are going to vote. Every­one gets a secret ballot.” If the vote came out, say, 695 to 4, he’d say, “Okay, there are four people we’ve got to find. They somehow got screwed up.” Well, the NLRB election results speak for them­selves. We had entire planta­tions that voted unanimously.

In the fall of 1944 they had elections for the Territorial Legislature–Hawaii didn’t become a state until 1959. Jack had always been interested in the political offshoots of the whole economic situation in Hawaii, and particularly the domina­tion of the legislature by the big employers. The legisla­tive representa­tives were practically just stooges of the Big Five. Legislative sessions sounded more like a Gilbert and Sullivan show than a genuine legislature.

Well, in the ’44 elections, under Jack’s lead, we endorsed a great many candidates, and the results were highly favorable. One of the commitments we had where we made endorsements was that we would get a Little Wagner Act for Hawaii. We did get a Little Wagner Act in 1945 out of that legislature. It provided for collective bargaining elections for all agricul­tural workers. This included a lot of people not covered under the Wagner Act that Congress had passed ten years earlier to set up the NLRB.

Voting for candidates recommended by the union in ’44 was a direct offshoot of the whole organizing campaign. It was also one of the beginnings of the sociological breakthroughs in Hawaii. It took a while before you even had the sociological breakthrough of some of our workers going into Waikiki just to have a drink. In those days that was a rare thing. Waikiki was the tourist sec­tion. That was for haoles (Whites). Our guys felt they belonged down in the Kalihi district, River Street, a different section of town. I had to persuade guys to join me for dinner at the Trop­ics, which was then across from the Royal Hawaiian. So this was also the beginning of the sociological breakthroughs.

A lot of the plantations toppled into place, but the one outfit that did present a bit of a problem was Waialua Sugar Company on Oahu. Waialua had always been a very prosper­ous plantation with a good piece of land and plenty of water. It paid more than the other plantations. I recall getting a telephone call from the manager, John Midkiff, asking whether I would be interested in coming out for dinner. I said sure.

I think Jack Kawano of the Honolulu longshore local was with me that night. Midkiff was very pleas­ant. When we got through dinner, he got down to business. He said, “Look, I know what you fellows are after, you want the dues. I’ll make arrangements where I’ll send you the dues each month.” I said, “We are not interested in the dues.” He said, “Of course you are, that is what unions are all about.”

I said, “No, we are interested in getting everybody organized. An organization means something else than collecting dues.” He said, “Well, I don’t think my people really want to belong.” I said, “We know the general atmosphere around here and that you pay a bit more and a lot of people feel pretty loyal on that score, but we’re still convinced they want the union and given a proper chance they’ll join.” He wasn’t con­vinced. Plus he had this thing in his head we couldn’t budge–the union wanted the dues and if the union got the dues, what do we want to kick about?

When we got back, we sat around and talked about the conversa­tion. We decided the only thing to do was bell the cat. The following Sunday we sent a group of organizers out there with cards. We said, “Start going house to house. If company cops or anybody else tries to stop you, call at once and we will have the lawyers run out there.” There was no interference of any kind and I’d say within a week or ten days we had Waialua organized. That was the only place I can recall running into real difficulty.

The workers lived in company camps on isolated plantations. These camps were divided in most cases by racial groups. That is the way the people themselves would talk about it: “Oh, that’s the Filipino Camp, that’s the Portuguese Camp, that’s the China Camp,” and so forth. As I said, though, we had made the decision that certain past mistakes would not be repeated. One would be no racial strikes. That meant there had to be a new interpreta­tion of unit leadership, because if you are not going to have a racial union or racial strikes, you had to, if neces­sary, force integra­tion of the leadership from the beginning.

Now I know better than to figure that issuing a union ruling on integration brings about integration. It’s a much more deep going thing. But you have to start some place, and that’s where we started. The instruction given to Frank when he set up the units was to get as many groups as possible represented.

A Japanese was almost always elected chairman, partly because the Japanese had a better command of English and partly because they had been extremely active in organizing. Frank would have the election for chair, and a Japanese would be elected. Right, nominations are open for vice-chair. Somebody would nominate another Japanese–Jack would say, “Nope, you’ve got a Japanese already, now you’ve got to get somebody else. Nominate a Filipi­no, a Portuguese, a Chinese, or anyone from the other groups on the plantation.” Not all of these situations were completely happy, let me put it that way.

But whatever doubts or reserva­tions any groups might have had about the program of integration disappeared entirely with the 1946 sugar strike. The ’46 strike brought all the groups together as a fighting force, where they won a major struggle for their life–we’d either get over the hump or that was it. During the strike, when it came to disci­pline, doing picket duty, eating in the general soup kitch­en, and the fami­lies all mixing, a great change took place. I’m not saying racial division disap­peared entirely from the social scene in Hawaii, but I am saying that whatever there remained in the way of racial feel­ings in the union really went out the window with the ’46 strike.

Another major problem, but more of a tactical one, was that we were determined that we would not have plantation by plantation strikes or island by island strikes. If we had to fight, it would be all the plantations down at one time. The theory had developed during the earlier Japanese and Filipino at­tempts to organize that the workers on one plantation would strike and all the others would pitch in and help them. That’s like trying to match dollars with the employers. There is a certain point at which you are going to go broke–you don’t have the reserves. So we decided that that was a fundamental mistake that had been made. The key to the thing would be industry-wide bargaining.

Our first sugar contract in 1945 was just a sort of holding action, a recognition thing with maintenance of member­ship. It was just to get a contract under our belt. This had nothing to do with the major decision we had made that if it ever came to a beef, we would take it on as an industry. That decision finally was implemented when we deadlocked with the employers in 1946.

By that time we figured we had to put on a major push for enor­mous change and get rid of the prerequisite system, where the workers got poor company housing and rudimentary supplies and medical services instead of cash. We wanted to move toward a genuine kind of unionism where we’d build up the grievance machinery and get contract provisions such as no discrimination because of race, creed, or color. In other words, we had decided we wanted the framework of a genuine labor agreement. And in ’46, of course, the policy was when we struck, we shut it all down.

You could do something when you had the whole industry down that you couldn’t do before when there had been piecemeal strikes. We knew how in the past the employers had evicted people from the company camps. When the ’46 strike took place, we notified the employers that if they evicted one family, everyone was going to empty out and go to the county, city hall or state building and camp out and tell them, “Okay, you feed us.” I think the vision of the 24,000-25,000 workers we had pulling that off at one time must have given those employers and officials the hor­rors. We could have done it, too. We had the discipline and the steam. There were no evictions.

In the ’46 strike guys set themselves up fishing, hunting and growing small gardens. The employers got over this business of ever evicting anybody and the men all knew that if you couldn’t pay the rent you didn’t pay the rent and you simply owed it, that’s all. One thing winning the 79 day ’46 strike taught the sugar workers was that they could be damn self-suffi­cient and they could take a long beef if they had to. They could survive.

In 1947 red-baiting was going on and was picking up steam. Amos Ignacio, then Local 142 Big Island Division vice-president, charged that the ILWU was dominated by communists. He tried to lead people out of the ILWU and to build a separate union of Hawai­ian workers. I think Harry Bridges might have been down during one of the sessions when we were kicking the thing around. We said, “Look, there is no reason why we shouldn’t bring this thing to a head in a hurry.” Remem­ber, we had won the ’46 sugar strike. We felt we had the strength.

The idea occurred to us, “Why not have a special convention [the special Hilo Unity Conference] and why not have it right where the so-called Ignacio Revolt was supposed to be taking place, in Hilo?” We took over the armory. Jack Hall and I were at that convention, which was held in early 1948. We decided we wanted Ignacio at the convention so he could present all of his arguments in favor of breaking away from the ILWU. We tried to get in touch with Ignacio. All of a sudden he disap­peared.

So why let go of a good thing? We sent out hunting parties—different groups of guys—to look for Ignacio to convey the message that he had nothing to be concerned about. He would be politely treated. There would be no attempt to do him any harm. He would be given a full audience to come down to the convention and say his piece. But nobody could find Ignacio. He never did come to the convention.

We took the red-baiting discussion head on in Hilo. I said, “Look, we’re not communists, we’re unionists. We are also the kind of union where people can believe as they please. They can be democrats, they can be republicans, they can be communists, they can be Catholics, as long as they are good union people.”

I think this was the only time I ever used a letter I had gotten from Dillon Meyer. Meyer became the head of the War Reloca­tion Authority after the Japanese Americans had been evacuated from the West Coast and set up in camps early in World War II. He was determined to try to empty out those camps and get people back living a normal life. So he was quite a hero to Japanese Ameri­cans on the West Coast. After the war I got a letter from him.

Meyer said he was reviewing the records of Representative John H. Tolan’s congres­sional committee hearing held in San Francisco around March 1942 to consider if the Japanese should be evacuat­ed. I had decided I would testify against the evacuation. I guess I was the only trade unionist who did. They had a large number of people lined up to testify for it—then-California Attorney General Earl Warren, the San Francisco Labor Council President Jack Shelley—everybody got on the “Yellow Menace” bandwagon. Well, Dillon Meyer sent me this letter that my testimony had stood like a beacon light in the whole hearing.

At any rate, for the first time I used that letter. I read it at the ’48 convention. I said, “I want you to think for a minute as to who your great friends were in Hawaii who said a word of protest about the Japanese American evacuation on the West Coast. Here you’ve got the Advertiser newspaper supporting the revolt against the ILWU. Where were they during this time? What were they saying? How about all these company agencies, how about all your politi­cians?”

By that time, as far as the Japanese at the convention were concerned, they were solid as rocks. The Filipinos were good too. It went to a referendum and the vote was overwhelming to stay in the ILWU. That ended Ignacio for good. We came out of that stronger than when we went in. This held us in good stead when other red-baiting attacks came along like in 1949, during the big Hawai­ian longshore strike for wage parity with the West Coast, where red-baiting was practi­cally the sole instrument of the employers.

One of the outstanding features of the ’49 strike was the rather minimal effect that the red-baiting had on our members compared to the degree of the on­slaught, with its “Dear Joe” [Stalin] editorials and one headline after another. The fact that we had gone through some struggles, including the ’48 convention, meant that the guys were pretty well inured to a lot of this stuff. In retrospect I’d say that the ’48 conven­tion was a good thing and the referendum vote even better.

In ’47, though, we did take a kick in the pants on pineapple. We lost a big strike that year. Several factors were in­volved. There were a lot of seasonal workers with whom the union had no con­tact. The industry would bring in about 10,000 seasonals to work in the pineapple canneries in the summer. A lot of them were college and high school students who depend­ed on the season for that extra couple of bucks to go to school. They went through the picket lines.

The field workers stayed absolutely solid, like out in Waipio. In places like Lanai, nothing budged. Yet the seasonal workers were so much of a larger group, that in terms of propor­tion of num­bers, the support did not appear to be there. The preliminary work of trying to get to them had not been done.

There was also an unfortunate fascination with striking at the peak of the season. But, if at the peak of the season, there are a lot of seasonal workers coming in over whom you have no control or no contact, then the peak of the season doesn’t mean a thing. There has also always been a question in my mind as to whether the harvesting is more important than the cultivation. In some ways, striking in agriculture during the cultivation period might be more effective because you have a stable work force that, if you organize effectively, should be very tight.

We decided we had to settle and back up—patch up the mistakes we had made, strengthen the organization, do a little bit of getting to the seasonal workers. After ’47 the pineapple employers enforced plant by plant contracts. We recouped, but it took a while, until the Lanai pineapple strike in 1951. I happened to be down there when that strike began. We had just finished up some small negotiations in pineapple, but we really didn’t negotiate. The guys were pretty well forced to the wall and had to take what the employers offered.

I recall a meeting with the Lanai guys. They said, “Do we have the right to strike?” I said, “Sure.” They said, “We don’t want to take the contract, we are not going to.” I said, “The employ­ers want to go plantation by plantation, and there is no ques­tion—they are able to make it stick. That’s the way it is. It will take a while before we are strong enough to handle it.”

They said, “Well, that’s not the question we asked—do we have the right to strike?” I said, “Yes, but you’re not going to be able to spread the strike. If you shut down Lanai, you can’t picket the canneries in Honolulu. We don’t have the power to shut them down effectively. We’ll help you as best we can, with money, with bumming committees, and so forth. But if you strike Lanai by itself, if you think you can get by in less than four or five months, maybe six, forget it. It’ll be a long beef.”

They went right back to the same question, “Do we have the right to strike?” I said, “Yes, I’ve told you that.” That’s all they wanted to know. The next thing I knew, the strike was on and sure enough that strike lasted a long time—about six or seven months. I found out more and more about the real issues as the strike went on. Partly it was a business of having something rammed down their neck which they didn’t want. They were independent think­ing. Then there were all kinds of other peripheral issues I knew nothing about.

For example, not long before the 1946 sugar strike the employers had brought 6,000 new Filipino workers to Hawaii from the Philip­pine Islands over our objections. This we interpreted as a threat to our new organization. The Filipinos came in two ships. We got some of our guys on board as members of the Marine Cooks and Stewards union. They did the signing up. The Filipinos were all in the ILWU by the time they got to Hawaii. They stuck with the union right through the 1946 strike, too.

Some of the Filipinos brought over in 1946 had been assigned for Lanai. After they had been at Lanai for a couple of years, and made some friends, they all stuck very close together. Then the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, which owned the whole island, decided they had brought over an unneces­sary number. The company noti­fied these people one morning that they were being laid off and put them on a plane out that afternoon. Offhand that doesn’t seem very big, but this rankled the other Filipinos. As far as they were concerned, they had to get even. The company would­n’t even allow these guys time enough to have a party with their friends, a going-away deal. They didn’t allow anything—pack up, get out.

The Lanai workers had a couple of other grievances, little tiny grievances, not big grievances. The company had decided, between ’47 and ’51, that they had the upper hand and they were going to use it. So the grievance committee meetings were hopeless and the guys said, “To hell with arbitration. We are going to wait until we can get even.”

Well, the strike went on a long time. I had the feeling that with these guys, if you offered to sink the island, they’d say, “Fine, you got a deal.” One day we got a call from Jim Blaisdell, the employers’ representative. Jack Hall and I joined him at the Tropics in Honolulu. He said, “What will settle it?”

“There is only one way,” I said, “that I know of settling this strike and that is to get together a settlement that goes beyond Lanai. You open up all the pineapple contracts. Instead of the guys on Lanai getting 12 cents as they’d demanded–the other guys had settled for 8–they will get 15 cents. All the other pineap­ple outfits will get the 15, or an extra 7 cents. There are a whole string of grievances here that will go to an immediate grievance machinery. They will be settled in grievance and will not go to arbitration. The industry goes back into collective bargaining as a group and stays there.”

The next day there was a call from Blaisdell. The agreement was put together. I went over to Lanai and asked Pedro de la Cruz, the Lanai leader, to have his committee come around so we could meet with them. I said, “This is our recommendation.” The only impor­tant question that came from them was, “There is nothing wrong with what you agreed to, it’s fine, but are you telling us that all the workers who didn’t strike are going to get the extra 7 cents?” I said, “Yep.” They said, “That’s no good, they didn’t fight. They’re not entitled to anything.”

“The key issue here,” I said, “is that these employers have been able to ride rough shod and run broken field through the pineap­ple industry since 1947. Finally you turned it around. You showed them, okay, you wanted to run broken field, you can also get a single island strike. They’ve lost over 25 million bucks from their Lanai crop, it’s gone. They’ll be lucky to salvage the second crop. So what you’ve done is force them back into industry bargaining.”

I concluded, “You’ve won something for yourself and for every­body else in the indus­try. But more important is the unity.” They huddled among them­selves. Finally they said, “We’ll recom­mend.” Sure enough, the Lanai members ratified the agreement. The pineapple industry went back into industry-wide bargain­ing.

Another major issue we faced in the early 1950s was mechanization in agriculture. I had conversations with Jack Hall about this even before mechani­za­tion had much of an impact, probably in 1946. As far as we were concerned, mechanization would not only be inevitable, we saw nothing wrong with it, providing the workers were taken care of. As far as I am con­cerned, there is nothing socially uplifting in hand-cutting sugar cane—you’re just fighting dirt, dust, and bugs. It is some of the most difficult work in the world.

So we knew mechanization was coming along. How to take care of the people, that was the key. And there is the area where I think the union did some real pioneering. The idea was to shrink the work force from the top. We had all kinds of single guys, partic­ularly Filipino workers, who had been in Hawaii for 20 or 25 years. Originally they had come down there for three years, and 25 years later they were still looking for that ticket home. There was no question as to how they felt. But at the same time they were often also broke.

The big things that were written into the sugar con­tract in the 1950s were very substantial severance pay and a reparations allowance, which included transportation home, and a complete cash-out provision on all pension rights. A man was able to leave Hawaii for the Philip­pines with anywhere from $10,000, $14,000 to $16,000. Now that doesn’t look like a lot of money, but in 1950, ’51, ’52 it was. To many a worker this was more than enough not only to make the trip back, but also perhaps to open up a little store or just lead an easy life in the town where he came from.

If there was any one industry where a shrinking of the work force took place with a minimum of hardships, it was sugar. So that’s where our contract was novel. I don’t know of any place else where the contract was written out in these details. And I would say that if any person was responsible for doing a lot of work on this thing—including a lot of the heavy duty mathemati­cal work—it was Jack Hall. He was awfully good with a pencil.

We took up some of the slack in employment by organizing in the growing post-war tourism industry on the Outer Islands, those outside of Oahu. In the late 1950s we explained our thinking to Art Rutled­ge, the Teamster leader in Honolulu who often obstruct­ed our efforts. Hotels in Honolulu were Art’s. But we told him, “Look, so far as the Outer Islands are con­cerned, the hotels are something we have pio­neered in the organi­zation of those outside islands. There was nothing orga­nized there, not a thing. We’re the ones who knocked over the sugar and pineapple plantations. They’re shrinking. Our people are looking for jobs in other areas. When these hotels open up, that is where they’re going to have to go to work. That is our kuleana, our area.”

 

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