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Fighting in Paradise

Labor Unions, Racism, and Communists in the Making of Modern Hawai`i

Gerald Horne

Publication Year: 2011

Powerful labor movements played a critical role in shaping modern Hawaii, beginning in the 1930s, when International Longshore and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) representatives were dispatched to the islands to organize plantation and dock laborers. They were stunned by the feudal conditions they found in Hawaii, where the majority of workers—Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino in origin—were routinely subjected to repression and racism at the hands of white bosses.

The wartime civil liberties crackdown brought union organizing to a halt; but as the war wound down, Hawaii workers’ frustrations boiled over, leading to an explosive success in the forming of unions. During the 1950s, just as the ILWU began a series of successful strikes and organizing drives, the union came under McCarthyite attacks and persecution. In the midst of these allegations, Hawaii’s bid for statehood was being challenged by powerful voices in Washington who claimed that admitting Hawaii to the union would be tantamount to giving the Kremlin two votes in the U.S. Senate, while Jim Crow advocates worried that Hawaii’s representatives would be enthusiastic supporters of pro–civil rights legislation.

Hawaii’s extensive social welfare system and the continuing power of unions to shape the state politically are a direct result of those troubled times. Based on exhaustive archival research in Hawaii, California, Washington, and elsewhere, Gerald Horne’s gripping story of Hawaii workers’ struggle to unionize reads like a suspense novel as it details for the first time how radicalism and racism helped shape Hawaii in the twentieth century.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

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A Prefatory Note

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pp. vii

Traditionally, Japanese names—e.g., “Ichiro Izuka”—are often referred to by reference to what English readers would call the first name, or “Ichiro” in this example (e.g., those not familiar with me referring to me as “Gerald” and not “Horne”). Readers will note that the principals I quote employ both the traditional and nontraditional modes, as do I from time to time, given the context. ...

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pp. 1-16

The workers kept coming, streaming in rivulets of protest. These men—they were mostly men—were predominantly of indigenous Hawaiian, Filipino, and Japanese origin and were departing angrily from the docks of pleasant Honolulu and balmy Hilo and the plantations of Kaua‘i and Lana‘i. It was in the early afternoon in mid-June 1953, roughly three years after the ...

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Chapter 1: Confronting Colonial Hawai‘i

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pp. 17-31

It was in the mid-1930s when the Communist Party in San Francisco summoned Bill Bailey—the gruff and plain-talking seaman—to its Haight Street office for the prospect of an enticing assignment. Very tall and rugged, with lively blue eyes and hair that would soon gray, he had an accent that betrayed his East Coast origins. He had gone to sea at the age of 14 and early on be- ...

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Chapter 2: An Apartheid Archipelago?

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pp. 32-46

Soichi Masuda was upset. Fortunately, he was among friends—his co-workers in the Hilo Longshoremen’s union—but what he had to tell them did not reflect fraternity. Recently, when he had reported for work at the powerful firm that was Matson, he had been assaulted by the foreman. Berating him as a “Yellow Belly,” a term Masuda saw as having racial connotations, the fore- ...

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Chapter 3: The Race of War

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pp. 47-62

Conservative whites were furiously suspicious in the aftermath of 7 December 1941. The community was buzzing with the rumor that, on the fateful day in which the Japanese military bombarded Pearl Harbor in Hawai‘i, the saloons, taverns, and bars run by those of Japanese origin “knew in advance of the sneak attack” and joined in, since “alcohol was their weapon,” as one ...

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Chapter 4: The Labor of War

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pp. 63-81

Frank Thompson had been dispatched to the islands in mid-1944 by the ILWU to survey the possibilities for the union’s advance there. He arrived on a Saturday morning in July and immediately felt at home,1 but it did not take long for him to become displeased. “The Port Allen local has been non-existent since Dec. 7th, 1941,” he grumbled in a letter. Kaua‘i was languish- ...

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Chapter 5: Sugar Strike

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pp. 82-102

Howard Babbitt knew the score. This executive of C. Brewer was living large in postwar Hawai‘i, but he knew the same did not hold true for those he employed. He realized in particular that conditions were harsh for the war-time working class in the archipelago. “[They] worked long hours,” he re-called years later, “ 10 and 12 hours a day, and under blackout conditions that ...

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Chapter 6: Red Scare Rising

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pp. 103-119

In the aftermath of their smashing victory in the Sugar Strike, the ILWU and the Left seemed to be sailing along smoothly, managing to avoid the choppy seas that were not infrequent in the Hawaiian Islands. But 1947 brought leaping waves of discontent, symbolized by the failure of the union’s strike of the pineapple industry. As if that were not enough, there were other ...

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Chapter 7: Purge

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pp. 120-137

A leftist juggernaut seemed to be rolling along in the isles. Neither internecine conflict, anticommunist bombshells, nor failed strikes appeared to halt what seemed like an unstoppable ILWU and Communist Party in Hawai‘i. For in 1947, a year that had been thought to represent a setback for labor and the Left, Jack T. Osakoda of the ILWU was reporting gleefully that his union ...

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Chapter 8: Surge?

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pp. 138-155

"To All Workers” was the headline on an important and widely disseminated ILWU leaflet in the fall of 1948, just as the Reineckes were being purged and Frank Marshall Davis was packing up in Chicago and preparing to head west. “Election day will be Saturday, October 2, 1948,” it was said, “and you who are able to vote will be asked to vote and help the Democratic candidates ...

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Chapter 9: State of Anxiety?

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pp. 156-174

“My visit to Hawaii, supported by many interviews on the islands, leaves me with the deep conviction that international revolutionary Communism at present has a firm grasp on the economic, political and social life of the Territory of Hawaii.” So spoke Senator Hugh Butler of Nebraska in 1948 after a series of exhaustive hearings in the archipelago that exposed dangerous fault ...

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Chapter 10: Stevedores Strike

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pp. 175-194

The stevedores’ strike in Hawai‘i lasted from 1 May to 24 October 1949.1 It was “one of the longest strikes in the history of the United States that was won,” said Louis Goldblatt of the 2,000 men who tied up the ports and heightened anxiety at a time when the Red Scare was rising. “It is a rare thing," he added, "to win a strike that goes that long."2 ...

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Chapter 11: Racism—and Reaction

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pp. 195-213

“We do not just have a cyclical depression in Hawaii that will one day crawl up the graphs of the professional economists to the peaks of prosperity.” Such were the ominous words of Jack Hall, just after the monumental strike of stevedores had concluded. No, he insisted, “Hawaii has reached the stage of chronic unemployment—chronic unemployment of an alarming degree.” ...

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Chapter 12: Strife and Strikes

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pp. 214-233

When the House Un-American Activities Committee arrived in Honolulu in April 1950, this investigative body was not greeted with unanimous applause. The tumultuous hearings they held concerned explicitly “Communist Activities in the Territory of Hawaii,” which meant an intense focus on the ILWU, which only recently had exhibited its strength. The hearings un- ...

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Chapter 13: Radicalism on Trial

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pp. 234-254

Philip Maxwell did not think highly of Jack Hall. Born in 1901, the well-compensated Maxwell, in his role as chief negotiator for the Big Five, often butted heads with Hall. During the same morning that Koji Ariyoshi was detained, Maxwell was looking forward to wrapping up sensitive negotiations with Hall—but then the top ILWU leader was taken into custody too. “We’d ...

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Chapter 14: The Trials of Racism and Radicalism

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pp. 255-274

Neither time—nor racism—stood still as the Smith Act trial hurtled toward conclusion. Or so thought Frank Marshall Davis. As Richard Gladstein and his colleagues were busily filing pretrial motions in the summer of 1952, the stocky journalist—now well settled in Honolulu—continued to complain about island racism. Though he counted only 1,000 African-Americans in ...

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Chapter 15: Upheaval

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pp. 275-293

It was a blowout by the Democrats. It was November 1954, the first election in Hawai‘i after the Smith Act convictions and its aftermath, when the anti-communist declaration was underlined that Moscow controlled the CP, which in turn controlled the ILWU, which controlled the Democratic Party—and therefore meant that it too was directed from the Kremlin. Yet ...

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Chapter 16: Radicals Advance—and Retreat

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pp. 294-312

It was early December 1956, and as was their wont, a goodly number of US legislators and their staffs escaped the chilly weather on the mainland for the expected pleasurable warmth of Hawai‘i. “Investigating Hawaii seems to have [become] a racket,” growled Ray Jerome Baker. “Every time some Congress[man] wants an excuse to take a trip,” said the increasingly exasper- ...

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Chapter 17: Toward Statehood

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pp. 313-336

Jack Hall was barefoot and relaxed. His hair was closely cropped, and he had lost a few pounds, which was evident in the way he filled out his shirt and pants. Charles Fujimoto, on the other hand, looked about 20 pounds heavier; perhaps this was due to the enforced sitting that came with his newest initiative: running a small television and radio repair business. He was accompa- ...


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pp. 337-423


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pp. 425-457

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860219
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835026

Publication Year: 2011