THE PLANTATION SYSTEM

Sugar and pineapple were big and profitable businesses, and the needs of the industries came to dominate the government and life of the Hawaiian Islands. Sugar was no longer produced by small farmers, but by 33 large-scale plantation operations, each employer hundreds of workers covering thousands of acres of the best agricultural lands.

In the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Report of 1939, James Shoemaker described management attitude towards labor and labor unions:

“Although many of the large enterprises maintain effective employee-welfare policies, their attitude may best be described as benevolently paternalistic rather than liberal. The history of management in Hawaii, broadly speaking, is one of antagonism to labor organization.

“The high degree of intercorporate control makes it possible to mobilize the resources of all large enterprises to restrict the growth of labor unions and to combat strikes in whatever fields of industry they may occur. Thus, although management has done much for labor in Hawaii, it has also used every influence at its command to restrict labor organization.

“The positions of the individual plantation worker is especially vulnerable. The house in which he lives, the store from which he buys, the fields in which he finds his recreation, the hospital in which he is treated, are all owned by plantation management, which in turn has its policies controlled from the offices of the factors in Honolulu.”

Detail from the ILWU mural “Solidaridad Sincidal.” This portion of the second panel depicts a working family before the ILWU organized sugar workers in the 1940s. The family gazes somberly at the meager paycheck that is barely enough to sustain them.