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Chapter 4: Organization in Hawaii

The following is an excerpt from The ILWU Story on the ILWU in Hawaii. To read more, order your own copy directly from the International office or call your Business Agent to see if copies are available at your Division Office. Or visit the ILWU International website to read more online.

“The ILWU’s principles of rank and file unionism have never been more severely tested or more magnificently successful, than in Hawaii-where over half the U.S. membership of the ILWU lives and works. The union’s victories were achieved after 100 years of bitter experience and sacrifice by Hawaii’s workers, successfully resisting terrible repression by many of Hawaii’s most powerful employers and government officials.

“Five big landholding companies controlled the economy of the Territory of Hawaii. Their interlocking directorates and close cooperation allowed them to act as one great combine that dominated the Territorial government and every aspect of the Islands’ political, economic, an cultural life.

“When the Big Five took over the bulk of the arable land of the islands in the early 1800s, they destroyed the traditional economy and set up a plantation system that forced most workers to live in company housing and work the plantations for miserable wages, under brutal working conditions.

“The employers dealt severely with protesters and smashed every attempt workers made to improve their conditions. They encouraged racial divisions and suspicion to the point that when the workers sought to organize into unions, they made the tragic mistake of following racial lines.”


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