Hawaii in 1935 was dominated by five companies, known as the Big Five, which owned or controlled nearly all economic activity in the islands. To a large extent, business controlled government and society—the political and social climate was very pro-business and very anti-union. The few unions that did exist were limited to white skilled craftsmen.
In the beginning, organizing efforts were separate and independent. Jack Wayne Hall, a former sailor, helped organize longshore and pineapple workers on Kauai and put out a mimeographed newsletter called the VOICE of Labor. Other union activists such as Harry Kamoku organized longshore workers on the island of Hawaii. Jack Kawano and Fred Kamahoahoa worked to build a Honolulu waterfront union. There were many others involved, but these are some of the more prominent names.
By 1938, these early unions affiliated with the West Coast ILWU as separate locals. When workers first began to organize and join the ILWU, they formed separate locals for each plantation, longshore operation or factory.
Workers in these separate locals discovered they needed greater unity in order to bargain with employers. They joined forces and formed 4 territory-wide locals:
- Local 136-Longshore and Allied Workers of Hawaii
- Local 142-United Sugar Workers
- Local 150-Warehouse, Manufacturing & Allied Workers
- Local 152-Pineapple and Cannery Workers
Even with this greater degree of organization and unity, not all of the locals could afford to open an office or hire full-time business agents or officers.
In 1952, the territory-wide locals merged to form a single, consolidated Local 142. This way, the union gained strength and built island-wide economic and political cooperation.
Consolidation of Local 142 enabled the Union to pool resources and provide more and better services for all ILWU members.