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1946 Sugar Strike

Aloha e, September 1 marks the 75th anniversary of the historic 1946 sugar strike. WWII was over, and the ILWU was making steady gains in organizing plantation workers. In 1944 the union claimed 900 members and 28,000 in 1946! Clearly a showdown was in the offing. The ILWU demanded a 65 cent per hour minimum wage, a forty hour work week, and a union shop. These demands deemed “moderate” by the union were viewed as outrageous by the sugar planters. It was an impasse and at midnight on September 1, 1946, the strike was on! Thirty three of the 34 Hawaiʻi sugar plantations, and 26,000 workers (with families this involved 75,000 people). The union knew that meticulous planning was necessary and developed detailed plans including daily assignments for thousands of workers, including picket duty, hunting , fishing and food “bumming “, soup kitchens for each plantation, and other strike related activities. The owners had a plethora of anti-union laws, like bans on picketing, in place. They also decided on an end run, hiring 6,000 workers from the Philippines. They expected that the Filipinos would be very antagonistic to workers of Japanese ancestry, due to the harsh treatment by the occupying Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. The Union scored an important victory when their supporters in the Seamen's union succeeded while en route to Hawaiʻi, in signing up Filipino workers in the ILWU. They marched off the ship with union cards in hand!

Ben Achetta recalls being recruited on the boat on his way to Hawaiʻi.

Alfredo Villanueva remembers picketing during the strike and the recruitment of Filipino workers.

The strike ended after 79 days. The union won substantial wage increases and an end to the paternalistic “perquisite” system. The strike demonstrated the power of the union, it was “here to stay” and workers had gained a voice in the direction of Hawaiʻi!

Mahalo Nui Loa, Chris Conybeare Executive Producer

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