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A Public Relations coup

Updated: May 2

As unions were gaining strength in the 1930s and 40’s, anti-communist hysteria was mobilized in attempts to divide union members and influence public opinion. The Smith Act, passed by Congress in 1940, became a useful tool of oppression against the labor movement. The Act was a “federal law that made it a criminal offense to advocate the violent overthrow of the government or to organize or be a member of any group or society devoted to such advocacy" (Britannica)

 

In August 1951, seven pro-labor leaders in Hawai‘i were arrested and charged under the Smith Act.  Known as the Hawaii Seven. They were Jack Denichi Kimoto, Charles K. Fujimoto, Eileen Fujimoto, Dwight J. Freeman, John E. Reinecke, Koji Ariyoshi and Jack Hall. 

 

In the run up to trial, the FBI made an overture to ILWU Education Director, Dave Thompson, indicating a possible deal with regard to ILWU leader, Jack Hall.  Rather than turn them down cold, AQ’s husband and ILWU Information Director Bob McElrath suggested that they tape record the conversation. AQ Explains:



The recording was subsequently played on Bob McElrath’s Voice of Labor radio program! One can only imagine the heady satisfaction of McElrath, and Thompson at this public relations coup and the embarrassment of the FBI agents! The Hawai‘i  “professional class" jury convicted the Seven, only to see the convictions overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court!

 

The audio recording featured in this segment is part of our digital archive. Stay tuned as each month we bring reminders of Hawai‘i working class history in our AQ Bulletin. There will also be updates on the AQ Project documentary, The Struggle Never Ends!

 

Mahalo Nui Loa,

Chris Conybeare, Executive Producer

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