May first is celebrated around much of the world as International Workers Day!
In Hawaiʻi, May 1, 1949 marked the beginning of a strike by ILWU longshoremen that lasted 177 days. As Mamoru Yamasaki remembers, the main issue was wage parity with West Coast longshoremen.
While true, this was also the last ditch attempt by Hawaiʻi’s Big Five Companies to break the union. The anti-union campaign employed vicious red baiting attacks in the press and radio, in an attempt to divide the union and public opinion with fears of communism! Ultimately they were unsuccessful, but the anti-communist campaign did exert considerable pressure on Union leaders.
AQ of course helped the union and members prepare for and carry out the strike, but more important was her day to day education of members about their rights. Her goal was to enable workers to take charge of their own affairs and empower union democracy. This education and the establishment of a democratic union helped create solidarity in the face of outrageous personal attacks.
Former sugar worker Tony Bise, became the ILWU membership director. He remembers AQ’s role in educating the rank and file and her influence on his own development.
In 1999, we produced, 1949: The Great Hawaiʻi Dock Strike on the 50th anniversary of this historic struggle. We are fortunate that a generous donation from Frank Moy and his wife, Marcia Mau has enabled us to preserve and digitize the completed program as well as full length interview files of many rank and file members. Ultimately these files will be accessible through our partnership with the ‘Ulu ‘ulu Moving Image Archive at UH West ʻOahu.
I’m pleased that every month we bring you new stories from our labor history archive in the AQ Bulletin and posted on our website: www.laborhistoryhawaii.org.
Our documentary, about the life and times of Ah Quon “AQ” McElrath, The Struggle Never Ends, tells how AQ provided leadership to this historic chapter in Hawaii’s past! Look for it to be released in 2022! If you want to donate to the project: Checks may be made to UH Foundation payable to “UH Foundation” (noting “AQ McElrath Fund” on the memo line) and mailed to: University of Hawaiʻi Foundation, P.O. Box 11270, Honolulu, HI 96828. Or you may donate online at: www.uhfoundation.org/AQ.
Mahalo, Chris Conybeare, Executive Producer