September brings Labor Day, a national holiday that celebrates the lives of working people and the labor movement. The first Labor Day was celebrated in 1885. Nationwide there was an outpouring of support for the slogan: “8 Hours to Constitute a Day of Work!”
In Hawai`i, September 1st marks the anniversary of the1946 sugar strike, a defining moment for the labor movement in Hawai‘i. The ILWU led 26,000 workers on strike and shut down 33 of the 34 sugar plantations. The strike lasted 79 days and resulted in the end of oligarchical rule by the Big Five corporations.
The strike demonstrated solidarity among the workers and trust in their union--the ILWU. Ah Quon (AQ) McElrath was a volunteer who helped bring about the unified response. She believed the union should be for more than just negotiating wages and working conditions. She believed it also should be as an organization that cared about all aspects of worker’s needs and rights. She also saw that if you developed a relationship based on trust, that it was easier to engage membership on big-picture issues.
AQ’s friend, Claire Shimabukuro, shares her remembrances of AQ’s philosophy from a talk given to Local 5 shop stewards:
Our documentary about AQ, The Struggle Never Ends, provides public access to Hawai‘i’s hidden labor history and the struggle for economic and social justice that was integral to that movement.
Of course, the struggle really doesn’t end! The example of the hard-fought accomplishments of Hawai‘i’s working class and their labor movement should inform and inspire present and future generations to tackle and overcome oppression in all its forms. Stay tuned…
Mahalo Nui Loa,