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  • laborhistoryhawaii

Union actions against oppressive laws

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries, Hawai`i like many jurisdictions enacted specific laws aimed at crushing the rising labor movement. These laws restricted rights of assembly and rigged the Grand Jury system to exclude the working class, by creating “Blue Ribbon” jury panels.

In advance of the 1909 sugar strike, the Japanese Higher Wage Association was formed by four journalists, Nippu Jiji editor, Yasutaro Soga, reporter Yokichi Tasaka, and Frederick Makino (future Hawaii Hochi publisher) and writer, researcher Motoyuki Negoro. They sought to promote better wages and working conditions for ethnic Japanese plantation workers. As leaders of the movement, these journalists documented oppressive conditions and editorialized for change. As a result, their newspaper offices were raided by law enforcement, they were arrested and charged among other things with “impeding sugar plantation operations”! The four were sentenced to 10 months in prison and fined $300 each. So much for First Amendment rights to freedom of the press!

The 1946 sugar strike likewise saw application of these oppressive laws, when picketing workers were charged with crimes under the Unlawful Assembly and Criminal Syndicalism Acts. Jail sentences included felony charges that could result in 10 year sentences!

ILWU attorney, Harriet Bouslog, successfully appealed these convictions. In a discussion on a Rice & Roses program (circa 1978), AQ reminds us that this action by the union benefitted both striking workers and the entire community.

The AQ Project is in final stages of production. We will add an original score composed by UHWO music professor Jon Magnussen and recorded by local musicians. We continue to find archival film and video that will enhance the documentary and website ( as we proceed to the final edit.

We appreciate the contributions of all who are helping to make the AQ Project successful!

Mahalo Nui Loa,

Chris Conybeare, Executive Producer

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