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AQ McElrath-Unions & Benefits for the community AQ April website segment
Our moving image archive continues to provide a look at history with excerpts from Rice & Roses programs. We were surprised and happy to find a treasure trove of material from film reels that were discovered at the Bishop Museum. Today we feature an excerpt from a program that was produced sometime in the late 1970’s. Many of our interviewees report that the efforts of organized labor often go far beyond narrow collective bargaining issues and often benefit the entire community, not just union members. AQ relates numerous examples of this, one of the most significant examples was the 1974 Prepaid Health Care Act.
How the ILWU provided for alternatives whereby vital goods would be available to meet public need.
In a round table discussion on a Rice & Roses studio show (circa 1978), hosted by Max Roffman, AQ informs us that in both ‘49 and ‘71 the ILWU provided for alternatives whereby vital goods would be available to meet public need.
Union actions benefit community-Unlawful Assembly Act, Grand Jury composition
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.
AQ on English Standard Schools
You may be familiar with the history of racial segregation of schools that was practiced on the Continent and the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education, that found the practice unconstitutional. Hawai`i residents, unless of a certain age, are probably unaware that for years Hawai`i schools were segregated, not by race, but by language! In 1924, the Department of Public Instruction created a system of English standard schools in Hawai`i. This decision was the result of pressure by the Haole elite, who felt that their children’s education would suffer if they were instructed in classrooms with local children for whom English was not their first language. This objective was coupled with the desire that their children would learn “American rather than Asian values”. From the very beginning there was opposition to this “undemocratic” system, opposition that would grow and that finally resulted in the end of English standard schools in in 1960. In an appearance on the Rice & Roses television show, hosted by Max Roffman (circa 1978), AQ observes that the labor movement helped mobilize support in opposition to the English standard school system. For an excellent overview of this history see the 1993 paper by Judith Hughes, The Demise of the English Standard School System in Hawai`i. AQ felt that a strong, united labor movement had the ability to address issues benefitting the entire community, not just narrow issues of wages and working conditions. Our documentary about AQ, The Struggle Never Ends, will utilize our substantial film and video archive and feature: AQ, her rank and file brothers and sisters, academics, and political figures.
Former Governor John Waiheʻe III: AQ as a Progressive Voice
Former Governor John D. Waiheʻe III was born and raised on Hawai’i Island in Honoka`a, a working class community. He was born just after the end of WWII in 1946 and was exposed to the importance of labor unions while growing up. As a kid, he remembers going with his parents to the school gymnasium when they brought food to striking workers. He later became a political activist and a leader at the 1978 Hawai’i Constitutional Convention. He remembers the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 142) and AQ for progressive advocacy that went beyond traditional collective bargaining re: wages and working conditions.
AQ and the Struggle Against the Marcos Dictatorship
Ferdinand Marcos was elected President of the Philippines in 1965. In 1972 he declared martial law and ended democracy, assuming dictatorial powers. His dictatorial regime (1972-1986) was characterized by suppression of human rights, torture and murder of union organizers and political opponents and the looting of the nation’s wealth! We recently interviewed Ethnic Studies Professor Davianna McGregor, who during the time of Marcos was both an educator and a member of the Union of Democratic Filipinos, an organization devoted to raising public consciousness about the oppressive Marcos regime and acting in solidarity with Filipino people who were struggling against the dictatorship. She told us of the problem faced by the ILWU since a significant number of its Filipino members supported Marcos. Of course AQ played a role in changing this dynamic!
The AQ Project production team is happy to start the New Year with the promise of completing our documentary, The Struggle Never Ends, featuring Ah Quon McElrath and the struggle for social justice by working class Hawaiʻi. Early on in this project we were fortunate to interview, Zach Schiller, AQ’s friend and son-in-law who shared observations about AQ’s importance to our community. Zach is spot-on about AQ’s role in telling the real history of Hawai‘i.