Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Fighting in Paradise

Fighting in Paradise: Labor Unions, Racism, and Communists in the Making of Modern Hawai`i

Gerald Horne
Copyright Date: 2011
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Fighting in Paradise
    Book Description:

    Powerful labor movements played a critical role in shaping modern Hawaii, beginning in the 1930s, when International Longshore and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) representatives were dispatched to the islands to organize plantation and dock laborers. They were stunned by the feudal conditions they found in Hawaii, where the majority of workers—Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino in origin—were routinely subjected to repression and racism at the hands of white bosses.

    The wartime civil liberties crackdown brought union organizing to a halt; but as the war wound down, Hawaii workers’ frustrations boiled over, leading to an explosive success in the forming of unions. During the 1950s, just as the ILWU began a series of successful strikes and organizing drives, the union came under McCarthyite attacks and persecution. In the midst of these allegations, Hawaii’s bid for statehood was being challenged by powerful voices in Washington who claimed that admitting Hawaii to the union would be tantamount to giving the Kremlin two votes in the U.S. Senate, while Jim Crow advocates worried that Hawaii’s representatives would be enthusiastic supporters of pro–civil rights legislation.

    Hawaii’s extensive social welfare system and the continuing power of unions to shape the state politically are a direct result of those troubled times. Based on exhaustive archival research in Hawaii, California, Washington, and elsewhere, Gerald Horne’s gripping story of Hawaii workers’ struggle to unionize reads like a suspense novel as it details for the first time how radicalism and racism helped shape Hawaii in the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6021-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. A Prefatory Note
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    The workers kept coming, streaming in rivulets of protest. These men—they were mostly men—were predominantly of indigenous Hawaiian, Filipino, and Japanese origin and were departing angrily from the docks of pleasant Honolulu and balmy Hilo and the plantations of Kaua‘i and Lana‘i. It was in the early afternoon in mid-June 1953, roughly three years after the United States had embarked on a bloody war on the Korean peninsula and Hawai‘i had become a primary point of departure for supplying the battlefield of this anticommunist conflict. Yet these men who numbered in the thousands were protesting, since their union...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Confronting Colonial Hawai‘i
    (pp. 17-31)

    It was in the mid-1930s when the Communist Party in San Francisco summoned Bill Bailey—the gruff and plain-talking seaman—to its Haight Street office for the prospect of an enticing assignment. Very tall and rugged, with lively blue eyes and hair that would soon gray, he had an accent that betrayed his East Coast origins. He had gone to sea at the age of 14 and early on became friendly with Jack Hall.¹ Only recently had the ILWU been organized in this city of steep hills, gray skies, and cool weather. Now a CP leader handed Bailey 50 blank...

  6. CHAPTER 2 An Apartheid Archipelago?
    (pp. 32-46)

    Soichi Masuda was upset. Fortunately, he was among friends—his co-workers in the Hilo Longshoremen’s union—but what he had to tell them did not reflect fraternity. Recently, when he had reported for work at the powerful firm that was Matson, he had been assaulted by the foreman. Berating him as a “Yellow Belly,” a term Masuda saw as having racial connotations, the foreman told him bluntly that his union would soon oust him, adding, “Then you will have to go to work for the plantations.” Speaking partly in English and partly in Japanese, Masuda spoke movingly of this unfortunate...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Race of War
    (pp. 47-62)

    Conservative whites were furiously suspicious in the aftermath of 7 December 1941. The community was buzzing with the rumor that, on the fateful day in which the Japanese military bombarded Pearl Harbor in Hawai‘i, the saloons, taverns, and bars run by those of Japanese origin “knew in advance of the sneak attack” and joined in, since “alcohol was their weapon,” as one disgruntled man put it. “Jap bartenders graciously and generously distributed free drinks (compliments of Hirohito!) the night before the attack,” he said, a strategy said to be essential to the success of this military mission, since reputedly “fifty-four...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Labor of War
    (pp. 63-81)

    Frank Thompson had been dispatched to the islands in mid-1944 by the ILWU to survey the possibilities for the union’s advance there. He arrived on a Saturday morning in July and immediately felt at home,¹ but it did not take long for him to become displeased. “The Port Allen local has been nonexistent since Dec. 7th, 1941,” he grumbled in a letter. Kaua‘i was languishing under martial law, and “all meetings of any kind were banned.” Since “the heat naturally fell on the Japanese,” Thompson noted, many of them were “scared stiff.”²

    This latter point was no less true. Weeks...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Sugar Strike
    (pp. 82-102)

    Howard Babbitt knew the score. This executive of C. Brewer was living large in postwar Hawai‘i, but he knew the same did not hold true for those he employed. He realized in particular that conditions were harsh for the wartime working class in the archipelago. “[They] worked long hours,” he recalled years later, “10 and 12 hours a day, and under blackout conditions that were pretty disagreeable. The mills were all blacked out[,] so that it was stifling hot.” That was one of the many reasons why he thought that unionization spread like a prairie fire throughout the islands, transforming...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Red Scare Rising
    (pp. 103-119)

    In the aftermath of their smashing victory in the Sugar Strike, the ILWU and the Left seemed to be sailing along smoothly, managing to avoid the choppy seas that were not infrequent in the Hawaiian Islands. But 1947 brought leaping waves of discontent, symbolized by the failure of the union’s strike of the pineapple industry. As if that were not enough, there were other clouds that blurred their apparent rainbow of success. The gentle radical John Reinecke summed it up in his year-end letter that he sent to friends and colleagues in lieu of holiday greetings. The tone for this...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Purge
    (pp. 120-137)

    A leftist juggernaut seemed to be rolling along in the isles. Neither internecine conflict, anticommunist bombshells, nor failed strikes appeared to halt what seemed like an unstoppable ILWU and Communist Party in Hawai‘i. For in 1947, a year that had been thought to represent a setback for labor and the Left, Jack T. Osakoda of the ILWU was reporting gleefully that his union had organized soft drink plants, the meatpacking and newspaper industries, magazine distributing plants, the Sears, Roebuck department store, and the ice cream and refrigeration industries. All of the warehouses organized were in some way or another connected...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Surge?
    (pp. 138-155)

    “To All Workers” was the headline on an important and widely disseminated ILWU leaflet in the fall of 1948, just as the Reineckes were being purged and Frank Marshall Davis was packing up in Chicago and preparing to head west. “Election day will be Saturday, October 2, 1948,” it was said, “and you who are able to vote will be asked to vote and help the Democratic candidates get nominated. Those who are unable to vote will be asked to work at the voting booths,” with the aim of putting forward “the poor man’s candidates, the Democratic candidates.” Lurking as...

  13. CHAPTER 9 State of Anxiety?
    (pp. 156-174)

    “My visit to Hawaii, supported by many interviews on the islands, leaves me with the deep conviction that international revolutionary Communism at present has a firm grasp on the economic, political and social life of the Territory of Hawaii.” So spoke Senator Hugh Butler of Nebraska in 1948 after a series of exhaustive hearings in the archipelago that exposed dangerous fault lines in the quest for statehood. More than that, it raised difficult questions for Washington as to what to do about what had become something of a problem colony at a time when labor and the Left had become...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Stevedores Strike
    (pp. 175-194)

    The stevedores’ strike in Hawai‘i lasted from 1 May to 24 October 1949.¹ It was “one of the longest strikes in the history of the United States that was won,” said Louis Goldblatt of the 2,000 men who tied up the ports and heightened anxiety at a time when the Red Scare was rising. “It is a rare thing,” he added, “to win a strike that goes that long.”²

    How true. It was the longest strike to that point in the maritime industry and, arguably, the most important strike in Hawai‘i’s history—surpassing the Sugar Strike of 1946.³ It was...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Racism—and Reaction
    (pp. 195-213)

    “We do not just have a cyclical depression in Hawaii that will one day crawl up the graphs of the professional economists to the peaks of prosperity.” Such were the ominous words of Jack Hall, just after the monumental strike of stevedores had concluded. No, he insisted, “Hawaii has reached the stage of chronic unemployment—chronic unemployment of an alarming degree.” The island paradise was “already worse off than any state in the union,” with the “prospect of one worker in four being without a job.” The vaunted sugar industry was slated to produce in 1949 nearly one million tons...

  16. CHAPTER 12 Strife and Strikes
    (pp. 214-233)

    When the House Un-American Activities Committee arrived in Honolulu in April 1950, this investigative body was not greeted with unanimous applause. The tumultuous hearings they held concerned explicitly “Communist Activities in the Territory of Hawaii,” which meant an intense focus on the ILWU, which only recently had exhibited its strength. The hearings unfolded at the fabled ‘Iolani Palace, once the seat of power of the now deposed monarchy, overthrown not so long ago by subversion and conspiracy—which was now the charge leveled at the radical Left.

    John Reinecke’s recollection decades later is difficult to dispute. More than a quarter...

  17. CHAPTER 13 Radicalism on Trial
    (pp. 234-254)

    Philip Maxwell did not think highly of Jack Hall. Born in 1901, the well-compensated Maxwell, in his role as chief negotiator for the Big Five, often butted heads with Hall. During the same morning that Koji Ariyoshi was detained, Maxwell was looking forward to wrapping up sensitive negotiations with Hall—but then the top ILWU leader was taken into custody too. “We’d been up negotiating all night the morning he got arrested,” said Maxwell. “The FBI was waiting down in the lobby of the [Alexander] Young Hotel,” waiting to pounce. Not soused, Hall strolled downstairs, confident in the knowledge that...

  18. CHAPTER 14 The Trials of Racism and Radicalism
    (pp. 255-274)

    Neither time—nor racism—stood still as the Smith Act trial hurtled toward conclusion. Or so thought Frank Marshall Davis. As Richard Gladstein and his colleagues were busily filing pretrial motions in the summer of 1952, the stocky journalist—now well settled in Honolulu—continued to complain about island racism. Though he counted only 1,000 African-Americans in the isles, there were persistent “efforts by certain influential elements to keep Negroes out of Hawaii.”¹

    More than this, Davis felt that the rich ethnic stew that was Hawai‘i had led to a bewildering array of tensions that soared far beyond the black-white...

  19. CHAPTER 15 Upheaval
    (pp. 275-293)

    It was a blowout by the Democrats. It was November 1954, the first election in Hawai‘i after the Smith Act convictions and its aftermath, when the anti communist declaration was underlined that Moscow controlled the CP, which in turn controlled the ILWU, which controlled the Democratic Party—and therefore meant that it too was directed from the Kremlin. Yet despite this propaganda barrage, it was during this election that the Democrats established a stranglehold over Hawai‘i’s politics that has continued to this very moment, in stark defiance of the local elite. Correspondingly, the GOP was the big loser in 1954...

  20. CHAPTER 16 Radicals Advance—and Retreat
    (pp. 294-312)

    It was early December 1956, and as was their wont, a goodly number of US legislators and their staffs escaped the chilly weather on the mainland for the expected pleasurable warmth of Hawai‘i. “Investigating Hawaii seems to have [become] a racket,” growled Ray Jerome Baker. “Every time some Congress[man] wants an excuse to take a trip,” said the increasingly exasperated leftist, he “get[s] on some committee to investigate Hawaii.”¹

    In that spirit, instead of being greeted by swaying and smiling hula dancers eager to drape leis around their pasty necks, these visitors were met at ‘Iolani Palace—former headquarters of...

  21. CHAPTER 17 Toward Statehood
    (pp. 313-336)

    Jack Hall was barefoot and relaxed. His hair was closely cropped, and he had lost a few pounds, which was evident in the way he filled out his shirt and pants. Charles Fujimoto, on the other hand, looked about 20 pounds heavier; perhaps this was due to the enforced sitting that came with his newest initiative: running a small television and radio repair business. He was accompanied by his spouse, Eileen, now a secretary at the ILWU. Jack Kimoto was there too, still cricket slim, still blinking his eyes rapidly when he talked. Dwight Freeman was espied, now doing well...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 337-424)
  23. Index
    (pp. 425-460)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 461-464)