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Workers demanded higher wages while still watering the sugar cane during 1958 'Aloha Strike'

Harry Bridges
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Harry Bridges, third from left, leads members of the International Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union in protest against a Senate Internal Security subcommittee hearing in Honolulu, Jan. 31, 1957. The longshoremen expressed their displeasure by calling for a one-day strike that shut down island ports and many sugar and pineapple plantations. (AP Photo/Honolulu Star-Bulletin)

Sixty-five years ago this month, local union leaders warned that sugar workers needed a “substantial” wage increase because of the rising cost of living in what was still the territory of Hawaiʻi.

In February 1958, nearly 14,000 sugar workers went on strike.

As part of a continuing partnership with the University of Hawaiʻi at Manōa Center for Oral History, we bring you the voice of a union worker remembering that strike.

It was called the “Aloha Strike” because not only was it nonviolent, but workers made sure the sugar cane was watered and that the plants stayed alive during the 128-day strike.

Guy Fujimura was Secretary-Treasurer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

“1958 sugar strike, survival is not an issue. It's called aloha strike because thatʻs the one that the workers were sent back to the fields to irrigate the cane, right," Fujimura said. "After the strike, lūʻaus were held and management was invited. You know, it wasn't acrimonious, so it kind of shows a couple things in my mind — and I cannot prove this — is that in the plantation community, it's no longer clear by 1958 that management is white. It's not the luna on the horse with the bullwhip, right? That there have been local people who have moved up into lower management and maybe mid-management, so management has accepted the union.

"The union is respected and they're no longer trying to destroy unions. In fact, in a lot of ways after that, the union and the company become partners if they're going to survive the industry,” he said.

This collaboration is supported by the SHARP Initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Council of Learned Societies.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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