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The Early Struggles and Successes of the Labor Rights Movement in Hawaiʻi

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You’ve heard Hawaiʻi’s got a tough environment for business. Some of that is red tape, but some of that is what has made Hawai’i a livable place for everyday workers. Protections like health care for full-time employees are not available everywhere. Securing rights for workers is part of a noble legacy in the islands.

Our story starts on Hawaiʻi Island. Attorney and lawmaker Dwight Takamine was born and raised in Honokaʻa. A graduate of Honokaʻa High and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Richardson School of Law, Takamine represented his district for 26 years in the state House and Senate. He picked up the mantle from his father, Yoshito Takamine.

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Noe Tanigawa
Dwight Takamine

The senior Takamine was elected to the House when Hawaiʻi was still a territory. In 1958 he went on to represent his district until 1984. In that time, Yoshito Takamine helped establish a bedrock of worker protections, including Hawaiʻi’s prepaid health care act.

Dwight Takamine is remembered for his fight to transition jobs and people when sugar ended on the Hamakua coast in the 1980s and '90s. He was Hawaiʻi’s labor director coming out of the last economic recession. He began his legal career at a legendary law firm in Honolulu, Bouslog and Symonds, that championed civil rights and the rights of workers at a time when sands were shifting under Hawaiʻi’s powerful plantation owners.

This interview aired on The Aloha Friday Conversation on Sept. 10, 2021.

Noe Tanigawa covers art, culture and ideas for Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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