Center for Labor Education & Research, University of Hawaii - West Oahu: Honolulu Record Digitization Project

Honolulu Record, Volume 10 No. 42, Thursday, May 15, 1958 p. 3


They had no Union in 1909

Japanese Workers Struck For Equal Pay For Equal Work

From May 9 to Aug. 4, 1909, some 7,000 Japanese workers were involved in a strike against sugar plantations on Oahu.

They struck for wages and conditions equal to those of the Portuguese, Puerto Rican and other sugar workers who were receiving $1 a day and more while the Japanese, doing the same work, were being paid $18 for 26 days.
Before the strike, the discrimination of the sugar companies against the Japanese had forced them to organize on each plantation, and each unit maintained contact with the Japanese Higher Wage Assn. in Honolulu. The loaders of the association were newspapermen, hotelkeepers and others from the Japanese community.
HSPA Refused

The largest newspaper in Honolulu" was the Evening Bulletin, edited by Wallace Rider Farrington. It covered the strike with vigor and prejudice. Seen through its columns, this is how the strike went:

On May 10, 1909, the Bulletin reported the Japanese said "this strike is brought about because the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Assn. refused to acknowledge receipt of their letters." In an editorial, the Bulletin said "this situation (must be resisted) to the last ditch the last to feel the pinch will be the capitalist."

On May 11, Castle and Cooke and Alexander and Baldwin were confident the strike, which started at Oahu plantation (Aiea), would not spread. The Bulletin called the strikers "misguided workmen who are being cheated and made the tools of selfish agitators."

On May 12, the Japanese workers at Waipahu had struck. With their Aiea brothers, they deposited $4,000 in the Yokohama Specie Bank and set up headquarters with a soup kitchen in Aala Lane in Honolulu.

The Demand

In letters to the plantation managers, the strikers said their labor "contributed to the growth of the rich industry," and they asked for a "pay increase of $8.00 per month of 26 working days worked, and the work day to be limited to 10 hours with overtime at 15 cents, and double-time on Sundays."
The managers refused to discuss the letters until the men returned to work. The Bulletin said, "This is a question of the Bludgeon vs. Decency, the Grafting Agitator vs. the Honest Workingman."

On May 14, the Japanese at Ewa struck, making a total of "5,200 men on strike." The Bulletin claimed that "a larger number of Japanese workmen on our sugar plantations are receiving more than $18.00 a month, than are less."

The Bulletin called for "a terse, pointed statement by the HSPA (which) should clearly put before the people, of the islands the facts in regard to wages. A declaration of this sort will unify the sentiments of all classes."

On May 15, the strike leaders issued this statement at a mass meeting: "The greatness of the planters and their control of financial affairs should not be considered as a stumbling block in fighting for our just rights . . . Victory can be won as long as we stick together fearlessly and patiently. Let us, however, respect the laws of the land in which we live..."
One speaker said: "They are paying better wages to other nationalities and are holding down the wages of the Japanese because they are Japanese. This is what I call unjust."
On May 15, the Bulletin reported, that "labor hustlers are. at work in the city." Strike breakers were sent by train to the plantations. They scabbed for $1.50 a day and were paid on the train when homeward bound at night. HRT ran special street cars from Kalihi and Waikiki to handle the scabs.

Scabbing “Great Joy”

The Bulletin also said that "the plantations are not opposed to a general readjustment of the wage system, but not one step will be taken until . . . the attempt to run the sugar industry from the office of Japanese agents and shyster lawyers in Honolulu has been brought to a showdown."

On May 17, the Bulletin pressed again for a statement from the HSPA so that "the community should be set right." It said so many strike breakers were seeking work that "cattle cars were requisitioned."

It ran a feature story headed, "Strike Breaking Is Great Joy," and said that the mobs at the train depot were handled by Royal D. Meade of the HSPA, aided by sons of Big Five families. "Meade placed his men all right," the Bulletin said. "They were real huskies, too. Two Walker boys, Frank Armstrong and George Fuller, and Jimmy Robertson to lend dignity to the occasion. Then there was Arthur McDuffie on the side, Harry Flint, and a big Hawaiian plainclothes man as big as a house."
By May 22, some 3,000 strikers were being cared for by the Japanese Higher Wage Assn. in Honolulu. The four leading Japanese hotels were full and many strikers lived in private homes. The association bought 2,500 bags of rice, plus, "several hundred tubs of soy." Some of it was donated by merchants. The strikers had $30,-000 in reserve Japanese doctors were "giving free attendance." Hawaiian Fisheries, Ltd. gave out free fish.

Chinese Complain

By May 24, the Hawaiian and Chinese scabs were having trouble, the Chinese claiming they were being discriminated against. Police used clubs at the depot. The Bulletin noted that the "strike breakers were patronizing only white and Chinese merchants." The HSPA summoned plantation managers from all islands to a conference in Honolulu.

On May 25, Japanese workers met at Wailuku and formed a Maui branch of the Higher Wage Assn. and sent "500 to the Oahu strikers, with more to come."

Oh May 26, the HSPA, after meeting with the managers, stated, "It is the sense of this meeting that the plantations make no concessions to the striking employes in the nature of increased compensation."

HSPA Propaganda

On May 27, the Bulletin editorialized that, "Sugar plantation men will have to recognize the importance of public opinion, and the necessity for supplying the people with the facts . . . The day of the transient laborer is passed. The conditions are shaping themselves so that there is a greater community of capital and labor interest . . . There will be more Americanism and less feudalism in the sugar industry."

On May 28, evidently the Bulletin's stand bore fruit. E. D. Tehney, Castle and Cooke manager, speaking re Ewa plantation said:

"The Ewa labor statement for April shows the average earnings for that month were $23.16 for each 26 days labor performed . . . On April 30, there were 2,075 Japanese on the payroll. Of this number, 291 were working at the $1800 rate."

On May 28, Yasutaro Soga, editor of the Nippu Jiji, and a leader of the Higher Wage Assn., was indicted on a "disorderly person" charge for "publishing certain inflammatory articles in his paper, which are supposed to have been largely responsible for the strike."

On June 1, Tenney issued another statement which claimed that "the average wage earned per month of 26 days by all Japanese men, women and children employed at Ewa was $23.16. In 1907 it was $18.31 and in 1908, $21.01."

On June 2, the Bulletin said Soga's trial had been postponed until September. The Retail Merchants Assn. donated $1,000 to the strikers and said it "will continue to give its financial support." On Molokai, 150 Japanese workers donated $400 and "stood ready" to help more. Japanese all over were with the strikers. For example, "about 80 barbers in Honolulu are determined to see the strikers win their victory."

On June 12, "Makino, Negoro, Soga, Tasaka and Kawamura, the five principal strike leaders, were this morning arrested on warrants charging them with conspiracy and being disorderly persons," the ' Bulletin reported. Frederick Makino, a drug store operator who later published the Hawaii Hochi, was clapped in jail. The High Sheriff blasted open his private safe and seized "papers and documents." The others were released on bonds.

More Next Week

The 13,800 sugar workers now in their 104th day of the current strike have their roots in the struggles of the past. The strike front is solid. This is the first part of a two-part series on the 1909 strike written from information taken out of the Evening-Bulletin's 1909 issues. The facts show clearly that in 1909 the sugar workers did not have a union, that they were divided and not welded together into a multi-racial union like the ILWU, and they lacked the present-day experience. Today's sugar workers have benefited from the experiences of the past.

p /> I do not say that at odd hours a patient must be given the regular hot dinner or supper. Few people would expect this.
But what is so complicated about opening and heating a can of soup, making some toast, or preparing instant coffee or tea? Why cannot a night nurse do these simple things after the kitchen to closed? Is it just too much trouble?

It is only common humanity to feed the hungry. If our hospitals are too big, too complex, too impersonal to do these small kindnesses for the sick, something is very wrong.