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

Honolulu Record, Volume 9 No. 11, Thursday, October 11, 1956 p. 5


Mrs. UPW Herself
By Amy Clarke
(Second of two articles)

1947 was a significant year in Helen Kanahele's life. That was when she met Henry Epstein, newly arrived in the Territory to organize the government workers.

After hearing him address a meeting, she became so enthusiastic that afterwards she went to him and told him she wanted to join the UPW.
"That's fine," he said. "Where do you work?"

Oh, here and there—at the moment she was working for the Democratic Party.
Well, he said, it would be better if she waited until she was working in a place that came under the union's jurisdiction.

It Took Two Years, but Helen came back. She has been a member of the UPW since she began working for the DPI, seven years ago.

And what a member! If everyone were like her, the union would have no problems.
She is active on grievance committees a dynamo when it comes to recruiting new members. In 1955 she won second prize in a Territory-wide organizing drive for signing: up the most-members into the union.

For the past four years she has been Territorial secretary-treasurer of the UPW, working tirelessly, giving her time freely to build and maintain the union.

Ill Health has slowed her down lately, but she will not give in to It.

You understand now why they call her "Mrs. UPW"?

Yet there is always room in her heart for other causes, always some strength left for a wronged brother or sister who needs help.

When the date was set for the hanging of James Majors and John Palakiko in the summer of 1951, Helen was stunned.

"All I could think of that day," she remembers, "was the Massie-Kahahawai case and how there is one kind of justice for the upper-class haoles and another kind of justice for the Hawaiians.

"I went to Harriet Bouslog and asked if she would help get the boys another chance. I knew no other lawyer would touch the case; there was no money in it and not
much hope, and a lot of hard work."

Yes, Harriet Bouslog would help. And the fact that these boys are alive today is directly due to the efforts of these two women.

The attorney worked through the night for long weeks on the endless legal papers, losing weight, suffering from lack of sleep, never giving up.

It Was A Lonely, desperate fight. Nobody seemed to care. And finally the execution was only a few days away.

Then Helen went on the radio to appeal to the community to help in the campaign, but her voice broke as her heart was breaking, and she could not finish.

Perhaps it was her grief, more than anything she could have said, that touched the listeners' conscience and brought hundreds more into the fight.

The execution was postponed.

With The Other aroused people in the Justice Committee that had been formed, Helen walked miles from house to house asking for donations to help pay for the costly defense.

"We went to the poor people, and they gave us all they had," she said. "Sometimes it was only 3 or 4 pennies.

"I remember one old haole man, he was living on welfare, and he'd been saving these pennies a long time in a can, all he had in the world. He opened the can and gave them all to me. Some of those coins had been in there so long they were moldier

In this period of stool-pigeons and timid souls, Helen's courage and her loyalty to her friends beams out like a lighthouse in the dark.

She was not afraid to testify for their good character. When some of them were on trial for violating the Smith Act. She gave one of her famous luaus for the defendants and the defense lawyers at the end of the trial.

She was not afraid to visit the seven. when they were in jail for a brief period in July 1953.

When Helen says "Brother This" and "Sister That" at union meetings, she isn't just being polite.

She has shared her food and home with people who were in need, spent hours polishing seeds and nuts for the beautiful "sheep's eye" amulets and earrings she gives to her friends.

Many times she has sat up all night sewing leis for visitors and guests.

Whenever there is a job to do that calls for sacrifice of time or hard work, Helen volunteers for it

Perhaps The Rarest thing about Helen is that in some magnetic way, when she throws herself into a campaign or a drive, others become involved before they realize what is happening.

And after all, that is the essence of good leadership—not only to work hard yourself, but to get others to pitch in willingly.

It's a good thing for the UPW that Helen became a government worker seven years ago!

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.