Thursday, August 01, 2013

Class War in Pacific Islands

HAWAII is a faraway place I'd associate with fantastic holidays, hula skirts, ukuleles and a long gone TV police series, naturally more blue sky than film noire. Apart from its being the only US state with a union jack in its flag, I've little idea of its history from the death of Captain Cook in a fight to the attack on Pearl Harbour, and more recently the birth of Barack Obama.

Happy the nation without history, as someone said, but thanks to a Facebook page called Bread and Roses, I learn that on this day 75 years ago a place called Hilo in Hawaii took its place in both Pacific island and US labour history.

"The 'HILO MASSACRE' occurred on August 1, 1938, in Hilo, Hawaii, when over 70 police officers attempted to disband 200 unarmed protesters during a dock strike, and injured 50 of the demonstrators. The strike leading to the Hilo Massacre was a multi-ethnic, multi-union mass effort that began on February 4, 1938. The unions involved were the Honolulu Waterfront Workers’ Association, the Inland Boatmen’s Union (IBU), the International Longshoremen and Warehousmen’s Union (ILWU), the Metal Trades Council, the Quarryworkers International Union of North America and the Women's Auxiliary of the ILWU.

"Workers demanded wages equal to what workers on the West Coast earned, among other demands. On the other side was the Inter-Island Steamship Company, owned by one of the “Big Five” companies that dominated Hawaii’s economic and political scene at that time—Castle & Cooke, and by the Matson Navigation Company.

"The Inter-Island Steamship Company refused the workers’ demands, leading to a strike at the port where the SS Waialeale, crewed by scabs, was to arrive. About 170-180 workers were on the docks when police opened fire with shotguns on the unarmed strikers. The 50 workers injured included two women and two children.

"We remember".

For more on the massacre, including video footage:

...And now in Fiji

Coming up to date, and in another "island paradise", part of the British Commonwealth
Fijian sugar workers have voted to on strike, as reported by Radio Australia.

Fiji sugar workers vote to strike despite 'intimidation' (Credit: ABC)
Their union says attempts were made by to intimidate the union with police and military officers present at the polling places, and threats from management to forward the names of those participating in the ballot to the coup installed military government.

67.5 per cent of the membership voted, of which 90% voted in favour of strike action, which fulfils the legal requirement for strike action.
Sugar is vital to Fiji's economy, and the interim government is reported to have said the mills will be kept open despite a strike. That sets the stage for a potential showdown between the interim government and the trade union movement.
Sugar and General Workers Union General Secretary, Felix Anthony, says the Fiji Sugar Corporation and the interim government went to great lengths to stop workers participating in the strike vote.
Radio Australia has approached the interim government and the Fiji Sugar Corporation to comment, but neither has responded so far.

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