Prologue more to the point, tourism, broke their

Prologue of History
Until statehood, Hawaii was ruled economically by a consortium of corporations
known as the “Big Five”: C. Brewer and Co., sugar, ranching, and chemicals,
founded in 1826; Theo. H. Davies & Co., sugar, investments, insurance, and
transportation, founded in 1845; Amfac Inc. (originally H. Hackfield Inc.-a
German firm that changed its name and ownership during the anti-German sentiment
of WW I to American Factors), sugar, insurance, and land development, founded in
1849; Castle and Cooke Inc., (Dole) pineapple, food packing, and land
development, founded 1851; and Alexander and Baldwin Inc., shipping, sugar, and
pineapple, founded in 1895. This economic oligarchy ruled Hawaii with a velvet
glove and a steel grip. With members on all important corporate boards, they
controlled all major commerce, including banking, shipping, insurance, hotel
development, agriculture, utilities, and wholesale and retail merchandising.

Anyone trying to buck the system was ground to dust, finding it suddenly
impossible to do business in the islands. The Big Five were made up of the
islands’ oldest and most well-established haole families; all included
bloodlines from Hawaii’s own nobility and ali’i. They looked among themselves
for suitable husbands and wives, so breaking in from the outside even through
marriage was hardly possible. The only time they were successfully challenged
prior to statehood was when Sears, Roebuck and Co. opened a store on Oahu.

Closing ranks, the Big Five decreed that their steamships would not carry
Sears’s freight. When Sears threatened to buy its own steamship line, the Big
Five relented. In the end, statehood, and more to the point, tourism, broke
their oligarchy. After 1960 too much money was at stake for Mainland-based
corporations to ignore. Eventually the grip of the Big Five was loosened, but
they are still enormously powerful and richer than ever, though these days they
don’t control everything. Now their power is land. With only five other major
landholders, the Big Five control 65 percent of all the privately held land in

Why was the 1946 Strike so important?
Before 1946, Hawaii’s economy, politics and social structures were completely
dominated by a corporate elite known as the Big Five (Alexander & Baldwin,
American Factors, Castle & Cooke, C. Brewer, & Theo. Davies). The leaders of
these factor companies exercised absolute control over Hawaii’s plantation
workers and the majority of the islands multi-ethnic workforce. The 1946 strike
forever changed the balance of power between workers and the plantations. No
longer would living and working conditions be set unilaterally by the plantation
owners or their parent corporations. Nor was the lesson lost on the workers
outside the plantation either. As sugar workers were now successful in
challenging the plantations, so too would all the other employers often
subsidiaries of one of the Big Five now be brought to the bargaining table to
improve their wages and working conditions.

The 1946 sugar strike was monumental both in terms of the numbers of people
involved and the issues at stake. Never before had all the sugar workers of
every ethnic group joined together in the same labor organization. Previous
efforts of the workers to organize had been easily smashed because of a lack of
worker solidarity across ethnic lines. Japanese workers belonged to their own
higher wage association just as the Filipino sugar workers had their own union.

Bitter lessons were learned from the unsuccessful 1909 and 1920 Japanese strikes
and the 1920, 1924 and 1937 Filipino labor movements which failed because of
ethnic unionism. The great strike of 1946 started with a new premise of
organizing workers of all races into a single labor union. Never again would
workers be divided and conquered because of ethnic antagonism. This strategy of
ethnic solidarity was successful but it was not easy. A concerted effort to
include the concerns and issues of all Hawai’i’s workers, to communicate in
every language was necessary for the multi-ethnic union to succeed.

The legacy of the great Hawaiian sugar strike of 1946 is the success we can see
today of Hawai’i’s multi-ethnic workforce to bridge ethnic differences and build
trust based on worker solidarity. Hawai’i’s diverse workforce united in 1946 and
began for the first time to form a single working class culture, unique to

Like today, the issues of housing, medical care, pensions and wages were key
issues for the 1946 sugar workers. Previously the quality of housing, medical
care and old-age pensions depended upon the whim of individual plantations. The
1946 sugar strike negotiated new labor relations establishing these important
issues as contractual rights of workers, rather than as favors the plantations
could wield to

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