Waipahu Plantation strike
The Waipahu Plantation strike of 1906 was one of the earliest collective labor actions in the face of state intervention and sugar industry bosses. Its success demonstrated the value of collective action and laid the foundation for “blood unionism,” labor unions based on ethnic identity.
Between 1850 and 1920, more than 300,000 Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Korean laborers were brought to Hawaii as contract laborers to raise “king sugar” for low wages on American plantations run by companies such as the Oahu Sugar Company. When the company was founded in 1897, its 943 fieldworkers earned an average of $12.50 a month. By 1900, there were more than 60,000 Japanese in the islands, the largest single ethnic group, composing about 40 percent of the population. Nevertheless, almost all supervisory positions were held by whites. In 1900, the Organic Act established Hawaii as a territory of the United States, at the same time abolishing the contract labor system, though workers sometimes had to resort to violent confrontations or strikes to win this new right. In response, in 1901, the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association agreed to fix wages at an artificially low level and continued to utilize loopholes to continue certain provisions of the old labor contracts. After years of heightened tensions, in 1906, 1,700 Japanese laborers struck against the Waipahu Plantation, demanding higher wages. Fortyseven armed policemen were called in to intimidate the strikers. Despite the show of force, the Japanese laborers stood firm, eventually winning concessions.