Write up of the Fifth Annual LaborFest Hawaii by Vice President Dave Carr:
William Puette, Director of the Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR) presented on CLEAR resources and an overview of Hawaii labor history. He began by telling the audience about the CLEAR archive on the University of Hawaii West Oahu campus. The Center has an award winning archive of primary sources from just about every union that has ever existed in Hawaii, including many rare island labor newspapers and sources. These are available to the general public, who were also invited to contribute labor related materials to the archive. Puette covered issues of union density in Hawaii, nationally, and globally, and then talked about the demographics of labor in Hawaii. One theme was the way in which planters and bosses have used ethnicity as a dividing line to prevent cross-ethnic class solidarity. He also talked about the language of labor contracts, which were couched in “master-servant” terminology that characterized labor as closer to slavery than workers, especially for early indentured contract laborers.
Katherine Isaac, of the American Postal Workers Union came from Washington D.C. to present. She outlined some of the early attempts to form a labor party in the United States. Her talk also focussed on current campaigns she coordinated with the APWU. “A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service” is pushing back against the conservative attack on the USPS. Since the passing of the “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act” of 2006, the USPS has been forced to do what no other private company or government agency has and “prefund” its pension fund for the next 75 years. With this requirement, privatization vultures have been able to claim that the pension fund is in crisis, and argue for rescuing the postal service via privatization schemes that include handing it off in part to Staples and other companies. Isaac and the current APWU leaders are pushing the other way, explaining that the postal services should be a place where public services are offered, including Postal Banking. The Postal Banking campaign could free many working class and poor people from predatory pay-day loan companies, and even from regular bank charges like over-drafts, that add up to billions of dollars a year gouged from workers.
Asami Kobayashi gave a powerful personal account of her student organizing, reaching out to and educating college students, some of whom can be politically unaware or apathetic. She thanked the older folks who had stepped in to mentor her and a cadre of young activists, showing them some of the political ropes, but also simply believing in the younger generation of “millennial” activists. She thanked her close friends for their inspiration and giving her the strength to engage in sometimes difficult aspects of organizing. She also indicated a deep concern for the most vulnerable among the working class, indicating this was the place to start from a bottom up form of organizing for the future.
Kauai activist Ray Catania gave his by now well known rabble rousing call on behalf of the working class, as he calls us “the most important class in the world.” He gave a report back on his ongoing organizing around the “Fight For 15” campaign. He noted the failure of many in the Democratic Party (with a few exceptions) to even pretend to stand up for workers. As Catania describes it, the focus for many Democratic politicians is much more about promoting Chamber of Commerce schemes and fantasies about entrepreneurship. The threat of bankrupting small businesses is constantly trotted out to squash demands for a living wage, or even a lowly $15 wage, which would still be unlivable for many in Hawaii which has one of the highest costs of living, food, fuel, housing, etc. in the country.
We will announce when this year’s event will be available on ῾Ōlelo Public Access, and we’ll put it up on youtube shortly after that.
We’d like to thank our sponsors: Ah Quon McElrath Fund for Economic and Social Justice, AIKEA; Center for Labor Education & Research; Dr. Linda Carr; Hawai’i Peoples’ Fund; Hawai’i State AFL-CIO; Pride@work Hawai’i, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 665 (IATSE) International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 142 (ILWU), The Musicians’ Association of Hawaii, UNITE HERE Local 5, ‘Ōlelo Community Media