In Hawai’i, as elsewhere, public unions are under attack. Teachers are threatened with unrealistic performance assessments designed to characterize public education as a “failure” and to usher in a wave of privatization and charter schools in a union-free environment. Hotel workers have been told to work faster and do more with no pay raises by employers who make billions off the labor of their global workforce. Non-unionized workers are also continually attacked. Big box stores like Walmart pay their employees wages that leave them needing public assistance for healthcare and even food.
But teachers fought back and won some, if not all of their demands. An island-wide work-to-rule campaign brought an outpouring of student and community support and pushed the state into signing a contract after much delay. Hotel workers brought the Hyatt Corporation to the table and won important demands. The rank and file, ahead of any leadership from the union, brought about the first effort. Local 5 UNITE HERE led the second in a nation wide campaign. Also, Walmart employees in Hawaii are part of organizing efforts designed to empower them and make space for worker demands, and possibly even union organizing, where previously there was none.
The general trend for working people over the last four decades has been falling wages, slashed pensions, and decreased job security. What’s happening? As profits become harder to find, the owning class must move to reclaim portions of the total wealth that had been secured by workers for things like healthcare, decent wages and pensions, and other forms of basic social infrastructure. As capitalism experiences ongoing crises, we are told we have to “share the pain” by sacrificing the gains made by workers in the 20th century. But this is nothing more than a reversal of workers’ victories that had eliminated some of the worst inequities of the system. Even this is now seen as too much, and austerity is the solution being crammed down our throats. Rather than workers striving to bring everyone up to a more dignified life, we are told that we should tear down anyone who is making it, since they are allegedly taking more than their share.
LaborFest Hawai’i supports the effective waging of class struggle. We look at the history of Hawai’i and see cross-ethnic working class solidarity, on the docks, on the plantations, at hotels, in the classrooms, and we see many incredible victories. We see unions and working people who stood up to racism, against near apartheid conditions in some cases, and against the stranglehold of the Big Five companies who thought their oligarchy would never end.
LaborFest Hawai’i is a celebration of that history, but also a coming together of workers, unionized and non, to learn, teach, communicate, agitate, and strategize. There are many different types of events that happen at LaborFests. These include historical walking tours, movie showings, author presentations, discussion panels, culturally oriented labor-focused events, plays, art and music events, and more. The most important aspect of any LaborFest is the participation and creative genius of local working people.
Given the worsening conditions for working people, and the erosion of our economic and social gains, we want to be one place where CLASS is the center of struggle, a uniting identity based in daily shared experience of all working people to fight for what is ours.