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A Year: Day to Day Men: 9th of September, Solar Year 2018

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September 9, 1924 marks the day of the Battle of Hanapepe in Hawaii.

Sugarcane was introduced to Hawaii by its first inhabitants and was observed by British sailors upon arrival in 1841. Sugar quickly turned into a big business and generated rapid population growth in the islands with 337,000 people immigrating over the span of a century. By the 1840s, sugarcane plantations had a foothold in Hawaiian agriculture and market demand had increased.

By the 1920s sugarcane plantation owners had become disillusioned with both Japanese and Filipino workers and tried to get the U.S. Congress to relax restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act, hoping to bring in new Chinese workers. However, organized labor on the U.S. mainland supported the Exclusion act; so for a while militant unionism on the Hawaiian plantations was a not an issue. To oppose organized labor, the Hawaiian Territorial Legislature passed the 1919 Criminal Syndicalism Law, the Anarchistic Publication Law of 1921 and the 1923 Anti-Picketing Law.

These laws with penalties up to ten years in prison, increased the discontent of workers. The Filipinos, the dominant work force, had deep-seated grievances, being treated the most poorly. Planters claimed labor shortages but were actively seeking workers from the Philippines, only hiring illiterate workers and turning back any arrivals who could read or write, as many as one in six.

By 1922 Filipino labor activist Pablo Manlapit had organize a 13,000 member Filipino Higher Wage Movement. In 1924 it called for a strike on the island of Kaua’i demanding two dollars a day in wages and a reduction of the workday to eight hours. As previously done, the plantation owners used armed forces, the National Guard and strike-breakers to put down the strike. Workers were turned out of their homes; propaganda whipped up racism; and infiltration of the strikers’ ranks were done.

On September 9, 1924, outraged strikers seized two strike-breakers at Hanapepe and prevented them from working. The police, armed with clubs and guns, came to the union headquarters to rescue them. The Filipino strikers armed with homemade weapons and knives resisted the police. By the end of the Battle of Hanapepe, local police had shot dead nine strikers and fatally wounded seven; strikers had shot and stabbed three sheriffs to death and fatally wounded one. A total of twenty people had died in the battle.

After the battle, police rounded up all male protesters they could find; a total of 101 Filipino men were arrested. Seventy-six were brought to trial with sixty of these receiving four-year jail sentences. Pablo Manlapit was charged with subornation of perjury and was sentenced to two to ten years in prison. After a short term, he was paroled on condition that he leave Hawaii. After the 1924 strike, the labor movement in Hawaii dwindled but did not die. Manlapit returned in 1932 and started a new labor organization, including all ethnic groups. However, because of the Great Depression years, not much was accomplished besides small nuisance strikes in 1933.

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