"Know Your Class"
When Jack Hall died, flags were flown at half-staff throughout
That was 36 years ago. Yet Jack Hall, one of
It would be hard to exaggerate Jack Hall's importance. He was the primary leader in the efforts by the ILWU and others that transformed
As Former Gov. John Burns of
Hall's first job was as a sailor in 1932. He sailed to the
Hall landed in
Virtually all phases of life in the islands were controlled by five powerful holding companies, popularly known as "the Big Five," that owned the plantations. Workers, purposely segregated by race and ethnicity, lived in company housing on the plantations where they worked, bought their food and clothing in company stores there, and had little choice but to do what the bosses told them to do, at pay of less than 50 cents an hour.
The battles waged by Hall and his fellow organizers to overcome the employers' absolute domination of their workers' lives often got brutal. There were beatings, an attempt on Hall's life, and a great furor over Hall's admitted political radicalism.
At one point, Hall was convicted of "conspiring to overthrow the government by force and violence." That was thrown out by a federal court, but only after a long and costly legal battle by the ILWU.
Hall, a tough, plainspoken, hard-drinking man, talked with the workers endlessly about the obvious need for them to join closely together in a single union,. He spoke to them individually and often in meetings that were held in secret, outside the closely guarded plantations. He told the workers over and over that they could not achieve the unified strength necessary to overcome exploitation if they continued to remain apart because of racial and ethnic differences.
"Know your class," Hall told them, "and be loyal to it."
Finally, by the mid-1940s, the ILWU managed to organize workers on the plantations, as well as on
Hall helped put together a union political league that became one of the most important political forces in
Their union membership is a guarantee of economic and political rights and rewards, of dignity and self-respect and the chance to determine their own destinies, a guarantee of an effective voice on the job and in their communities. It's a guarantee of fair and equal treatment that their forbears could only imagine.
That's the remarkable legacy of Jack Hall.
Dick Meister, a San Francisco-based writer who has covered labor issues for a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com