Here’s to a Happy Labor Day for all. What will you be doing today?
When you think of Labor Day a number of things typically come to mind: the end of summer, the start of NFL season, backyard barbecues, one last hurrah at the beach—that is if you lived somewhere other than Hawaii and the beach wasn’t always warm—and a nice, relaxing day off with friends and family. Many times we take for granted the holiday and forget the reasons why we even celebrate certain days. A couple weeks ago, Misty and I even looked at each other and asked, “Why do we celebrate Labor Day, exactly?”
Well, the roots of Labor Day in the U.S. have strong foundations in the labor movements of the late 19th century. The Department of Labor describes today as “a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
Living in Hawai’i, we are all well aware of the strong presence that unions have here within the state. Good or bad, you cannot deny that a high percentage of workers (in comparison to the national average) are members of some form of labor organization. A lot of this has to do with the strong labor movements in Hawai’i which transformed the socioeconomic culture of the islands from one of a corporate oligarchy to the progressive labor market we have today. Jack Hall, Art Rutledge, Walter Kupau…these are just a handful of names that bear great significance to the many existing unions in Hawaii.
In celebration of this day, instead of the usual “beaches to go/food to eat” kind of things you might read I thought it’d be fun to provide readers with a list of books you can peruse to give you an idea about what it was like to be a worker in the 19th century. A list which can direct you on where to learn all about the importance of Hawai’i’s own labor movements and on whose backs we have the privilege of celebrating this holiday.
Labor Day Reading List
- Rutledge Unionism: Labor Relations in the Honolulu Transit Industry by Bernard W. Stern (UH Press, 1986)
- A Spark is Struck! by Sanford Zalburg (2nd Edition, Watermark Publishing, 2007)
- Reworking Race: The Making of Hawaii’s Interracial Labor Movement by Moon-Kie Jung (Columbia University Press, 2006)
- Aupuni i Lā’au: A History of Hawai’i’s Carpenters Union Local 75 by Edward D. Beechert (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, Center for Labor Education & Research, 1993).
- Working in Hawaii: A Labor History by Edward D. Beechert (University of Hawai’i Press, 1985)
- Ben: A Memoir, From Street Kid to Governor by Benjamin J. Cayetano (Watermark Publishing, 2009)
I included Ben in this list, not because he was a great leader of labor (I’m sure some union leaders will chuckle at this statement), but because as Governor of Hawaii he had many run-ins with unions during his tenure. Still, this is just a tiny sample of the great wealth of books on labor we have here in Hawai’i. When doing my research, I discovered this awesome recommended books list created by the Center for Labor Education & Research at the University of Hawai’i – West O’ahu which influenced the majority of my picks. Even more awesome is that many of these links actually lead to full text versions of the entire book! Visit their site to see their much more extensive list, Hawai’i Labor History: Recommended Reading.
So, has anyone read any of these books and if so, did they provide any great insights as to the labor movements here in Hawai’i? Oh, and of course, I hope you and everyone in your family have a safe and relaxing Labor Day!