Jack Hall

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Jack Hall

Jack Hall (1915-1971) was director of organization for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and one of its two vice presidents when a stroke killed him in 1971 at age 55 in San Francisco[1].

But it was not what he had done during the previous 18 months in the drafty, run-down headquarters presided over by the legendary Harry Bridges that made Hall extraordinary.

Rather, it was what he had done before that in Hawaii where he served for more than a quarter-century as the ILWU's regional director -- the key leader in bringing industrial democracy to Hawaii, in transforming Hawaii from virtually a feudalistic territory controlled by a few huge financial interests into a modern pluralistic state in which workers and their unions have a major voice.

Early life/career

Hall, the son of a miner, had signed on as a merchant seaman -immediately after graduating from a Southern California high school in 1932. He landed in Hawaii four years later, a tall, skinny 22-year-old whose "glimpses of incredible poverty in the Far East had sickened and angered him" and, he later recalled, "determined which side of the fence I was on." Striking longshoremen at Port Allen had asked the Sailors Union for help, and the union sent Hall[2].

He applied lessons he had learned while taking part in the waterfront strike led three years earlier in San Francisco by Bridges, quickly emerging as a leader in getting the Hawaiian longshoremen at least some measure of the union recognition that had been won in San Francisco and other West Coast ports in 1934. He was a principal leader, too, in the later attempts by the ILWU to organize the sugar and pineapple plantations that dominated Hawaii's economy.

ILWU and political work

The ILWU won its first victory in 1938 - a union contract at a pineapple plantation on Kauai. But the crucial breakthrough came later that year when the ILWU formed a political organization, the Kauai Progressive League, to elect a pro-labor candidate to the Territorial Senate.

More victories in other elections followed, and by 1944 the League became so strong Hall was able to write and lobby through the Legislature a "Little Wagner Act." It granted Hawaii's farmworkers the formal rights to unionization that are guaranteed most non-agricultural workers under the federal Wagner Act but still denied most farmworkers outside the islands.

The ILWU followed the victory with a massive organizing drive, but was tested almost immediately, in 1946, when it waged a 79-day strike to demand union contracts from sugar plantation owners. Similar showdowns came in 1947 for pineapple workers and in 1949 for longshoremen. The struggle was often brutal. Several organizers were beaten and there was an attempt on Hall's life. But the ILWU came through it all intact and strengthened.

The union's political muscles also grew -- so much so that, in 1946, Hall and his colleagues led an election campaign that broke 50 consecutive years of Republican control in Hawaii's legislature[3].

Hall served as Hawaii Regional Director until 1969 and ILWU International Vice President and Director of Organizing until his death in 1971. Hall is recognized as one of the leaders who helped build the ILWU in Hawaii.[4]

Hawaii 7

The Federal Government charged Hall of conspiring with six other officers of the Hawaiian Communist Party USA with violating the Smith Act by advocating, "the overthrow of the government by force and violence."

Hall refused to answer specific questions about Communist Party membership, spoke proudly of his youthful radicalism, discussed his later belief that "socialism isn't practical" - and was found guilty along with the six others in 1953, fined $5,000 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment, the maximum penalty under the law. Hall remained free while ILWU members conducted an intensive -- and expensive -- campaign to overturn the conviction. Finally, five years later, the U.S. Supreme Court granted their appeal, agreeing that Hall's constitutional rights had been violated[5].

ILWU/Democratic party alliance

Never again was Hall's standing or that of the union seriously challenged. The ILWU assumed a commanding position in Hawaii's economic life. And it became the most important political force in the islands, forming a coalition with the Democratic Party that gave the union much influence in the new state's political life[6].

It was a rare politician who was elected without ILWU backing and, as a consequence, the government and legislative programs in Hawaii became among the most worker-oriented and progressive anywhere in the fields of health, education, welfare, labor and social services. The state's political leadership became the most racially and ethnically mixed in the world.

"Respectability"

Hall became a highly prominent figure in civic as well as economic and political affairs. He was appointed to the Honolulu Police Commission and other mayoral and gubernatorial bodies and led Community Chest, United Fund and similar activities[7].

References