Harry Kamoku

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Harry Lehua Kamoku (1905-1957) pioneered the modern trade union movement in Hawaii. In 1935, Harry organized Hilo longshoremen into the first multi-ethnic, democratic union in Hawaii. The Hilo ILWU Hall is named after Harry Kamoku.[1]

Early Life

Harry Kamoku was born in Hilo on Oct. 3, 1905, of Hawaiian-Chinese ancestry. At the age of 16, he shipped out as an apprentice seaman and became a member of Sailors Union of the Pacific. He sailed for 12 years and learned a lot about the world and about unions. Kamoku even walked the picket lines in San Francisco in 1934, when longshore workers organized themselves into a single unit on the West Coast and won an 81-day strike against the powerful ship-owners. The longshoremen built a democratic union that was run by the rank and file, and this enabled them to win a coast wide contract and a union-run hiring hall which put an end to discriminatory hiring. At that time the ILWU was Pacific Coast District 38 of the International Longshoremen's Association which was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Harry returned to Hilo to work as a longshoreman and to organize waterfront workers around the ILWU principles of rank and file democracy, racial unity, and industrial unionism. (Industrial unionism strives to organize all workers in a plant, establishment, or industry, regardless of their craft or skill.)[1]

Hilo Longshoremen's Association

Harry served as president of the Hilo Longshoremen's Association from 1935 to 1949 and as Territorial president of the Longshoremen's Local 136 from 1949-1950.[1]

International Longshore and Warehouse Union

Harry Kamoku, (third from right) with ILWU founder Harry Bridges (center) at the 1946 California Labor School held for ILWU leaders

In 1935, Harry organized Hilo longshoremen into the first multi-ethnic, democratic union in Hawaii.

Only two ILWU buildings are named after individuals - the Honokaa Union Building is named after Jack Hall and the Hilo ILWU Union Hall is named after Harry Kamoku. Most ILWU members have heard of Jack Hall, as many ILWU contracts have a Jack Hall holiday on either his death on January 2 or his birthday on February 28. Kamoku, on the other hand, is not as well known as Hall, but to him goes the credit of pioneering the modern trade union movement in Hawaii.[1]