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Hawaii in the 1950s


Eisenhower
Eisenhower

The end of the war brought dramatic social, political, and economic change to Hawaii. Among the factors driving the change were the growing power of the labor union movement and a decrease of racial prejudice, inspired by the bravery of Japanese American soldiers in the war. Both helped create a stronger Democratic Party to challenge the white, business-dominated Republican Party that had ruled since the 1890s.

The labor movement, which began organizing in Hawaii in the late 1930s, became a strong force soon after the war’s end, challenging the wealthy business elite. Led by the confrontational International Longshore Workers Union, the labor movement organized tens of thousands of dock workers and predominantly Asian farm laborers.

Through negotiations and major strikes in 1946, 1949, and 1958, the unions succeeded in abolishing the so-called perquisite system on the pineapple and sugar plantations. Under the perquisite system, plantation owners supplied their workers with such basic necessities as housing, medical care, and, in some instances, food, but paid them very low wages. Largely as a result of union activities, the wages of plantation and dock workers increased several times over in the 1940s and 1950s, and tensions between the employers and unions gave way to labor stability as well as an increased standard of living for workers. The Democratic Party increased in influence in the 1940s and 1950s, building a coalition of union members, Asian Americans, and war veterans, especially the Japanese Americans who had won recognition for their heroism.

Most of the children and grandchildren of immigrants from Asia did not identify with the elite Republican Party. The Japanese (37 percent of Hawaii’s people), Hawaiians and part-Hawaiians (nearly 20 percent), and Filipinos (12 percent) leaned strongly toward the Democratic Party. The Chinese (7 percent of the population) were less willing to commit themselves to a party label, but the younger Chinese actively entering politics were predominantly Democratic.

By the mid-1950s, while the Republican Party under Dwight D. Eisenhower recaptured the presidency for the first time in 20 years, Democrats in Hawaii were assuming power. They were led by John A. “Jack” Burns, a former Honolulu policeman, who won a landslide victory in 1956 to be the Hawaiian territory’s delegate to Congress. Democrats also won strong majorities in both the territorial Senate and its House of Representatives. From that time, Hawaii became one of the most Democratic voting areas in the United States. Between 1950 and 1960, Hawaii’s population rose from 499,794 to 632,772.

The growth occurred almost entirely on Oahu, as immigrants arrived from the mainland and other islands; Oahu also attracted most of the increased investment. The 1950s saw Hawaii develop a large-scale tourist industry and a larger, more diverse manufacturing sector that included cement plants and food processing. Increased federal expenditures also stimulated the economy. "Hawaii" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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