Filipino Migration to the U.S.

Plantation Life

A 1919 report by a Philippine investigator, Prudencio Remigio, tasked to investigate plantation conditions stated that the Filipino sakadas complained of inadequate wages, poor housing, abusive plantation foreman or luna, strict plantation police, and general isolation. Plantation work was extremely difficult since it involved planting, hoeing, and carrying sugar cane. The Ilocanos were not used to this rigid, punishing working schedule. In Ilocos, they did not have to work as many hours and were not subject to a strict system, where the luna went around with a black whip and forced them to work strenuously for so many hours. The luna was backed by a police force capable of breaking down workers' resistance.

The HSPA adopted a "divide-and -rule" policy whereby workers of different ethnicity were pitted against each other for the purpose of keeping wages down. In cases of strikes, one ethnic group would be used as scab labor to break the strike of another ethnic group. Living arrangements, job assignments, and wages were also based on ethnicity. Caucasians were higher paid, considered skilled workers, and assigned supervisory positions. The lowest paid white worker was the plantation police who earned $140 a month. In contrast, the Japanese and the Filipinos were assigned the backbreaking work in the fields. They worked at least 10 hours a day, six days a week, 27 days a month for 90 cents a day or $20/month.

Response of Workers in Hawaii

In his study of Hawaii plantations, Ronald Takaki states that the workers’ response was resistance which took several forms. Workers resorted to violence like committing arson and assaulting the luna. A subtle form of response was recalcitrance such as work slowdown, intentional laziness, and inefficiency. Workers took turns serving as lookouts for the luna while the rest stopped working, smoked, and "talked story". But Takaki notes that due to excessive fear among workers, recalcitrance was not flaunted.

Strike was another response of the workers. In 1909 Oahu witnessed the Great Strike by Japanese laborers who demanded higher wages and an end to the discriminatory wage differential based on ethnicity. To counter the strike, Filipinos were recruited to replace the vacated jobs. This marked the first massive immigration of Filipinos to Hawaii. In 1920 a larger, more organized strike occurred on Oahu, this time by Japanese and Filipino laborers demanding a wage hike and a change in the bonus system. The strike ended after a six month standoff by which time the workers received some concessions such as increased wages, abolishment of wage differentials, and changes in the bonus system. Takaki claims that the biggest gain in these strikes was the realization that "blood unionism", i.e., organizing workers into unions on the basis of ethnicity, had to be replaced by a larger, class-based solidarity as was displayed by the inter-ethnic alliance of the Japanese and Filipino laborers.

The Filipinos were organized as a result of the efforts of two Filipino labor leaders: Pablo Manlapit and Carl Damaso. In her study of Manlapit, Melinda Tria Kerkvliet claims that his leadership was displayed in the 1920 and 1924 strikes. In the 1920 strike, Manlapit believed that the Japanese and the Filipinos should be united. After the two month strike ended, Manlapit became the subject of a smear campaign by the sugar planters and he was accused of extorting money in exchange for calling off the strike. But it was the 1924 strike which proved fatal for Manlapit’s career. The strike had a tragic ending when the police and strikers clashed in Hanapepe, Kauai, resulting in the death of 20 people. Since Manlapit was at the forefront of the strike, sugar planters hounded him by filing various charges such as failure to provide adequate water closets (toilets) for the evicted strikers who were lodged temporarily in Kalihi. A conspiracy charge was filed against him after he was said to have coached a striker, Pantaleon Enayuda, to falsely claim that his (Enayuda’s) sick baby died after the Oahu Sugar Company, which managed the Waipahu hospital, ordered the removal of the baby. Manlapit was found guilty of libel and Enayuda turned witness against Manlapit for the conspiracy case. Manlapit was imprisoned and later deported from the islands.

Another prominent Filipino labor leader was Carl Damaso who came to Hawaii as a seventeen year old worker during the height of the depression in the 1930s. In 1934, he joined a strike of his fellow Filipino workers at Ola’a Sugar Plantation - also known as Puna Sugar Company - in the Big Island. The Filipinos, who made up 70% of the plantation workforce, protested the lowering of wages and the employment discrimination policy. The strike was defeated and Damaso was branded a labor agitator and placed on the list of "do not hire". He moved to Maui and found work at the Wailuku Sugar Company but was soon fired for attempting to start a union. It was after World War II that he became a prominent labor leader when he organized the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU).