In 1949, the Dept of Labor, with the help of the AFL and the British and Dutch labor unions started a new international union called the International Congress of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) to confront the communist influenced World Federations of Trade Unions (WFTU), in what a 1951 Business Week article refers to as the “Battle of the Ports.”
The CIO left the WFTU under acrimonious terms, and the WFTU took this up with the United Nations as an assault on the principles of peace and cooperation laid out by the UN. This might not seem so significant to Hawaii’s statehood, but when you consider that the ILWU, under Harry Bridge’s leadership, remained with the WFTU despite efforts by the both the CIO and the Dept. of Labor to bring them back into CIO, and thus add to ICFTU membership and reputation, the challenge for the United States became one of national security.
Shortly after 1946, when the United Nations Charter was ratified and a call for the independence of territories was declared, a split occurred between the USSR who was supporting independence efforts in the territories and the old Administering Powers, the colonizer countries: England, Holland, Belgium, and France who sought to maintain control in their territories. The United States played a special role in that they supported the old Administering Powers, but they also, from a Public Relations perspective, wanted to appeal to the territories as the model country for freedom, opportunity and democracy and support independence only insofar as to maintain the old colonial structures. History has shown the United States has often and repeatedly failed at maintaining this “puppet-regime” structure as we have seen with most of the independence struggles that took place after 1946, specifically with Vietnam, Greece, Algeria, etc… as these countries won and attained independence. Central to these struggles were ports, waterways and airfields, places where both weapons and propaganda entered into the countries. These ports and places of transport were mostly run by the unions, and by 1948, it became clear that the soviet-influenced WFTU threatened the security of the territories held by the Administering Powers. Why the United States performed this role, we will address at another time, but suffice to say that the U.S. assertion of the Marshall Plan occurring at this time, played a central role in the maintaining of these old colonial structures. Speculatively, it is through the Marshall Plan that the United State’s particular form of capitalism and influence spread, and it is through the destabilization efforts at the port fronts and waterways that most benefited the nationalist unions like the AFL, and brought the CIO into it’s fray. Although there are many other, better documents that portray the confrontational relationship between the ILWU and WFTU and it’s fight with the CIO and the ICFTU, what is unusual about this document in today’s Statehood Countdown, is that we get a first-hand account of how the Dept. of Labor and State Department conspired to represent indigenous personnel in the International Labor Conferences at that time. As International Public Relations became more central to the position that the United States played in International Affairs, the image of indigenous leadership and cooperation in dominated territories became essential in the fight between the ICFTU and WFTU. Hawaii, as a territory, along with Alaska and Puerto Rico, had a duty to perform in these international conferences. We had to portray the model citizenry in which our indigenous peoples held reputable positions in the unions.
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July 14, 1950
To: Dan Goott,
Department of State
From: Donald E. Reid,
Department of Labor
The Department of Labor, in its relations with the territories of Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico on labor matters, treats these territories in the same manner as States. In each of these territories there is a Territorial Representative of the Department of Labor who reports to [Assistant Secretary Kaiser of] the Office of International Labor Affairs. Field offices or representatives are maintained by the Wages & Hours and Public Contracts Divisions of the U.S. Department of Labor, in all three territories and by the Bureau of Apprenticeship in Alaska and Hawaii. These are the only people and the only activities concerned with labor in the territories that are financed by Federal funds. The main function of the Territorial Representatives, the field offices and representatives is to cooperate with and assist the territorial Departments of Labor and to coordinate the activities of the Federal and territorial Departments of Labor.
Within each territory, as part of the territorial government, financed by the territorial legislature and staffed, if possible (that is, if indigenous people with necessary qualifications can be found), exclusively by territorial inhabitants. These territorial Departments of Labor are organized along lines and furnish information and services almost identical with that of the U.S. Department of Labor. The various bureaus and divisions of these territorial Departments of Labor include:
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Division of Industrial Safety
- Employment Service
- Wages & Hours (Labor Law Enforcement)
- Workmen’s Compensation
- Unemployment Compensation Women’s & Children Bureau
- Mediation & Conciliation Service
- and a legal division.
The Department of Labor of Puerto Rico also includes a Bureau of Publications and Workers Education, which has done considerable work through its publications, the use of radio and lectures in bringing labor and its problems to public. In Puerto Rico, the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner of Labor and all Bureau and Division heads are native Puerto Ricans.
Any training and education in trade unionism in these territories is done either by the territorial Departments of Labor of by the trade unions themselves. Both the AFL and CIO have affiliates and locals in all three territories and trade unionism is for all intents and purposes identical with that in the United States. Of interest, is the fact that the United States has utilized services and experience of indigenous personnel of these territories at times at International Conferences dealing with labor.
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