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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Workers told it's 'crucial time'

More than 20 unions marched through Waikiki yesterday in a traditional Labor Day parade. Grand marshal Ah Quon McElrath emphasized the importance of voting this year.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Legendary labor leader Ah Quon McElrath issued a "a call to action" before a Labor Day crowd yesterday in light of local union unrest and corporate disdain toward workers.

"Unions are still the only organization that gives (workers) some power to control their working condition," McElrath said. "... The future can be yours. Seize it through solidarity and unity."

McElrath, an 86-year-old University of Hawai'i regent, helped organize the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the 1930s and cemented her status with Hawai'i unions during the sugar and dock strikes of the 1940s.

Yesterday she urged the 200 or so people gathered around the Kapi'olani Park bandstand to "preserve that which we have gained and move ahead with new ideas in light of the massive changes in our political economy."

Waving an ILWU hand fan from a convertible, McElrath was the grand marshal of the Labor Day parade, which included more than 20 Hawai'i unions. Dozens of union members rode and walked from Magic Island through Waikiki and ended at Kapi'olani Park with an old-fashioned labor rally.

The Pearl City High School band marched in the Labor Day parade in Waikiki yesterday, with more than 20 local unions. Political candidates, a military color guard and others joined in the walk to Kapi'olani Park.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

The parade featured the Pearl City High School marching band, political candidates shaking hands, a military color guard, ILWU members riding motorcycles and even a city garbage truck retrofitted with a gigantic plywood American flag.

In a reminder of the times, members of the Association of Flight Attendants near the head of the parade carried photos of the 25 flight attendants who died Sept. 11.

Gordon Lafer, an organizer for ILWU Local 142, joined nearly 200 ILWU workers and retirees who marched through the streets of Waikiki to occasional shakas and honking car horns.

"Unions have done so much for the people of Hawai'i," Lafer said. "But there is so much more to fight."

In her speech, McElrath recounted global labor history through her eyes and urged local union organizers and members to strive for better.

"The job can be done," she said. "It was done in the past. There is no reason it cannot be done again."

Beforehand, McElrath said organizers particularly needed to register union members to vote.

"It's a crucial time because of the elections," she said, "and it's a crucial time for the dockworkers and hotel workers and airline workers."

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawai'i) and Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, a Democratic candidate for governor, were more overt in speeches connecting unions to the upcoming governor's race.

Abercrombie especially mocked the positions of Republican gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle as running counter to benefits that have gone to union members for the last 50 years.

Hirono said the Democratic Party had always "stood toe to toe, side to side with labor," and expressed concern about speaking to business people who say "labor's too strong in Hawai'i."

"What we need to do is work together," Hirono said. "Labor, business, government, working together. That is the new paradigm of the 21st Century."

Jerry Kalama sat in the distance enjoying a picnic with 60 family members, unaware that a labor rally had been planned. But the union members had his support, said the Teamster, who operates heavy equipment.

"It's a good thing that we have this Labor Day," Kalama said. "People need to appreciate the working man."

The Pearl City High School marching band joined unions and political candidates in a Labor Day parade on Kalakaua Avenue through Waikiki, followed by an old-fashioned labor rally at Kapi'olani Park.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser