Jack Wayne Hall
Upstart ledBy Peter Wagner
labor to power
He arrived in 1935, a lanky seaman in denim pants who lost no time organizing workers on the Honolulu waterfront.
It was a rocky start for Jack Wayne Hall, a militant unionist and young communist who took it on the chin as a troublemaker in a closed society controlled by the "Big Five" sugar companies.
But the tough kid from Wisconsin rose to lead a 23,000-member International Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union chapter and became a power broker in Hawaii politics.
Almost 30 years after his death, Hall's legacy of union clout at the polls continues.
"Hall was brilliant, there's no question about it," said Sanford Zalburg, former journalist and author of "A Spark Is Struck! Jack Hall & the ILWU in Hawaii." The 1979 book details Hall's rough-and-tumble beginnings and his rise to power with close friend John A. Burns.
The two men, said to be of similar temperament, met when Burns was a Honolulu police detective and Hall a frequent visitor to the Iwilei slammer. Leading an army of union voters, Hall later helped elect Burns as governor and was his close ally through three terms.
The alliance ushered in a new era in Hawaii, shifting political power from an elite Republican oligarchy to a Democratic working class.
Hall was born on Feb. 28, 1915, in Ashland, Wis. He joined the merchant marine at age 17 and decided to stay in Hawaii after a brief visit in 1932. Equipped only with a high school education, he was unintimidated by Honolulu's Ivy League power brokers.
"If you had to use just one word to describe Jack Hall, that word would be 'pragmatic,' " wrote Zalburg. "He used what he knew would work; he discarded what he knew would not. He looked things over with a cold eye."
Once a member of the Communist Party, Hall was among the "Hawaii Seven" charged with conspiring to overthrow the government. The seven were convicted after a seven-month trial in 1953 but the convictions were overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Among Hall's many proteges were the late Tommy Trask, veteran ILWU organizer, and the late Al Fraga, president of the Hawaii Employers Council.
Zalburg noted that Hall's genius was not in organizing workers but in rallying them as a political force.
"He didn't organize the ILWU, but he used their strength," said Zalburg. "He dictated their policies politically and that made it fairly easy for the Democrats to win a large share of representation in the islands."
David Trask, a former Maui legislator and executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, said Hall had a strong influence on his career as a labor leader.
"He was a damn good man," said Trask. "As strong as we are, the labor movement in Hawaii is due a lot to Jack Hall."
A week after his death at age 55, on Jan. 1, 1971, some 41,000 government workers in Hawaii ceased work for 15 minutes in tribute to Hall. Longshoremen in San Francisco and in Wilmington, Calif., closed their ports for a day.