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Honolulu Lite

CHARLES MEMMINGER

Sunday, September 8, 2002


Dock strikes are
good at looming


One of the best things about living in Hawaii is that we get to pretend we are actually part of the mainland without having to endure most of the mainland's annoyances, like, chiefly, weather.

We have something in Hawaii we call "weather," but it is made up mostly of just some wind, a few clouds, rain and sunshine. That is not actual weather any more than a virgin margarita is an actual drink. Real weather, the kind they have on the mainland, involves a great deal of discomfort for the most part and sheer terror for the rest.

So, we enjoy the best aspects of being part of the United States -- security, the federal court system, stable currency and the Playboy Channel -- without suffering through weeklong blizzards, toxic railroad tank car spills, trailer parks and those scary whatchamacallits that look like giant Bugles snacks that drop out of the sky and tear up trailer parks.

Every once in a while, we get a little smug, living in the greatest place on Earth. About that time the unionized dockworkers on the West Coast, in league with their Hawaii counterparts, decide to go on strike. Suddenly we realize that, hey, we're way out here in the middle of nowhere, and most everything we take for granted, like toilet paper and margarita mix, gets to us by boat. If the dockworkers go on strike, then nothing gets loaded or unloaded onto ships because most of that stuff is really heavy, and pencil-pushing geeks occupying the air-conditioned shipping management offices couldn't lift a sack of cotton balls without throwing their backs out.

The dockworkers are threatening to go on strike right now, so many in Hawaii are going through the agonizing strike-season revelation that we are not actually part of the United States, but a lonely outpost at the mercy of longshoremen, longshorewomen and those involved in the merchant marine version of the don't-ask-don't-tell program.

When a dock strike is looming -- looming being something dock strikes are very good at -- we in Hawaii don't feel so special anymore. In fact, we feel downright betrayed. Are we second-class citizens? Would New Jerseyites stand idly by if truckers and rail carriers suddenly stopped bringing stuff into their state?

If a foreign country cut Hawaii off and blocked ships from bringing us supplies, it would be considered an act of war. When the dockworkers union does it, it's a collective-bargaining issue.

People in Hawaii should relax. First off, there probably won't be a strike. In these days of terrorism, American longshorepeople aren't going to hold Hawaii hostage just to improve their negotiating position. Especially on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which left Hawaii staggering economically for the past year.

Even if there is a strike, everything we need to maintain the lifestyle to which we've become accustomed can be flown in. Sure, a roll of toilet paper is going to cost $9.45, and you'll have to get a bank loan to buy a case of beer, but the stuff will be available. I know two things for sure: 1) These looming dock strikes should make us appreciate how hard the dockworkers work to keep us comfortable in paradise, and 2) Those scary mainland weather thingies that look like giant Bugles snacks -- I just remembered -- are called tornados.




Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com





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