Statehood Countdown #13 (Wilcox/Wilkins)

August 9, 2009
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One week into Statehood Hawaiiʻs “Statehood Countdown,” weʻre looking at correspondence from 1955 between J. Ernest Wilkins, Assistant Secretary of Labor and Francis O. Wilcox, Assistant Secretary of State.

Just to give some historical context, for those who’ve been keeping up with this Statehood Countdown, you might recall that the exchange between Assistant Secretary of State Wilcox and Senator Knowland took place in 1956, about 8 months after this exchange and about one month after the ILWU Local 126 held their Biennial at the Hilo Armory in Sept of 1955.

What Assistant Secretary of State of International Organization Affairs, Francis O. Wilcox is responding to is whether Hawaii and Alaska should send delegates to the next session of the International Labour Organization Conference whose subject, the Third Session of the Committee on Work on Plantations was to be discussed. This was the third international ILO session on Work on Plantations, and the outcome of these sessions was to advise the United Nations Secretary Gerneral on specific issues on Labor.

For the sake of background, the structure of the United Nations is arranged so that the Secretary General is advised by international Specialized Agencies. These agencies include, among others the World Health Organization, UNESCO, UNICEF, the International Monetary Fund, and the ILO. Within the ILO, each country would elect a tripartite committee of six delegates: two union representatives, two business representatives and two from government. In 1956, for example one of the business representatives was William McGrath, who was so astonished that the ILO was “dominated by communists,” that he wrote to Eisenhower to demand that the US, split from the ILO. At this time, the WFTU and ICFTU were the two competing international unions in the ILO.

So, back to this correspondence, in 1955, Wilcox, as we have previously seen, knows the status of Hawaii in the US and the UN, and simply does not think is a good idea for the ILWU, a member of the WFTU, to participate in these international meetings– specifically on the Committee on Work on Plantations, where the ILWU wielded influence internationally as well as in Hawaii– and recommends that Department of Labor dismiss the request that the ILWU participate (they do so by not only saying that they do not have the funds, but by also refusing to grant the ILWU representatives visas) in this meeting and send instead a representative from the conservative American Federation of Labor.

As we have also seen in previous ILWU documents and its attachments, despite ILWU’s support for Hawaii’s statehood, the ILWU publicly supports the independence movement of territories internationally, challenging the State Department’s, U.S. Department of Labor’s, and the AFL’s commitment to the ICFTU. Wilcox, seeing the ILWU as a potential threat to the conflict going on between the ICFTU and the WFTU recommends not having any territorial involvement in this international meeting, and also, I suggest, prevents further collaboration between Hawaii labor and the international movement towards territorial independence.

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Oct 31, 1955

Dear Mr. Wilkins:

This is in further response to your letter of October 5, 1955, recommending that consideration be given to sending a tripartite observer delegation from Hawaii and Alaska to the next session of the International Labor Conference. The Department of State has given very careful consideration to this matter and our conclusion is that it would be unwise to carry out this suggestion.

Leaving to one side the question of complications relating to Puerto Rico, I believe we should recognize that Hawaii and Alaska occupy, in reality, very different status in their relations to the United States than the several non-metropolitan territories of the United Kingdom, cited in your letter, do to that government. I doubt whether many persons would think of Alaska and Hawaii as being comparable to the non-metropolitan territories of most other governments. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that the Congress has under consideration legislation to give Hawaii and Alaska statehood. Under the circumstances, and not knowing at this time what action the Congress may take by June 1956, it would seem unwise for the Executive Branch to plan any action with respect to Alaska and Hawaii based on their status as non-metropolitan territories.

Even if it were not for this overriding consideration, there is, as you point out, the financial problem. I question whether at this juncture of events, in relation to the ILO, I t would be desirable to reduce the size of the United States Delegation to the International Labor Conference in order to accommodate delegates from Hawaii and Alaska.

In view of the close relations between the organized labor movements in continental United States and in Hawaii and Alaska, it would seem possible for the American Federation of Labor to provide for representation of these territories among the labor advisers on the United States Delegation if it so desired.

Sincerely yours,
Francis O. Wilcox
Assistant Secretary of State

go to #12 of the countdown

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