With annexation having formalized Hawai‘i’s position as an American outpost and cementing the oligarchy’s control, it would seem that labor-management conflicts in the new Territory inevitably would be decided in favor of all-powerful management. (Chapin)
Establishment papers prior to 1909 downplayed or ignored labor disputes. No paper recorded the first plantation strike at Kòloa onKauai in 1841 when Hawaiian workers disputed how they were paid – twelve-and-a-half cents per day in scrip redeemable only at the company store. The strike was quickly settled in favor of management. (Chapin)
After 1900, “labor actions” increased dramatically – a total of thirty-nine on plantations and another twenty-five allied strikes in longshore and urban organizations between June 1900 and the end of1905. (Chapin)
A powerful establishment press was in place on the four major islands to present only one side of the events to the public: the Hilo Tribune Herald, the Maui News, and the Garden Island on Kauai, plus a host on O‘ahu. (Chapin)
In 1902, Sometaro Shiba began The Garden Island newspaper in 2 separate editions, English and Japanese. In 1904, these became separate papers, the Japanese titled Kauai Shinpo (Shinpo implied progress or progressive; it could also mean new report.) (Nakamura)
Shiba was born on the island of Shikoku, Japan in 1870 and was educated at Aoyama Gakuin, an American Methodist college in Tokyo, where he excelled in English language.
He came to Hawai‘i in 1891 and turned his bilingual talent to profit as a sales clerk at the Lihue Plantation Store. After 10-years with the plantation, he became an interpreter and translator at the Lihue Courthouse. (Soboleski) Then, he started his papers.
In 1903, prominent Kauai citizens Mason Fay Prosser, Edward DeLacy, Johan Ludvig V. Hjorth, and Frank Crawford formed a corporation to purchase the Garden Island. Shiba sold his newspapers, but continued as publisher and editor. (UH Manoa Library)
The Garden Island was published weekly from 1902 to 1964, then switched to twice a week from 1964 to 1976, when it was published three times a week. Presently it appears daily.
In 1907, he left Kauai and bought the Hawaii Shinpo, a daily Japanese language paper. (Soboleski) It became one of the major Japanese-language newspapers in Hawai‘i. (Nakamura)
Shiba’s paper was among the few Japanese language papers to support management during labor strife in 1909, the 1920s, and 1930s. (Nakamura)
In 1909, Japanese workers initiated a strike on the island of O‘ahu which “in every respect … was the most important labor conflict that had ever occurred in Hawaii up to that date.”
It marked a fundamental shift from previous labor movements in its character and impact, as it extended far beyond the plantations to involve the planter elite, high-ranking government authorities, and influential leaders within the Japanese community.
Unlike previous strikes, this particular work stoppage was the result of nearly eight months of deliberations, meetings, and discussions by Japanese plantation workers on the issue of their salaries and their need to increase them.
The Nippu Jiji, with a circulation of 1,000, along with the Maui Shimbun (Wailuku, Maui), the Shokumin Shinbun (Hilo, Hawai‘i), the Kona Echo (Hōlualoa, Hawai‘i), and the Oahu Jiho (Waipahu, O‘ahu), advocated for higher wages.
They were considered “radicals” for their support of decisive and immediate action and for maintaining that the grievances of the Japanese plantation laborers – which included low wages, poor housing, unsanitary conditions, and other discriminatory treatment – could only be remedied by means of collective bargaining.
In contrast, the “conservatives,” which included the Hawaii Shinpo (Honolulu, Hawai‘i), Hawaiian-Japanese Daily Chronicle (Honolulu, Hawai‘i), Kauai Shinpo, Hilo Shinpo, Kainan Shinpo (Hilo, Hawai‘i), and Maui Hochi, supported a more judicious and cautious approach when dealing with the planters. (Nakamura)
Ultimately, the planters broke the strike but made a number of concessions to laborers, including higher wages, better housing facilities, and improved sanitation conditions.
The Nippu Jiji asserted that editor Shiba of the Hawaii Shinpo and his faction “care nothing for the laborers in general” and should be “prepared to die an honorable death.” (Nakamura)
It led to an attempted murder of Shiba, who was branded as a “traitor” for his close relationship with the powerful sugar planters and collusion with planter interests during this labor conflict.
On August 3, 1909, Tomekichi Mori, a member of the Higher Wage Association, brutally attacked and stabbed editor Shiba in the neck with a pocketknife.
Mori allegedly stated, “I punished Sheba because he is a traitor to the Japanese people … I’m glad I did it … and I’m only sorry I didn’t do a better job of it. I have punished Sheba, and now I’m ready to pay for it.”
The attack made front-page headlines in most of the major newspapers in Honolulu, and the Pacific Commercial Advertiser portrayed the attack as an example of “what the Nippu Jiji has been preaching for months – that Sheba is a traitor to, and an enemy of, his own race and should be punished, exterminated, put out of the way.” (Nakamura)
Thereafter, Shiba became increasingly concerned about the threat of violence to himself. He not only requested police protection but also applied for a $10,000 life insurance policy, which the planters funded.
Eventually, Shiba returned to Japan in 1917. He died at the age of eighty at his country home in Ibara prefecture. (Sometaro Shiba’s name is spelled a number of different ways within various accounts. His name is properly spelled “Shiba.”) (Nakamura)