Ah Quon McElrath

Ah Quon McElrath and Kekuni Blaisdell at the Statehood Commission meeting in Sept.[/caption] Around 5pm (PT), Thursday, Dec 11, Ah Quon McElrath passed away. She was 92. Chris Conybeare, who had visited with her earlier that day, texted me. He had been doing a series of oral histories on her life. Her last interview by Dan Boylan was featured in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s Midweek last Wednesday and is a tribute to her life and her commitment to Hawai’i progressive politics, labor organization and social advocacy. She was a member of the 50th Anniversary Statehood Commission and was the lone voice that anchored the committee to represent labor and the working people of the State of Hawai’i. Once, when a representative of a publishing company came to present a “50th Anniversary of Statehood” tribute book, and wanted to be the official book of the Statehood Commission, AQ asserted that the presentation didn’t represent the people’s history, the involvement of labor and the organizational efforts that they brought to statehood. AQ felt that the book lacked evidence of the real struggle that went on with the labor movement during the 1950s. Lenny Klompus, yielding to AQ, agreed that the publishing company had to proceed independent of the Statehood Commission, or work with representatives from the Commission in order for their to be any official support. It is to Mr. Klompus’ credit that he often deferred to AQ. Without fail, at every meeting, AQ questioned the point and relevance of suspect initiatives, asking how certain proposed events take into account the myriad struggles and perspectives of Hawai’i citizens. She’d ask whether or not these events can positively engage even those most marginalized from participating, in hopes that all may ultimately share in the benefits and rewards of commemorating Hawai’i statehood. It is a curious coincidence that when I first got notice of AQ’s passing, perhaps an hour after her death, I had also received notice that the Senate’s support for the House auto bailout package had not passed, and the excuse for it not passing was that many of the house Republicans were not satisfied by the United Automobile Worker’s 2011 timeline for labor wage reduction. Clearly the issue for these many Republicans who voted against the bailout was not their spurious claims that the $14b bailout package was a waste of taxpayers money because the cost of labor was too high, but the underlying purpose was an organized attempt at undermining the UAW. This was a 21st century attempt at a union-bust. Many who criticize the reported $70+ an/hour average wage that union workers are paid, are not told that what is figured into that cost is the already inflated health insurance and pension package paid by employers. The real take home pay for the average UAW worker is $28/hour in wages + 10/hour in benefits, which does not take into account the monthly Union Dues of two hours pay a month. AQ’s passing at this moment, should remind us that we need to pay attention and remain diligent of the specious arguments given by those who hold the reins of power. As the Statehood Commission has now lost the lone voice of social advocacy in its planning commission, we had best hope that they attempt to replace the irreplaceable so that the 50th anniversary of statehood will not simply parade through town blowing it’s own horn, but remember that it is the people who are the real recipients and beneficiaries of the state, and to properly acknowledge that requires real reflection. I had the honor of interviewing her several months ago at the Japanese Cultural Center, a video shoot arranged by Allicyn Tasaka. Since then she had helped me with a research paper that I am working on regarding the ILWU and labor in Hawai’i. I presented her with a copy of Sweetness and Power, a short book on the history of sugar by Stanley Mintz, which I’m not sure she ever had the opportunity to read. AQ is a Hawai’i icon and as we honor her, the global financial markets take a dive.]]>

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