An Unexpected Conflict
A dispute known as The Pineapple War arrived in The Dalles in the late 1940s
By Rodger Nichols
How did a strike by longshoremen in Hawaii lead to a riot in The Dalles more than 70 years ago? As with many things, it began with money.
In 1949, International Longshore and Warehouse Union members in Hawaii discovered their West Coast ILWU brethren, employed by the same company, were making $1.82 an hour to unload the cargo they were paid $1.40 an hour to load.
Following is a timeline of events:
May 1: The ILWU declares a strike. Five thousand longshoremen stop work and close off all goods to Hawaii. The union agrees to unload military cargo, food, medical supplies, perishables, and mail so no one on the islands is harmed by the strike.
August 6: The territorial government of Hawaii passes the Dock Seizure Act, seizes the docks, and takes over stevedoring services to break the strike.
Immediately, the ILWU labels any cargo being loaded out of the territory as “hot,” meaning it has been loaded by strikebreakers. In solidarity, 6,000 longshoremen in the Western United States refuse to unload hot cargo.
September 14: Hawaiian Pineapple Co. subsidiary Isleways Ltd. loads the barge Honolulu with 700,000 cases totaling 2,700 tons of canned diced pineapple worth $800,000 (more than $9 million in today’s dollars). The fruit is intended for a processing plant in San Jose, California, where they will be uncanned and recanned with other ingredients in a fruit cocktail mixture.
September 24: After being barred from ports in Tacoma and Seattle, the barge is towed up the Columbia River to The Dalles, where there are no union dockworkers. The Port of The Dalles agrees to take delivery after learning 5,000 cannery workers were laid off in California waiting for this shipment. This reduces the demand for local cherries, which are also a part of the fruit cocktail mix.
September 26: About 50 ILWU members from Portland arrive in The Dalles and put up a picket line on the sole road to the dock. They hand out leaflets appealing to local workers not to unload the barge.
September 28: With fewer than 60 tons unloaded, nearly 200 picketers attack. Two American Federation of Labor union truck drivers and four other people are injured. One driver sustains a broken back, and four trucks and a deck crane are damaged.
The New York Daily News reports, “The pickets dumped cases of pineapples off the trucks, cut hawsers securing the black-listed barge Honolulu and smashed windows and headlights on the trucks.”
George Lindsay, editor of The Dalles Weekly Optimist, is knocked down. His camera is seized, dashed to the ground and thrown into the river.
Matt Meehan, international representative of the longshoreman’s union, issues a statement saying, “Some of the boys just lost their heads.”
That moves The Oregonian to editorialize, “This boys-will-be-boys attitude is as reprehensible as the violence they condone. It is hypocritical and cowardly.”
Reaction is swift. Wasco County Circuit Court Judge Malcolm W. Wilkinson signs a restraining order preventing picketing.
September 29: Oregon Gov. Douglas McKay sends 35 state police officers to The Dalles at the request of Mayor Fred G. Mauser. They patrol the port armed with bayonet-equipped riot guns and hickory axe handles.
The Port holds an evening meeting and backs down, agreeing it will unload no more and canceling its contract with the barge owners. ILWU’s Meehan says the pickets will be pulled, and Mayor Mauser tells The Dalles City Council the decision was made to avoid bloodshed.
October 6: A secret Wasco County grand jury is convened regarding the violence.
October 7: Word comes from Hawaii that union officials have reached a tentative agreement with shippers to end the dock strike, but Meehan announces the union considers all goods shipped from Hawaii during the strike to remain hot.
October 19: Though the Port has agreed not to do any more unloading, it does not prevent the pineapple company from making its own arrangements, starting with the 60 tons already sitting on the dock.
That night, 11 tons are loaded on a Consolidated Freightways truck. State police escort the truck to Eagle Creek, where four Multnomah County sheriff’s deputies meet it at 1 a.m. Portland police take over at city limits and escort it out of the city on its way to San Jose.
October 20: ILWU calls a strike against Port of The Dalles until such time as the Port agrees to hire through the union. Pickets return to the dock.
October 24: The strike in Hawaii is settled, but union spokesman Meehan says they will keep picketing until Port of The Dalles agrees to hire through the union.
October 26: Judge Wilkinson signs a restraining order prohibiting picketing or “interfering in any way with normal business activity on the publicly owned dock.”
October 27: Protected by a dozen sheriff’s deputies carrying shotguns, a crew of 16 townspeople resume unloading for the first time since September 28, starting at 6 a.m. before picketers show up. When they do, they are served the restraining order.
That night, a threatening note tied to a rock is left on the porch of local Union Pacific engineer W.W. Caldwell. Using letters and words cut from newspapers, the note reads, “Hands off the strikes. Stay out of the strikebound area. You recognize the ghost picket line, or you won’t want us to call on you again.”
October 29: With local employees intimidated, railroad managers from Portland pick up five carloads of pineapple off the port dock, then five more on the 31st.
November 10: The last of the pineapple leaves The Dalles. The conflict is over.
In a series of trials over the next few years, 22 ILWU members are fined a total of $6,200 for criminal charges. Juries award $201,000 in damages to the Hawaiian Pineapple Co. and $54,237 to the two injured truck drivers.
Finally, on June 11, 1956, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the District Court verdicts. The U.S. Supreme Court declines to review the case, ending the saga.