Tampa's Striking Cigar Workers



  History Collection  



Cigar makers










Cigars Selector










Labor Temple - Ybor City 1910













CMIU Headquaters - 1911














Steamship Pacabuket - 1911









Franklin Street - circa 1911









Ybor City - circa 1920's






Cigar Workers and Strikes…

...During the late nineteenth century thousands of Cuban, Italian, and Spanish immigrants came to the small new town in the south, Tampa , and did much to transform this settlement in to a thriving commercial and manufacturing center. Drawn primary by the attraction of cigar manufacturing, these new immigrants, underwrote the success of the city and its principal industry. This achievement, however, was not accomplished without considerable labor strife. By the end of the decade of the twentieth century, cigar workers unions in Tampa participated in two major general strikes ( in 1901 and 1910) and numerous lesser walkouts (16). At the time Tampa 's tabaqueros proved to be a contentious lot indeed.

...Many cigar workers arrive in the town imbued with conceptions of themselves as workmen that were framed by pre-industrial notions of craftsmanship. These age-old work patterns and rhythms created a fierce sense of independence and pride in individuals possessing craft skills and not to much formal education. Any threats to these familiar patterns were sure to place workers in an adversary relationship with their employers. Also affecting labor relations was the popularity of radical social ideologies (socialism, anarchism) among workers, which served to intensify a sense of labor militancy. For their part, factory owners were increasingly feeling the pressure of modern corporate development. Many believed that it was necessary for them to modernize operations to remain competitive in a changing marketplace. The inevitable clash between these contradictory sets of perceptions and expectations explain much of the conflict that has characterized Tampa and the cigar industry.

The Strike of 1887…

...This began when Spanish workers demanded that a popular Cuban foreman in Martinez Ybor Cigar factory, be fired for dismissing a Spanish worker because of his nationality. When the managing partner of the firm, Eduardo Manrara, a Cuban, refused to do so, Spanish workers walked out. During a meeting to try to mediate shoots were fired, some where injured and a person died. After several weeks, the striking Spanish workers returned. A shot time later, the foreman who had precipitated the crisis was fired, and Cuban workers took to the streets again. The situation calmed after the man left Tampa .

The Strike of 1889…

...They were others strikes, before and after; in 1899 (98 days long) for example, begin in reaction to owners demands mandating the “use of scales to weigh out the filler tobacco given to workers at the beginning of each day”. For skilled cigar makers, this was an insult not to be tolerated. Over 4,000 cigar workers left their benches. From April to August, the strike paralyzed the entire region. Only six factories continue production because their workers stayed out of the conflict. On late August the workers return to their benches.

...Relatively unimportant in an economic sense, this change struck at the old custom of allowing workers to make unlimited numbers of cigars for their own use. Which create another general strike.

The Strike of 1900…

...This was the strike of 1900, (42 days long) when as a result was established that “only three cigars per cigar maker in “Fumas” style with curly head on daily bases made from the left over after a production day is completed.”

The Strikes of 1901…

...In the May of 1901, more than one thousand workers from West Tampa marched across the Polk Street railroad bridge to Hillsborough County Courthouse Plaza to protest the lack of progress on repairing the Fortune Street Bridge . This bridge, which was the only commuter artery to cross the river between the two cities, had been closed for several months. Closure meant that citizen whose homes and jobs were located across the river had to take a trolley to the river bank, board a boat across the river, and rejoin the streetcar line on the other side. The inconvenience and the expense were irritants to the cigar workers specially. So they decide to stop for one day and march to the Courthouse.

...The crisis was resolved, when the Tampa 's mayor promised to open the bridge as soon as possible. Twenty one days later the traffic was re-established between the two cities.

But was more in the horizon...

...In the second strike of 1901, involved efforts of manufacturers to establish branch factories in Pensacola and Jacksonville . The union interpreted these moves as “an attempt to maintain an open shop policy and struck to force a closing of these operations, considering unjustified to the Tampa workers”. Strike leadership was in Spanish and Cuban hands, but Italians were active in the ranks and in supplying street-corner oratory that helped to maintain workers solidarity. Appeals to the strike cause were effective in prompting numerous workers to leave Tampa and find employment elsewhere in an effort to send back support.

...The strike's most dramatic episode occurred in early August when a “self-appointed citizen's” committee induces police to seize thirteen strike leaders. The abducted men were put aboard a steamer, warned never to return to Tampa , and drop off on a deserted stretch of the Hondurans coastline. One contemporary claimed that Tampa businessman paid ten thousand dollars to the New York Italian mafia for the favor. With the strike leadership emasculated, city authorities and manufacturers increased their pressure by rigidly enforcing vagrancy laws and importing extra strikebreakers. The CMIU played an important role by refusing to aid or amalgamate with the union (La Resistencia), while simultaneously offering to supply workers for the factories. On November 28, 1901, La Resistencia capitulated. The idea was to returned to work the next day; on November 30, 1901, the manufacturers decided to closed until January 2, 1902 to re-started operations again.

The Strike of 1907…

...The strike of 1907, was in reaction by cigar makers to used the molds as standard tool of production. After 45 days of negotiations they agree to the use of molds and returned to work

...On 1908 the cigar factories employed over 10,500 workers and generated a weekly payroll of $200,000, representing seventy-five percent of the total payroll of the city. Spanish, Cubans, and Italians comprised nearly 95% of the labor force in the cigar factories.

The Strike of 1910…

...Factory owners were particularly anxious to acquire good “selectors” for their businesses and were outraged when these individuals were deported by immigration. On August 28, 1910 for example Manuel Lopez, a Cuban selector, was returned to Havana on board the steamer Olivette for being in violation of the alien contract labor law.

...This strike was precipitated by the owners, according to cigar makers, as a mean of testing their open shop demands and squelching the growing union strength. On June 1910, when manufacturers belonging to the Clear Havana Cigar Manufacturers Association, began dismissing “selectors” who were members of International Local #493. Owners alleged that “selector” had reneged on early agreements allowing for additional apprentices to be trained in the factories. Grievances accelerated as manufacturers began to violate the provisions of wage and price scale negotiated early in the year. By August the strike was in full force with over 12,000 men out of work.

...During the month of September, manufacturers attempt to break the stalemate by opening several large factories and issuing a call for workers to return to work. Not a single cigar worker reported and this openings created scenes of ugly confrontations between strikers and police. One of those confrontations was when A. Santaella factory in West Tampa tried to resume business, a “great crowd” turned out to protest and a number of beatings took place.

...On October 4, 1910, Balbin Brother's Cigar, Co. factory was burned to the ground by arsonist, and the Tribune building narrowly missed the same fate.

...It was on January 15, 1911, with the tacit complicity of federal immigration officials in Tampa , manufacturers determined to crush the strike to prevent more economic losses to the industry, decided with massive additions of strikebreakers created the stop. During the strike's early months, cigar workers from Havana had been deported by immigration officials as contract laborers. On January 20, a large group of Cubans arrived and immediately took their places at the work benches. Four days later two hundred more stepped off a steamer at Port Tampa, and after that every boat coming in from Havana and Key West brought more. Finally, on January 25, 1911, after seven months of struggle the union called the strike at an end . Tampa 's second general strike in a decade again came to an unhappy end for the cigar worker unions. Defeated, but still defiant, workers returned to the factories, some of them relocated. In the end they were unable to withstand the onslaught of powerful forces arrayed against them.

...Unlike “La Resistencia”, the International Union (La Union), did not disappear following its defeat in 1911. Instead, it remained and slowly rebuild its strength.

The Strike of 1920's...

...It was in the spring of 1920 when it would lead Tampa 's cigar workers in another general strike, this time in a struggle that will last ten months. But once again, factory owners and the wider Tampa community found themselves allied against the ranks of Latin cigar workers. This is consider the last cigar workers strike that affected Tampa cigar industry. Radical changes were placed in effect and basically the cigar maker was replaced by machines and less workers.

At the end…

...Sometimes the demands and abuse by any side create a reaction that implicate drastic changes in a system. In this case the industry and the community reacted to the continuous labor problems in the cigar labor force.

...When the local community felt that its vital interest were threatened, it quickly resorted to vigilante justice and rigorous suppression to force the union into submission. Viewed in this light, the wonder is not that the strikers returned to work, but that they held out so long…

...To understand the complex past of Tampa , to what is today, we must take into account the events and historical trends just described …


Ref. - "Tampa Striking Cigar Workers" by George E. Pozzetta & Synopsis from "Ciudad Cigars" - Strikes & Violence by Armando Mendez 1994 - "Once Upon aTime in Tampa" - W. Reyes, Ph.D. 2014


Home____History Collection

Trademark brands & copyrights reserved@GHCC - 1996 - 2016


11 - 08- 2015