The Cigar Industry Changes Florida

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Cigarmaker’s Union Dispute in Tampa

From: Stetson Kennedy Florida Folklife Collection, 1935-1991, Series S 1585, Box 2, Folder 14
Labor (page 1)

3,5000 words
Not Edited

Tampa, Florida
Nov.15, 1938

L. M. Bryan


Charges of "Communist" and "Fascist" were being hurled like brickbats at each other by once-friendly and peaceable members of local cigarmakers' unions in Tampa as the result of dissention in their ranks in the fall of 1938.

Since 1933 the seven local unions of cigar workers here, with a combined membership of about 8,000, mostly Latins, have been subordinates of the Cigarmakers' International union and affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. They were still so connected at the time of this writing, November, 1938; but a bitter internal dispute was then raging between opposing factions of the cigar unions as to whether to remain with the A. F. of L. or to join the C. I. O. (Committee of Industrial Organization).

Previous to 1933, Local Union No. 336 of Tampa ( the oldest cigar union here) had joined the AFL as early as 1898. At that time and for some years later Local No. 336 was the only union of cigarmakers here except a rival independent union called La Resistencia, which opposed the AFL.

The present local controversy is between what may be called the "liberal" and the "conservative" factions which have developed within the unions themselves. It is in line with similar labor rifts throughout the country at this time as to whether a union shall follow the so-termed conservative policies of William B. Green's AFL or its allegedly more aggressive rival, the CIO, led by

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

John L. Lewis.

The beginning of the Tampa dispute and its progress thus far is covered in the following excerpts from the Tampa Morning Tribune. The issue of Oct. 8, 1938, pp. 1-7, gave this story of the opening clash:

"The Cigarmakers' International union suspended George Salazar, head of 7,000 Tampa cigarmakers, and four of his associates yesterday on charges of attempting to switch local unions from the American Federation of Labor to CIO and for spreading alleged communistic propaganda.

"The union at the same time obtained an injunction from Circuit Judge Sandler to prevent them and [a]ll others from bringing on activities detrimental to it.

"All are restrained from encouraging violation of a contract signed Aug. 1 by manufactures and workers, with the aid of the federal government, which set up a closed shop in the Tampa industry.

"The suspension order was by R. T. Van Horn, of Washington, international president, and was served on the five leaders yesterday by Charles K. Norona, his representative. Those suspended are:

"George Salazar, president of the joint advisory board of cigar unions and president of Union No. 500, largest in the industry.

"Saturnino Aleman, secretary of the joint board and member of the executive committee of Union No. 500.

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

"Antonio P. Lendian, delegate to the joint board from union No. 500 and a member of its executive committee.

"Gerardo Sanchez, delegate to the joint board from Union No. 500 and a member of its executive committee.

"Others put under court injunction, but not suspended by the union are:

(There followed a list of 11 minor officials, members and one non-member.)

The petition said:

"'The defendants have been guilty of activities subversive of the best interests of the international union and calculated to destroy its influence and usefulness in Tampa in this, to wit, that the said international union is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, and the said defendants are manifesting sympathy for the Committee on Industrial Organization, a rival organization, and are engaged in communistic propaganda contrary to the policy of the Cigarmakers International union and the American Federation of Labor, and have encouraged the violation of the terms of the contract with manufactures in that they have openly criticized the provisions thereof and have encouraged strikes among the workers.

"The men suspended were specifically enjoined in the court order from interfering with the authority of Van Horn and his representative, Norona, and from taking any part in the affairs of the union.

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

"The injunction was granted without notice, the petitioner said, because the union "fears the defendants will by false and fraudulent assertions try to induce members of the international union to abandon their membership and join a movement to promote the CIO in the city of Tampa.'"

"Don C. McMullen and Neil C. McMullen filed the petition and obtained Judge Sandler's signature to the injunction order."

Many of the rank and file in the union bitterly resented the suspension of their officers and the court injunction. At a mass meeting the condemned Van Horn and the action of the court, as seen in the next news of the dispute in the Tribune of Oct. 11, page 10:

"Members of local union No. 500 of the Cigarmakers International union refused at a general meeting last night to accept suspension of five of their leaders by R. S. Van Horn, international president, or the name successors.…

"The meeting last night was called to elect temporary officers to fill vacancies in the local (the vacancies caused by Van Horn's ouster of officers) but it voted not to elect. Instead it passed a resolution condemning the action of President Van Horn and asking that he immediately reinstate the suspended men.

"Members also protested a circuit court injunction prohibiting 16 lenders including those suspended from activities detrimental to the AFL.

"Wariano Rodriguez, a member of the executive committee who

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

presided, and other speakers urged workers to observe the greatest discipline and cooperate with the executive committee that there may be no hasty action that might jeopardize efforts to adjust differences …

Having elected their officers by a majority vote, members said, they could not understand why Van Horn could come down here from Washington and remove them. Claiming that a majority of the workers favored going over to the CIO, they were puzzled that the AFL minority could have authority to throw out the majority of the workers leaders and that the court sustained this action. So they began to fight back, as related in the following from the Tribune of Oct. 14, p. 6:

"Authority of R. E. Ban Horn, president of the Cigarmakers' International union, to suspend leaders of his unions here was questioned in a motion filed in circuit court yesterday by Maxwell and Cobbey, their attorneys. …

"The motion, which asked that the injunction be dissolved, will be presented to Circuit Judge Sandler tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock.

"It set forth that the union failed to attach a copy of its

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

constitution to its petition for an injunction, and that this document, if brought to the attention of the court, would disclose Van Horn had no power to suspend the officers … The motion asked dismissal of the injunction on a number of other grounds, including that it is not an offence under the laws of the union for its member to show sympathy for the CIO, as charged, and that if the unions changed their affiliation from the AFL to the CIO they would still have the right to benefit by the union contract with manufactures … "

The Tribune recounted further contentions of the motion including a gem alluding to charges of "communism" against Shirley Temple, President Roosevelt and a Tampa political reformer:

The court was informed by the motion that it (the court) cannot take judicial notice of the phrase 'engaged in communistic propaganda' in the charge against the defendants, and that the complaint did not allege any of them were members of the Communist party.

"'The bill of complaint fails to specify the particular type of Communist propaganda in which the defendants are engaged," the motion said, 'whether the type which certain Tampa police officers charged the late Joseph Shoemaker with promulgating; or the type which the Hearst press charged President Roosevelt with promulgating; or the type which a witness before a current investigation committee charged Shirley Temple with hiding and abetting; or the type which Stalin charges Trotzky with spreading; or the type which Trotzky charges Stalin with spreading; or the type which the

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

repudiated resolutions committed of the last AFL convention charged the United State government with pursuing, or still some other type of 'communistic propaganda.'"

The Tribune of Oct. 15, pp. 1-12, announced that Judge Sandler had refused the motion to lift the injunction, and gave this comment:

"Judge Sandler's refusal does not stop the fight. The next step will be for the men under injunction to file an answer to Van Horn's charges. A hearing then will be held to decide whether the injunction shall be thrown out or become permanent.

"Olive C. Maxwell and Luther M. Cobby, attorneys for the 14 union leaders said they would file an answer to the suit and seek an early hearing."

On Oct. 15 the hearing previously set for that date by Judge Sandler came up before him in circuit court at Tampa, with the suspended officials and a large part of the union membership seeking through their attorneys to end the injunction. The hearing was lit up by verbal fireworks set off by attorneys, particularly by Oliver Maxwell, of counsel for defendants. Dark spots in Tampa's past were again uncovered in allusions to treatment of labor organizers here, accusations of communism and fascism, activities of the Ku Klux Klan, and other sensational wordage.

The following from the Tribune of Oct. 16 gave the highlights of the proceedings:

"A courtroom crowded with cigar workers listened to five hours

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

of argument by opposing attorneys. The hearing was supposed to be confined to points of law, but frequently it flashed into personalities and struck sparks from the AFL-CIO fight.

"R. E. Van Horn, a frequent target of attack, sat at a table with his attorneys, Don C. McMullen and Neil C. McMullen.

"The suit charged the union workers and two non-members with spreading communist propaganda …

"Calling the charges vague and flimsy, Maxwell ridiculed the accusation of communism.

"'That was put in there to incite the people of Tampa to riot against the cigar workers,' he shouted. 'They know they can get certain people to burn fiery crosses if they talk about engaging in communistic propaganda. This was put in this suit to appeal to the kind of people who gather in cow pastures and listen to speeches under fiery crosses.

"'We have such people. I can show you the grave of Shoemaker to prove it.

"(Joseph Shoemaker died in 1935 from a flogging, for which five former policemen were tried and acquitted)."

"Maxwell said the charge of communism was a reminder of the hysteria of the World War days.

"'This hysteria has been perpetuated,' he asserted, 'by books circulated among the Ku Klux Klan, such as the Red Network, by which that you can prove that practically anybody, including Mrs. Roosevelt, is a communist.

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

"'Why they haven't put Shirley Temple in this suit I don't know.'

"Maxwell opened fire on Van Horn, who, he contended, had no authority to suspend union members without a hearing.

"He referred to an allegation in the suit that the defendants criticized the contract with manufactures.

"'In Mr. Hitler's Germany, criticism might be called engaging in communistic propaganda--but Mr. Van Horn's charge is fascist propaganda of the worst sort.'

"Any criticism of a high official, one of the boys at the top, seems to be a crime under the unwritten laws of the American Federation of Labor. That's how the royalty exists.'

"He turned and shook his hand at Van Horn:

"He sits up there at Washington with a contingent fund of $12,000, from which he can draw at will, and tells a poor worker in Tampa with a family to support, "No, you don't belong to the union any more.'

"(In their reply Van Horn's attorneys said he had no $12,000 fund)."

Arguments by Van Horn's lawyers were chiefly confined to points of law involved, particularly with reference to the contract between the unions and the cigar manufacturers. Judge Sandler upheld their contentions by refusing to dissolve the injunction.

By Oct. 20, the wage-hour law's application to the cigar industry in Tampa had been injected into the union dispute, as

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

seen by the following from the Tribune of that date, p. 7:

"Attorneys for the joint advisory board of Tampa cigar unions asked Administrator Andrews of the wage-hour law yesterday not to make a minimum wage exemption for Tampa workers as requested by R. E. Van Horn as president of the Cigarmakers International union, until they can be heard.

"Frank Cassaro, representative of Van Horn, and Ray C. Brown, attorney for the Tampa Cigar Manufactures association, left Tuesday night by airplane for Washington to ask for exemption for the lower paid workers.

"In a telegram Maxwell & Cobbey, attorneys, informed Andrews of a controversy between Van Horn of certain officers and others.

"'The local cigar workers have vigorously repudiated Van Horn's actions and he does not now speak their sentiments,' the telegram said.

"'Van Horn's representative decidedly does not represent the local unions and we earnestly recommend that you make no commitments until the legal representatives of the workers can be heard.'

"'We ask that you instruct the manufacturers that pending hearings before the board for the industry they take no action to dismiss workers … until such hearings are held.

"'We are perfectly willing to cooperate to effectuate any absolutely necessary temporary adjustment, but we insist that the duly elected officers of the local unions are entitled to be heard.

"The administrator was asked to advise the attorneys of any proposals made and to notify them when a hearing will be held."

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

Five days later, after the wage-hour law had been in force but a short time, a repercussion of it was felt in the cigar industry in Tampa, as told in the Tribune of Oct. 25, p. 3:

"More than 350 slow workers have been let out by Tampa cigar factories because of their inability to make the minimum of the wage-hour law, manufacturers said yesterday. A week ago it was estimated that 1,000 would be dismissed.

"Manufacturers said they were keeping as many as possible for the present at least in the hope that these workers will get some kind of exemption. So far exemption is only five percent, for aged and disabled persons.

"Ray C. Brown, attorney for manufacturers, and Frank Cassaro, representative of R. E. Van Horn, president of the Cigarmakers' International union, went to Washington last week to ask for an exemption for slow workers, but failed to get it.

"Most of those laid off are strippers, who pull the stems from filler tobacco. Some said most factories henceforth will have stripping done in Cuba. About 1,000 strippers have been employed in the industry here.

"It is also said that some small factories known as 'buckeyes' will be unable to comply with the law and must close."

(A labor leader commented that these layoffs were not necessary, but were made merely to arouse public opinion against the wage-hour law and to hamper its operation).

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

Discouraged by the court action against them, pro-CIO members of the local union began to seek means for an amicable settlement of the controversy with Van Horn and the AFL, as announced in the Tribune of Oct. 30, p. 13:

"Local N. 500 of the Cigarmakers International union yesterday offered a plan for settlement out of court of differences with R. E. Van Horn, international president, who suspended six local leaders, but he insisted and injunction suit be settled first.

"The union suggested a conference on matters under dispute and a referendum of members and announced it had elected temporary officers to replace those suspended.

"Mariano Rodriguez was elected president to succeed George Salazar, leader of the six suspended … Francisco Mesado was elected vice president.

(A list was given of eight men who were elected as delegates to the joint advisory board to succeed those suspended or barred from union activities by the injunction. Three were elected as delegates to the proposed "peace conference").

"The conference would consist of delegates from the unions, the suspended officers, and President Van Horn. All matters of dispute would be discussed and sent to unions for a referendum vote. The union asked that the injunction be lifted as soon as all parties agreed to confer.

"Van Horn notified the local he "would be glad to confer with the membership of any group to promote unity or further the

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Cigar Union Dispute
Tampa, Florida
Nov. 15, 1938
L. M. Bryan

interests of the union,' but that a constitutional provision is involved which cannot be settled by action of only a part of the membership. He also said that he could not agree that the injunction be dissolved on agreement to enter the conference.

"In a statement a few days ago Van Horn said in [illegible] Internationale, a publication of the local unions, the best way to get the differences settled is to go ahead with the injunction suit and try the issues in court on their merits. Next move in the suit is an answer to be filed by attorneys for the leaders.

Rodriguez said in receiving Van Horn's reply that the conference would be held.

"'On account of the wage-hour law we need unity of all factions,' he said. 'We hope that out of this meeting we will find a way to settle our troubles to the satisfaction of both sides for the benefit of our industry and our community.'

The last news of the cigar union controversy up to the time this compilation was written appeared on page 4 of the Tribune of Nov. 15, 1938, at which time the injunction issued by Judge Sandler still remained in force. The newspaper said:

"A committee representing all cigar unions agreed last night to meet with R. E. Van Horn … to discuss a controversy that resulted in a court injunction and suspension of local leaders.

"In a letter Friday to Mariano Rodriguez, president of the joint advisory board of unions, Van Horn said he was 'prepared to confer' if it can be done under proper circumstances and conditions.'

"Rodriguez said he had received a communication from George

[Note: The document ends here. An update was created by the same author.]