The Cigar Industry Changes Florida

Cigarmakers’ Union Dispute in Tampa 1938-39
Lesson Plan for Grades 11–12

CPALMS Reviewed and Approved

This lesson has been reviewed and approved by CPALMS.


L.M. Bryan’s “Cigarmakers’ Union Dispute” is an examples of the short histories and stories written by authors working for the Florida Federal Writers’ Project, a branch of the Works Progress Administration (later Work Projects Administration) during the Great Depression. The state WPA office sent field workers into communities around the state to make observations, interview locals, and write up their findings in short passages that could be used for reference purposes.

This document covers a union dispute that began in October of 1938 and includes extensive quotes from the Tampa Tribune, as well as the author's own observations.

“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.”

This essay describes aspects of the lives of cigar workers in Ybor City and the Tampa area. It also reveals much about attitudes towards labor disputes during this time. This document offers an excellent opportunity for students to think critically and decide what kinds of information can be useful and reliable.


Students will:

  • Analyze primary source documents.
  • Examine the role of the cigar industry in Tampa.
  • Examine attitudes towards the labor movement.
  • Examine evidence of fear of a potential rise of communism as it impacted the labor movement.

Sunshine State Standards

  • SS.912.A.3.9: Examine causes, course, and consequences of the labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • SS.912.A.3.13: Examine key events and key people in Florida history as they relate to United States history.
    Examples are the railroad industry, bridge construction in the Florida Keys, the cattle industry, the cigar industry, the influence of Cuban, Greek and Italian immigrants, Henry B. Plant, William Chipley, Henry Flagler, George Proctor, Thomas DeSaille Tucker, Hamilton Disston.
  • SS.912.A.4.11: Examine key events and peoples in Florida history as they relate to United States history.
    Examples may include, but are not limited to, the Spanish-American War, Ybor City, José Martí.
  • SS.912.A.5.2: Explain the causes of the public reaction (Sacco and Vanzetti, labor, racial unrest) associated with the Red Scare.
  • SS.912.A.7.17: Examine key events and key people in Florida history as they relate to United States history.
    Examples are selection of Central Florida as a location for Disney, growth of the citrus and cigar industries, construction of Interstates, Harry T. Moore, Pork Chop Gang, Claude Pepper, changes in the space program, use of DEET, Hurricane Andrew, the Election of 2000, migration and immigration, Sunbelt state.

Florida Standards

  • LAFS.1112.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Materials Needed

Lesson Plan

  1. Activate prior knowledge:
    • Tell students that they are about to look at a document about the Cigarmakers’ Union dispute in Tampa in 1938-39.
    • Ask the students what they know about the labor movement in Florida at this time.
    • Ask students what they know about the relationship between the cigar industry and the labor movement.
  2. The activity:
    1. Have all students complete a first read of the document and complete the Document Analysis Worksheet.
    2. Split students into 5 person expert groups. Each group will investigate a different question. Assign one of the following questions to each group.
      • What are the names of the key players and what were their roles? Include both people and organizations.
      • In a nutshell, what was the controversy about and how was it resolved?
      • Is there any evidence of a fear of a potential rise of communism? Site specific examples. How did it effect labor negotiations? What kind of language did the author use in describing the fear of communism. Site specific examples.
      • Did the cigar industry support or oppose unions?
    3. Have the students refer to the document to research their questions. Have students discuss and record the information with their groups.
    4. Give each group a chance to summarize and rehearse the main points of the research.
    5. Have each group present their findings to the class.
    6. Use the information from all the group members to answer the question, "What does this document tell us about the role of the cigar industry in the labor movement?"

Extension Activity

Bank Records

These documents are from the records of the First National Bank of Tampa, which opened in 1883, just as the cigar industry in Tampa was beginning to take hold. Naturally, as the industry grew, its impact on the local banking and business community increased, as these reports of the bank’s officials attest. Use these documents to illustrate the connection between the growth of the cigar industry and the growth of Tampa itself, as well as to explain why labor disputes were of such serious importance for business leaders.

Students will examine the attitude of the bank’s leaders toward labor disputes in the cigar industry.