My family emigrated from Cuba to Tampa, Florida in the late 1800’s. The Spaniards wanted to kill my great grandfather, because of his political activity against the King of Spain. Both my mom’s family and my dad’s family were tobacco workers in the factories in Tampa. During the 1930s, my mom was a member of “Los Niños Anti-Fascista.” When she was about seven years old, she and other children rolled cigars, which they sold to raise money for the fight against Franco and fascism during the Spanish Civil War.
My grandparents were also union organizers in the cigar factories. My grandmother lived through my college days and frequently spoke with me about the writings of Voltaire, Rousseau and Victor Hugo. While she did not have a formal education, every day a “Lector” would read to people while they were working. The workers collectively donated to pay for the reading in an era before radio. They also voted democratically to choose the reader and the topics that were read. The featured image in this post depicts such a reader sitting high up on a chair, similar to a beach lifeguard chair. Obviously, there was no PA system.
The end of the readers
The Tampa cigar makers’ strike took place in Ybor City, Florida between the months of November and December 1931, it was made up of a highly unionized, militant cigar maker workforce who had a long history of radical labor–-management relations dating back to the 1880s when Cuban immigrants first began building the Florida cigar industry. Due to rising unemployment and falling wages in the wake of the Great Depression, workers of the Tobacco Workers Industrial Union engaged in radical demonstrations, most notably, the celebration of the anniversary of the Russian Revolution. In doing so, 17 workers were jailed; this sparked a preliminary walkout by workers but more importantly prompted factory owners to expel the widely renowned “Lector” in the cigar factories. This “Lector” was a fellow worker who would read aloud newspapers and literature to an illiterate Cuban workforce during production periods to keep workers’ minds occupied; the readings were very often pro-union, leftist and anti-corporation. After the displays of radicalism from the Cuban workers, factory owners accused the Lector of proliferating Communist propaganda and banned him from the workplace; this was a bitter loss for the workers and led to a three-week strike in which vigilante squads, the police and the Ku Klux Klan clashed with affiliates of the Trade Union Unity League of the Communist Party, a branch of the Tobacco Workers Industrial Union. The strike finally ended on December 15, 1931; the Lector, replaced by a radio, was never returned to the workplace.Wikipedia