Tobacco Reader (trade)

The tobacco reader is a person whose daily task is to read newspapers, books or other texts for those who have their attention paid to their eyes and hands in the work of manipulating and transforming tobacco leaves into an excellent cigar , also extending to destemming and chosen tasks.

Although the term has transcended as a male character function, the tobacco shop reader can also be a woman, as is the case with a female who performs this work in this long and central Cuban city.


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  • 1 Brief history
  • 2 Beginnings of the activity
  • 3 Tobacco reading and tobacco companies in the social struggles of the 19th century
  • 4 Tobacco migrants and José Martí
  • 5 Reading in the tobacco shops of the Republic
  • 6 Tobacco reading in the post-revolutionary period
  • 7 Curiosities
  • 8 Sources

Brief history

In Cuba , the profession of a tobacco reader was born and was projected as a means to raise the cultural level of tobacco growers. These operatives emerged and developed in intimate relationship with the social transformations of the working class since the times of the colony and, specifically, with the emergence of the independence ideas and improvement of the cultural and intellectual level of the tobacco guild, which originated a new conception of Homeland and a change in working life. The figure of the tobacco reader was an important component in the consolidation of the Cuban working class and the promotion of national culture.

The cigar maker, “said one who lived on that job and now appears in the field of journalism,” has always been a lover of renewal and progress. When the whole weight of the colony gravitated on the Island , when submission and slavery were felt, they – despite being coming from what might be called the golden age of the tobacco industry – colonized the revolutionary deed and they made conspirators and effective agents of the cause for independence without mentioning the valuable cooperation of these workers, whom Martí himself regarded as the strongest supporters of the cause.

Rivero Muñiz

It is impossible to pinpoint the names of the first tobacco readers; nevertheless it is known, for example, of a Nicolás F. de Rosas,

… who, without demanding any compensation, held that position in a tobacco factory in Guanabacoa , owned by Severiano Aquino, in which the reading was inaugurated on March 1 , 1866 , as confirmed in The Century of the Day next.

Tobacco readers began their work with a modest weekly fee paid by the workers, a custom that lasted until the triumph of the Revolution (January 1, 1959). The reading president charged this kind of quote every Saturday. This was left with a percentage of the total that was collected, because it was considered that to properly carry out the position he had to neglect his main job somewhat.

In the beginning, the reading was carried out by the designated workers, who took turns from time to time. But soon the reading by turns stopped prevailing, and the position of reader was occupied by the person who won this place by opposition. Through the president, a vote was taken place by position and was taken by the majority. He was generally an educated and educated person who was given great attention.

Tobacco Reader

The reader should have the necessary skills: to have a clear voice and correct pronunciation, to be sufficiently educated to be able to interpret when reading or, on many occasions, to evacuate doubts or to serve as an arbitrator in discussions on historical, literary and even scientific matters. To test their skills, the new reader usually had to deliver a speech that would occupy the attention and will of the workers.

According to the opinions of several authors, the torcedor of that time was someone who argued in a perpetual way, had a wide tolerance towards the subjects in which he wanted to know; By acquiring the most extensive and varied notions about many disciplines, he believed himself authorized to dispute over everything and frequently made use of this. If the reader could not face this provision and that desire with dignity, he was lost. If, on the contrary, he proved his ability and determination, he earned the love and respect of all.

The tobacco reader is an operator of all tobacco factories. This from a platform or platform prepared for that purpose, reads the workers while they work; the newspapers of the day, the magazines of greater circulation and books that are indicated by the workers themselves. […] The reader illustrating them, has turned them into a working class with exceptional qualities and conditions: giving them more light and forging in them, in this communion of culture, noble common ideals that embraced with faith and enthusiasm without limits. The tobacco shop is like a chair. […] Their democratic and voluntary self-education (refers to the tobacco workers) is a characteristic phenomenon of this working class, which contributed so much to the struggle for our independence. […] This reading platform was in addition to workers’ education, exhibition of ideals. In emigration, the institution of reading was founded in Key West from the earliest […] moments, it was not only the stage from which newspapers and magazines were read, from which the voice of freedom was heard, it was the temple of the ideals of the workers and they took care of it with fervor and maintained with their wages. That is why Martí, when he went to speak to them, chose the reading platform, seeing that his words of faith of independence would better reach the cigar makers.

José E. Perdomo, in his book Cuban tobacco lexicon

Being a tobacco reader was a profession oriented towards the dissemination of culture and knowledge to tobacco growers, who combined their struggles for economic progress with the desire for intellectual improvement. For them, reading was the means of overcoming and depriving themselves of the ignorance that linked them to a regime of economic, social and political slavery, such as Spanish colonialism.

Beginnings of the activity

It seems that in Cuba, the idea of ​​accompanying work with reading belongs to a Spanish traveler, oblivious to the tobacco industry, Jacinto de Salas and Quiroga. This arrived on the island in the last days of November 1839 , from Puerto Rico aboard the Spanish frigate Rosa. Months later, Salas and Quiroga published a book, where he related his impressions of that trip. It is striking that on an excursion to Artemis or San Marcos, La Güira and Guanajay , the place is not specified, accompanied by a friend, he came to “the possession of a German, the most important of how many has the Island, whose inhabitants were occupied in the tasks of the cultivation and preparation of coffee ».

In that coffee plantation I had occasion, more than in any other part of the Island, to regret the state of complete ignorance in which the slave is held. […] Then it occurred to me that nothing easier would have to be spent those hours in advantage of the moral education of those unhappy beings. The same one who incessantly watches over them could read aloud a book composed for that purpose and at the same time that tempers the annoyance of those unfortunates, would instruct them of something that would alleviate their misery.

Hyacinth Rooms Quiroga

On the other hand, the Cuban intellectual and politician Nicolás Azcárate (1828-1894), of outstanding performance in the second half of the nineteenth century , was inspired by the readings that were made to the prisoners in two galleys of the Arsenal of Havana , where the reader read a civic book every half hour every afternoon. The majority of the inmates were cigarreros who continued in that office and received a certain amount in return, part of which the department head retained to return them when they obtained freedom; I gave them the rest weekly, and from this some coins were separated to remunerate the reader’s work and acquire the works to be read.

Little by little, the reading of the galleys was disseminated, because many of the prisoners’ friends and family were tobacco workers, a large number of them settled in that neighborhood outside the walls (they were named the neighborhoods outside the perimeter limited by the wall that extended from the Castillo de la Punta to El Arsenal), called Jesús María, where the extinct Royal Tobacco Factory of Havana was, and that grouped the elements of the tobacco proletariat. Nicolás Azcárate proposed to insert the activity in tobacco production, an idea that materialized there the young Asturian cigar maker, proletarian fighter and writer Saturnino Martínez , worker of the Partagás Factory. In order not to fail, Saturnino Martínez, associated with other cigars, among which Agustín Mariscal and Francisco Teodoro Acosta stood out, managed the founding of an advertising body dedicated to corporate propaganda among the working class and managed to distribute 20 shares of 5 pesos silver each. In the edition of the newspaper El Siglo of October 20, 1865, the next exit of a new newspaper was announced that would be in charge of Manuel Sellén Bracho and Saturnino Martínez.

Finally, on Sunday, October 22, 1865, the first issue of La Aurora appeared , symbolic name, because its birth coincided with the awakening of the class to which it was addressed. It consisted of eight pages (size 11 x 8), two columns and was printed in the workshop of the Widow of Barcina and Company, located on Queen Street No. 6. Its sale price was that of a simple real, or that is, ten cents each copy. The writing and administration were established in the same press where it was published.

This publication, as indicated by its subtitle, was “a weekly newspaper dedicated to artisans” (the workers were called artisans). In addition to Sellén and Saturnino Martínez, other renowned and merit writers collaborated in La Aurora : Joaquín Lorenzo Luaces , Luis Victoriano Betancourt , José Fornaris , Antonio Sellén, Fernando Urzaiz , Alfredo Torroella and Ramona Pizarro, the first woman who defended the working class in the Cuban press In its first issues, La Aurora, despite its purposes, showed a preference for literature and relegated labor issues, which led to discrepancies, which were subsequently eliminated.

At the beginning of December 1865, it was tried to found in Havana , a Society of Craftsmen, whose members were workers and some Marquists (title that then applied to those tobacco manufacturers whose production was sold to the public under the name of the “brand” or “iron” of which they were owners, and which were given to differentiate them from the manufacturers, name is to designate those who worked for the “delivery”, that is, on behalf of some “marquis”) who wanted to support with their means the magnificent idea of ​​overcoming the workers.

For this reason, La Aurora began to alternate with the literary themes that he never abandoned, his struggle in favor of the working class stimulated the formation of guilds and encouraged the workers to go to schools to prepare for social struggles. It was the didactic and constructive work that contributed not only to the establishment of various artisan societies, but also to the modification of the work schedule of the Library of the Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Country, which, from the 1st. of DecemberFrom 1865, it was established from 12:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. to provide workers with assistance to reading rooms. Aurora also cooperated with the opening of the School for Craftsmen, whose Director, the worker Gregorio R. Rodríguez, taught the contents of primary education to workers for free three hours a day.

The founders of La Aurora also owe the merit of the implementation of the reading, premiered at the El Fígaro tobacco shop , in Havana, on December 21, 1865. This factory, owned by José Castillo y Suárez , located in the corner of Sites and Angels, it had three hundred twists. To incorporate reading into the production process, they agreed that one would perform the functions of a reader, for which each operator would contribute their corresponding fee, in order to compensate the wage that he ceased to receive during the time he read aloud . [one]

In a short time, the reading of tobacco and destemmers became a channel of information flow that, due to its importance, was part of the Cuban culture, the historical tradition and the economic society of the country. It was a way of cultivating the workers and preparing them for the revolution that would free them from the Spanish yoke. The reading influenced the formation of the Cuban cigar maker as a working class in Cuba. In this sense, Rivero Muñiz indicates that:

Through reading, the cigar maker managed to stand out from the rest of the Cuban proletariat, serving as a mentor and guide when the social emancipation movement raided Cuba. First its initiators used it to disseminate knowledge and prepare, we could say, the ground for the trade organization; then he fought for the maintenance and improvement of that work, making known the abuses and abuses that were committed against the working class, awakening the spirit of rebellion and combat; and it was later, as Martí said, Advanced Freedom Tribune. Count on a past as dignified as it is glorious. Today, as yesterday, continues to be a source of information and teaching. Work of the cigar makers, we repeat, constitutes a legitimate pride not only of its founders and maintainers, but of the entire Cuban proletariat. Its history is part of its history.

  1. Rivero Muñiz [1]

And to this, Lily Litvak added:

The collective reading remained as a working institution of the twists, and continued to contribute effectively to the progress of the Cuban proletariat, stimulating trade union organization, making the revolutionary and workers’ news known. It served as an excellent vehicle for revolutionary propaganda, which culminated in the independence of Cuba, and above all it contributed effectively to the propagation of culture among the labor masses. […] this activity flourished magnificently and had direct consequences; It helped to disseminate knowledge and the birth of class consciousness, supported the working cause and the formation of associations, was fundamental for the promotion of the press. But in addition to all these practical results, collective reading demonstrates one of the basic postulates of anarchism,

Lily Litvak , «Working culture in Cuba. Collective reading in tobacco shops » [2]

Operators of other tobacco shops began to imitate what was done by the El Fígaro twists, but the purpose was difficult and the opposition of certain industrialists. According to the publication of Agustín Mariscal, at number 2 of La Aurora :

We do not know why some of the factory owners prohibit among their operators such a laudable idea, because far from being harmful, it establishes order in the workshops, and the craftsman devotes himself with double application to the performance of his tasks, participating at the same time of the instruction provided by reading, and of some increase in his wages, because working in a known silence is that he always exceeds more.

  1. Rivero Muñiz [1]

These prohibitions stoked the desire to establish reading, and on Tuesday , 9 January of 1866 , this was inaugurated at the factory Partagas, whose owner, the Catalan Jaime Partagas , met with a delegation of tobacco and immediately agreed to the request for the establishment from reading, he praised the idea and imposed as the only condition that the works would have to be submitted before censorship. On the day of the opening of the reading, the owner of the factory came to witness the event and volunteered to raise a kind of grandstand in the central point of the workshop, so that all cigar makers could clearly perceive the voice of the reader. [3]

One of the young artisans of that workshop, placed in the center of that multitude of workers whose number amounts to about 200, with a loud and clear voice, announced that he would begin to read a work whose doctrines tended to direct the peoples towards an end worthy of the noble aspirations of the working classes of every civilized country. And opening a volume in folio mayor, he began to read Las Luchas del Siglo. It is impossible to praise as he deserves the deep attention with which he was heard during the half hour that he had to read in turn; At the end of which another young man of identical circumstances, took the same book and continued reading another half hour, so on until six in the afternoon, when all the workers left the workshop, with the purpose of continuing the next day in the same practice, as it happened and has been happening on the other days of the week.

  1. Rivero Muñiz [1]

However, not all manufacturers acted like Jaime Partagás. Some tolerated reading to some extent, others did not support it in tobacco shops. Among the most notorious enemies to such an instructive practice were: the owner of the El Designio tobacco shop, Ramón Allanes, who told his workers that “the workshops are for work and not for reading, and that the stands are for high schools and not for the tobacco factories. The owners of the Cabañas tobacco shops (Anselmo González del Valle), Henry Clay (Julián Álvarez) and La Intimidad (Antonio Carundo), with excuses on insignificant grounds, also did not grant permission to establish the reading.

In the street of Rayo there was a factory of one García, where according to La Aurora , “instead of hearing the voice of the reader only one thing that frightens is heard, produced by another that has a speck on the tip and that when shaken in the air sounds like a click ”(a clear allusion to the whip that was still used in many workshops to punish slaves and apprentices). It is curious that the heads or managers of workshops, refused much more than the owners themselves, with the most diverse pretexts. For example, the manager of the factory La Intimidad (by Antonio Carundo) said that with the reading “the proper order could not reign and therefore, everyone should read at home.” [one]

However, many people and, above all, foreigners, for whom this practice was unknown, praised the reading in the workshop. William H. Seward (Secretary of State of the United States) visited, in the company of his son, FW Seward, the Partagás factory on January 22, 1866.

A journalistic note dedicated to the visit in La Aurora on January 28, 1866, stated that Seward entered the room where the workers worked at the time when

placed in the middle of the ocean of deeply silent individuals, the reader let the euphony of his accent be heard, which gently conveyed to the heart of the listeners the evangelizing aura of which one of Fernández and González’s best works is animated; the honorable minister looked at him and made a sign of approval. […] Isn’t this honorable for Mr. Partagás and his operators?

  1. Rivero Muñiz [1]

Everywhere we talked about reading and its initiators. The novelty transcended the publishers of the most read newspapers and a newspaper of the most important of the time where liberal ideas were well received, El Siglo , directed by the Spanish Francisco de Frías, count of Pozos Dulces, who dedicated a complimentary Article in the number published on January 25, 1866:

On Saturday, February 3, 1866, the aforementioned tribune was inaugurated in the Partagás workshop, an event celebrated with solemnity. When delivering the furniture, the owner delivered a brief prayer, which was answered by a cigar maker who went up to the stand and read a meaningful speech.

  1. Rivero Muñiz [1]

Thus began the traditional rite to begin the reading that was then followed by all the workshops: the President of Reading, a cigar maker chosen very rigorously, waved a bell to impose absolute silence. The reader went up to the platform located in the most convenient place in the central part of the galley, sat down and announced what he would read. Literary works varied in content and quality, depending on what was chosen by the majority of the workshop, because it was not the reader who determined what he was going to read, but the cigar makers.

With the boom reached by the tobacco industry, after 1860, Havana tobacco companies began to acquire true importance, both for the volume of their businesses and for the unsurpassed quality of their products requested worldwide. Due to this phenomenon, the social activity of the workers in Cuba was enlivened: the first artisan societies were founded, which were distinguished by their eagerness to bring the culture and meaning of the country and the duty to the generality of their peers and they had the support of intellectuals of that time, famous and recognized for their talent. On October 20, 1857, the governor and captain general of the Island of CubaJosé Gutiérrez de la Concha, marquis of Havana, approved the regulations of the Society of Mutual Relief of Honored Craftsmen and Day Workers, this association that was the first of its kind founded in Cuba, celebrated its inauguration on the night of December 8, 1857. Its main founder was Joaquín Rose (President), seconded by partners Andrés García, José Díaz Iglesias and Domingo Ferrer (Secretary).

The Aurora dedicated frequent works to the progress of reading in tobacco shops, praised the profitable work that could be done in favor of the proletariat, which instilled among the workers the spirit of association, and denounced the crimes and abuses, with which it caused that, in certain occasion, some “marquista” prohibited the reading of said weekly in his factory (it refers to Julián Álvarez, owner of Henry Clay). This helped to increase the suspicion and prevention that this practice inspired, some deemed it dangerous and attentive to the established order.

Despite the resistance of some owners, the example of the tobacco shops of El Fígaro and Partagás was followed by other factories and, at the end of May 1866, the main tobacco shops in Havana and the towns near the Capital counted with its corresponding reader. The order in which the reading practice was inaugurated was as follows:

  • Prieto, in San Antonio de los Baños, on March 1, 1866.
  • Acosta, of Bejucal, on March 11, 1866.
  • La Rosarito (from Anselmo Zamora), on March 13, 1866.
  • Henry Clay (of Julián Álvarez), then located in Salud No. 22, on March 19, 1866.
  • The Intimacy or Caruncho (was generally known by the last name of its owner) on April 2, 1866.
  • The Prince of Wales, by Vicente Martínez Ibor, on April 23, 1866.
  • The Flower of Arriguanaga (of Fernando Arriguanaga), located in Sites # 11, on May 3, 1866.
  • The Flower of San Juan and Martínez (by Andrés Rodríguez), in Dragones # 39, on May 15, 1866.

The branch that that tobacco shop had opened in Arroyo Naranjo, on May 25, 1866.

  • Cabañas (by Anselmo González del Valle), May 28, 1866.

Then, the reading also settled in other tobacco shops, such as La Pilarcito, H. Upmann, Por Larrañaga, Las Tres Coronas, El Maro Muza, La Meridiana, La Africana, El Rico Habano, and José Rabell’s workshop.

Tobacco reading and cigar makers in the social struggles of the 19th century

A few months after entering the tobacco shop, reading, as a powerful means of influence, became the target of attacks by the reactionary press. On Saturday, February 17, 1866, the newspaper Diario de la Marina gave the public a note that spoke disparagingly “of a new hobby that these readings are made in community in the tobacco shops”, [1] to imply which considered these readings as a possible means for revolutionary preaching that separatist agents sought to spread among the popular masses and demanded the repressive attention of the Spanish invading government. On March 13, 1866, El Diario returned to the subject and indicated that:

The purpose of attacking by its base, not only by our institutions, but also our customs, purpose that is transparent in The Century , appears clear and clear in The Voice of America: the end with which these readings are promoted and encouraged in certain workshops, which was already indicated in another issue of our newspaper, is determined more and more by the insolent commitment and stubborn insistence with which El Siglo preaches, effectively helped by another Havana newspaper that we do not want to name (referring to La Aurora), but we take care to read, to be aware of their maneuvers. Some of the owners of these workshops are no longer of their agency, and obey coercion and threat; but of this and other individuals very worthy of attention we assume the Government aware, and we rely on their prudence and energy so that certain manifestations are repressed and evils that we all know are avoided in time.

  1. Rivero Muñiz [1]

The Voice of America was published in New York by its founder, the journalist and writer Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna , a confidential agent that the Chilean government sent to the United States with the mission of shaking the opinion in favor of Chile and against Spain . The first issue of the newspaper appeared on December 21, 1865; The purpose of this publication was to excite the just discontent of the inhabitants of Cuba and Puerto Rico , whose emancipation was openly called organ.

Another newspaper: The Ajiaco (critical, satirical, burlesque, with cartoons), which began to be published in the first weeks of 1866 and that soon disappeared, also opposed the reading, and on March 25, 1866 it inserted in its pages a satirical article in which, with the purpose of ridiculing the implanted practice, he expressed his doubts about the education of slaves, and lamented that such an idea, “transported from the galleys of a prison to the salons of a tobacco shop diese to these certain similarity with those ». [one] In spite of the rudeness of the insult, this phrase was accepted by the cigar makers with samples of the good humor that has always characterized them, and they baptized with the name of “galleys” the premises dedicated to the twisting of the cigars, a denomination that is still preserved and it is applied to designate the mentioned departments in the reference workshops.

The Aurora was satisfied with these manifestations, and expressed it in number 22, dated March 18, 1866:

The Diario de La Marina has declared itself openly opposed to reading in the workshops. We, who have been the propagators of the idea, are glad of it; because his opposition evidently proves that the institution is good.

La Aurora , March 18, 1866; according to J. Rivero Muñiz [1]

A week later, in the edition of Sunday, March 25, 1866, La Aurora inserted a list of the works that until that date had been read in the gallery of the Partagás workshop, stamped at the foot of it, the following words: « If works of such condition contain pernicious doctrines for artisans, come Barabbas and say it ». The reference works were: The struggles of the century ; Political economy (de Flores y Estrada), El Rey del mundo (Fernández y González’s moral and philosophical novel), History of the French Revolution and History of Spain (of Galeano), and Game Mysteries . | J. Rivero Muñiz [1] }}

The allusions that the press constantly made to reading, both to praise it, and to censor it, managed to attract public attention to it. Tobacco shops where there was reading were visited by curious people to admire such a novelty. As Rivero Muñiz explains, it was not uncommon to see outside the tobacco factories, groups of people who, at the windows, listened attentively to the powerful voice of the reader who delighted the operators in the middle of the galley, making them known books of healthy teachings or mere entertainment.

At first, only works of the aforementioned nature were read, but soon, by giving them variety or updating, the custom of reading the news that appeared in the local press, daily or weekly, was introduced. Now, reading in the workshops began with the international news, then the national news and then the background articles or editorials. It was followed by some fixed sections and, finally, sports news. After fifteen minutes of rest, the reader returned to the platform for the novel’s turn.

La Aurora and El Siglo were the favorite publications of the cigar makers of that time. The first reflected the progress of the organizing movement of the working class, which gradually extended through the interior of the island, and the second followed the long controversy of the spokesman for liberal ideas with his colleagues in the Diario de la Marina and Havana Press , organs of conservative elements, defenders of the Spanish colony in Cuba. From time to time, some of La Voz de América’s articles were also read, whose specimens secretly entered the Island sent by the conspirators who in the United States worked for the independence of the homeland. This happened, of course, mocking the surveillance of foremen and managers, and often led to the suspension of reading. Such events were denounced by La Aurora , which took advantage of them to expose the abuses that some of the main Marquistas committed in their respective tobacco shops.

In the first five months of the year 1866, the reading reached the “chinchalitos”, a name that since the end of the 18th century, was given to the small tobacco factories, in most of which the product they produced was sold retail. , and even the establishment of public sessions of nightly readings was made, through the payment, for its support, of an entry of five cents «lasting the session of two hours and allocating the funds that were left over, after covering the expenses indispensable, to any pious object, particularly that which was aimed at favoring beautiful sex, ”as published in La Aurora on Sunday, March 11, 1866. [1] The influence of reading was so overwhelming that some of the marks most famous ofCuban cigars , created from that time, were named according to the titles or characters of the literature that were read in the factories.

The denunciations and admonitions of the newspaper of the craftsmen got to obsess the manufacturers. These, according to a release, published in the official Bulletin of the Royal Factory La Honradez, tried to “form an association or guild between producers (growers) of snuff and marquistas to give the turn all the importance that the matter required.” This factory was owned by José Luis Susini Rioseco, Gibraltarian. He was the first industrialist who applied steam machines in this production. Honesty had in its workshops a lithography and printing press where he published the bulletin and manufactured the gas with which his workshops worked. Susini founded in 1853 the cigar store Mi Pensamiento, later converted into La Honradez. In 1888 Prudencio Rabell acquired it and later passed to the tobacco company trust. With the aforementioned objective, on February 19, 1866, the first meeting was held and the call for it was agreed on Monday 26 of the same month,[1] But the real purpose of this assembly was to put a stop to the claims of the tobacco workers, who, aware of their mission and work, were preparing to conquer improvements that would raise their economic situation, just as La Aurora and its own associations had contributed to raising the moral and intellectual level of the social class to which they belonged.

Faced with this situation, on May 14, 1866, the political governor of the Island, Cipriano del Mazo, sent the Chief of Police a letter in whose operative part it was forbidden to “distract workers from tobacco shops, workshops and establishments of all classes with the reading of books and newspapers, or with discussions strange to the work that the operators themselves perform », and charged the employees and police officers to ensure compliance with such an arbitrary order. To justify such a prohibition, the altercations between tobacco workers were taken as an excuse when selecting a work, which, in the opinion of the authorities, could engender “hatred and enmity of grave consequences.”

By prohibiting reading, the Government deprived the tobacco workers of a powerful and effective culture, but at the same time showed the fear inspired by the work carried out abroad by the patriots determined to achieve independence from Cuba and tried to all the means at its disposal, prevent the work of those from spreading and gain followers.

A month later, Lieutenant General Francisco Lersundi , captain general of Cuba , issued a circular, appeared in the Gazette of Havana on June 8, 1866, which strictly prohibited any meeting whose purpose was to practice reading.

The enemies of the reading had achieved their purpose and in the galleys the voice of the readers ceased to be heard. But they failed to end La Aurora , which raised the campaign in favor of workers’ associations. Days after the publication of the order prohibiting reading in the workshops, the newspaper of the artisans inserted an article: Advantages of the Associations, written by José de Jesús Márquez, in which he realized that the Public Library of the Society Economic Friends of the Country looked so crowded that chairs were needed to accommodate the workers who attended there, evident evidence that the love of reading had taken root among the workers.

For their part, the cigar makers who understood that the union was the salvation of their interests, began the work for the constitution of a guild, whose bases were agreed at the end of June 1866; The Tobacco Association of Havana emerged, whose first President was Saturnino Martínez. The cigar makers soon had more than 3,000 members, and shortly after they began to be called the Tobacco Guild. Regarding political and economic struggles, two groups stood out in the association: one, a supporter of cooperativism, an economic system whose doctrines began to spread between the Cuban proletariat, and the other, composed of the most radical ideas workers, who they were opposed to how much the struggle for the immediate improvement of the social class to which they belonged did not mean.

The latter achieved that in September 1866, the Guild declared a strike at the Cabañas factory. It was a test to determine to what extent the feeling of solidarity between tobacco workers had taken root. The strike was resolved within a few days, although the demands of the torcedores were satisfied, the leaders’ actions led to serious discussions. Saturnino Martínez, was accused of lukewarmness for the radical elements, there was talk of compromise, it was assured that Saturnino was “more literate than worker”. The truth is that, despite the triumph achieved in the Cabañas strike, the Tabaqueros Guild was dissolved in November 1866, so that only some mutual relief societies were left in some workshops. These groups played a rather beneficial function than a classist,

The Cabañas strike, the first movement of this type registered in Cuba , attracted suspicion of the authorities of the colony on the tobacco workers. Some leaders were persecuted and were forced to temporarily leave the factories where they worked; they moved to the workshops inside the Island. The Aurora went on to purely literary issues, although without abandoning some labor problems. Thus, in its issue of May 3, 1868, the first of its “third epoch,” the edition changed its subtitle, from a newspaper dedicated to artisans to that of the Weekly of Science, Literature and Criticism.

Gradually, the reading had been restored in the most important workshops, with the prior authorization of their owners, without the authorities intervening in the illegality. But, in October 1868, when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes started the war against Spanish power and raised arms in front of some patriots, the reading disappeared completely from the tobacco shops.

The cigar makers who had distinguished themselves most for their love of liberal ideas had to emigrate to Key West and New York . There were tobacco factories that used the same elaboration system that was practiced in Cuba , implanted by the Cuban twists, who eager for new horizons and an existence more in line with their ideals of freedom and democracy went from several years before to the United States . Many of them returned to the homeland as part of the armed expeditions that came to fight for their freedom, while the rest were established in the tobacco centers from which they contributed their monetary contribution to how many attempts were made afterYara shout to make Cuba independent of Spanish rule.

As soon as the Key West workshops became important and their staff was numerous enough to sustain the necessary expenses, the reading resurfaced there. The same thing happened years later, in 1886, when the first tobacco shops began to arrive in Tampa: The Prince of Wales (owned by Vicente Martínez Ibor), and Sánchez & Haya.

With peace, work resumed to ensure union among the workers. The guild of workers of the tobacco industry was founded on September 8, 1878. As president Saturnino Martínez was elected and one of his first efforts was the restoration of reading in the tobacco factories. Despite the efforts of Saturnino Martínez, director at that time of La Razón , who “had just released the key to devote himself fully to the pen”, [1] and to the attachment that the twists felt for reading, this time it was much more laborious and slow its restoration. Two years passed before the reader’s voice was heard again in a galley. The first factory to resume reading, in 1880, was La Intimidad (by Antonio Caruncho), then located at Belascoaín No. 34, corner of San Rafael.

The manufacturers were opposed to granting authorization to be read again in their workshops. For several months, La Intimidad was the only workshop with reader. In 1882, José González Aguirre, one of the leaders, who together with Saturnino Martínez and others were in charge of the tobacco sector, managed to allow reading at the Partagás factory. [1] On the other hand, the ideological disagreements that endangered the existence of the proletarian entity founded five years earlier, were largely responsible for the slowness with which the reading in the galleys reappeared.

In 1884, the organization of the tobacco industry workers resurfaced, now led by Sabino Muñiz and the readers’ stands, rose again in all the tobacco factories. It was in those days when the propaganda of the anarchist creed began among the Cuban proletariat, thanks to the dissemination, by tobacco readers, of the leaflets written by José Llunás, Director of the weekly La Tramonta , propagator of anarchist ideas and author of most of the brochures that arrived in Cuba, a Catalan revolutionary, followed by the works of Kropotkin , Proudhon and Bakunin, how much influence they had on the performance of the Cuban workers during two later decades of the 19th century.

Again the cigars were divided into two groups. On the one hand, there were sympathizers of anarchism and those who, without being so, viewed radical procedures with pleasure. On the other, there were supporters of collaboration with the employer class. Among the members of the first group, those who worked for the independence of Cuba had a frank welcome and generous help, while on the opposite side the individuals named reactionaries, some of them even officers in the famous Volunteer Battalions that guarded The main squares of the Island.

The disagreements between the cigar makers were taken advantage of by the manufacturers and it was not long before resurfacing stoppages that once again drowned the differences existing in the working class. Among the most important strikes of those days, those of the Party are mentioned, in 1886 and that of Las Albas, in 1888, both lost by the workers. The torcedores tried to raise the prices of elaboration in all the factories of second order, that is to say, those that worked with materials of the zone of Party (of there the name of the strike) linked with those of other origins and to level those prices with the that paid in the first category workshops, in which the branch of Vuelta Abajo was used exclusively in the crooked one.

At first, the owners of the latter liked the idea, because it eliminated their competitors from the market but then, together with all the manufacturers to hear that the twists projected future demands in all tobacco shops, they agreed to a general strike that caused the strike break and, therefore, the defeat of the workers. The first almost destroyed the organization and the second motivated, at the end, its division into two rival entities: The Workers Alliance, composed of most of the twists, that is, by the most radical and active trend elements, and The Workers Union , formed by those who distinguished themselves most in the betrayal of their companions. The struggle that led to this division was, without doubt,

In this wreck, the reading was saved and in the period from 1889 to 1895 he dedicated himself to the propaganda that, from the stands of the workshops, the sympathizers of the revolutionary cause made that would soon culminate with the Grito de Baire . In the months that preceded the outbreak of the war, the reading served to spread the work of the revolutionary clubs that conspired abroad and prepared the movement initiated on February 24, 1895.

In the galleys there were articles and pamphlets of separatist tendencies in which, according to several newspapers of the time, «insulting language was used against the Spanish nation». The continued repetition of these events led to extreme vigilance by the authorities and, although in the tobacco shops the reading of publications contrary to the regime had been suppressed, in some factories these were disclosed when the foremen and managers were not found present. That kept bothering, and the reader’s tribune was compared to a revolutionary pulpit, provoking internal problems that had to be avoided. A few months later, the following statement appeared in El Siglo :

It is no longer read in the stands El Patria , El Porvenir , El Esclavo , Cuba Libre and other papers of that kind, but knowing the foremen who seem to turn a blind eye, sympathetic lanes are formed after lunch there corners of the galleys and those libels are read in a halftone and even collections are made for the common fund.

  1. Rivero Muñiz [1]

These and other complaints, given to advertising by different newspapers in Havana, finally produced the effect desired by the authors. On June 8, 1896, the regional and civil governor of this province, José Porrúa, issued a circular in which, based on the provisions of article 31 of the Law of Public Order of April 23, 1870, he prohibited from that date “the public reading of newspapers, books and brochures in factories and workshops”, and made owners or managers responsible for any infringement. Three days later, a commission composed of several tobacco readers visited the newspaper La Lucha., to request the support of this newspaper, the most liberal of those that were then published in the capital, so that the governor revoked his prohibitive order. In response, La Lucha suggested that the governor “could make his measure less damaging to the interest of readers by regulating his work in some way, and not depriving those citizens of livelihoods.” [one]

The next day, the newspaper reported that Porrúa was willing to modify its readiness against reading, something that was not true. On June 15, a group of workers returned to La Lucha to announce that the suspension had caused great disgust among the tobacco workers and that a general strike was taking place, for which some commissions had been formed. Through the newspaper, attention was drawn to the governor “in order to avoid bad consequences, with a greater advantage than that resulting from a suppression that breaks with long-interrupted custom.” [one]

The readers, urged by the drastic law that deprived them of the means they had for a living, held a meeting at the home of Martín Morúa Delgado, reader of the Villar and Villar factory. Morúa, days before, had sent a letter to Porrúa, asking him to leave his circular without effect and also indicating a formula to solve the problem. He was also the author of an article, published in The Discussion, which dealt with the case. Even the industrialists themselves, eager to avoid conflicts that could harm their interests, intervened in the matter. On June 17, a commission of the Union of Tobacco Manufacturers, formed by Gustavo Bock and Manuel Valle Fernández, owners of the Henry Clay & Bock Company and La Flor de Cuba, respectively,[1] At this request, Porrúa was adamant, and replied that he was not willing to cancel his prohibition order.

The newspapers La Lucha and La Discusión published comments on what happened, advised the workers serenity and proposed the governor to agree to the demands of the readers. The protests of the cigar makers made other influential people intervene and Porrúa had to give in, but it imposed as an inescapable condition that the owners guarantee that no subversive work would be read in the stands of their respective workshops. Only José Gener and Batet, owner of La Excepción, pledged to meet such a risky requirement, so that reading was immediately resumed in that factory. [1] In the rest of the factories, the reading was suspended, with great discontent from its readers and cigar makers.

After a few months and without the authorities knowing they were, little by little the readers were occupying their former positions, and again the supporters of the independence cause took advantage of the tobacco stand for the propaganda of their ideals; the twisters contributed, some with their donations, while others joined the insurgent forces that from one end of the Island to the other fought for the quickest realization of such a long-awaited and legitimate yearning.

After the war, only in a tobacco factory (Cabañas) was prohibited the reading, by the criticism that in certain journalistic works was made of Leopoldo Carvajal, owner of said workshop. This prohibition caused a strike movement that was soon resolved in favor of the cigar makers, although the reading was excluded from that tobacco shop’s galley until the period of the Republic.

Tobacco migrants and José Martí

When the independence of Cuba was proclaimed in La Demajagua , on October 10, 1868, persecutions against workers sympathetic to the cause began to intensify. Unable to obtain occupations in the tobacco shops of the island, whose owners were mostly Spanish and had “circulated” their names to be denied work where they were presented. There were numerous crooks who emigrated to other lands, in order to earn a salary that allowed them to live and continue their independence ideals. The United States and Mexico were the nearby republics where they took refuge and where emigration became easier and less expensive.

The Cuban cigars managed to settle in Veracruz , New Orleans , Key West , Philadelphia , New York , towns where until the mid-nineteenth century, there were some tobacco shops with very limited production.

While in Cuba, Governor Jovellar ordered a raffle with the aim of increasing the ranks of the defenders of Spain in Cuba, which caused new twists to go to Florida and increase the installation of manufactures, tobacco stores and houses of commission for the preparation and sale of the Cuban branch in North America . The newly arrived cigar workers wanted to work in the same conditions as they did in Cuba and revived the reading in the tobacco shops, where new readers or those who had been became the promoters of the favorable opinion of the heroic Cuban patriots.

In 1869 the cigar makers, led by the reader of the tobacco factory Martínez Ibor and José Dolores Poyo, an illustrious patriot, founded the first revolutionary club of emigration, called Patriotic Association of Key West, of which Poyo was its first President. Funds were raised among emigrants to send weapons, ammunition and medicines to those fighting in Cuba. Thanks to these aids, various expeditions could be dispatched to the Island, including that of the Galvanic, on December 27, 1869 and two other ships that left on December 20, 1869 and January 1870. It should be noted that in this period the strong tariff rates applied to crooked tobacco caused twice as many tobacco users to migrate to the neighboring giant in search of social and political improvements.

After the war ended in May 1878, some of the tobacco workers returned to the homeland, although many stayed, since they had formed their families and returning to the homeland meant starting over. But they supported the cause of the definitive war for freedom, their patriotism did not diminish from a distance and they had the incentive to share Martian ideas.

José Martí arrived in Key West on November 25, 1891, invited by Néstor Leonelo Carbonell, president of the Ignacio Agramonte club, founded in Tampa , who wished to see the union of Cuban elements based there. The next day he paid a visit to the cigar workers who worked at the Martínez Ibor factory, where he was received by the standing workers, who greeted him with a prolonged and loud rattling of their keys. Hours later, in the spacious hall of the Liceo Cubano, after some phrases of presentation by Ramón Rivero and Rivero, Martí climbed into the gallery and addressed the absorbed crowd that filled the premises, began his famous speech «With everyone and for the good of all », saying:

For Cuba that suffers, the first word, and with all and for the good of all, summarizes the entire program to be carried out, not only in those critical moments but also later, when the Republic is already a fact.


Following this speech, which was taken shorthand by Francisco María González, reader of the Eduardo H. Gato workshop ( Key West ), the revolutionary work was resumed with greater vigor; The Cuban Patriotic League was created and resolutions were passed that can be considered an anticipated preamble of the bases of the Cuban Revolutionary Party , approved in Key West on January 6, 1892 at the historic meeting held by the delegates of the different clubs in the hotel Duval

In emigration, the reader’s gallery was not only the platform from which newspapers and magazines were read; from it the call to freedom was heard, it was a mother and refuge of the ideas of the workers who took care of it with passion and maintained it with their own salaries. That is why Martí called it the Advanced Tribune of Freedom and used it as a pedestal of his propaganda and delivered from it some of his most eloquent and inspired speeches, in which he called the cigar makers as the “doctors” of the Cuban proletariat and the readers as “workshop graduates.” In his famous revolutionary speech of November 26, 1891, to the tobacco growers of Tampa, He described them as workers who worked “with the table of thought next to the one to earn bread” and spoke of “those factories that are like academies with their continuous reading and thinking, and those high schools where the hand that bends in the day the tobacco leaf lifts the teaching book at night. Worker of tobacco leaves and book sheets ».[5]

Years later, in 1949, a former cigar maker recalled:

When Martí occupied the gallery in the factories of Tampa and Key West to launch from it his verb of admonition and combat, it was the cigar makers who understood and followed it before the remaining factors of emigration. They were the twists, with their donations, with their enthusiasms, the first revolutionaries. Without them, Martian preaching would have fallen into a vacuum. And the liaison agent between the Apostle and the workshop, between the word of redemption and the collective conscience, was the tobacco reader.


After his brief visit to the tobacco emigrants from Ibor City, Tampa, Martí returned to New York. Then, in response to an invitation, he returned to Key West on December 25, 1891. On January 1, 1892 he began the work he had done in other places: speeches at the San Carlos, Cuban Circle and Patria y Libertad clubs, inflamed preaching in all tobacco shops. Finally, the aforementioned historic meeting in which the bases of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC), written by Martí himself, were approved. Among those present were numerous cigar makers who encouraged the creation of patriotic organizations, among which we can mention Carlos Baliño , who later founded Julio Antonio Mella the first Communist Party of Cuba.

At later dates, Martí made other visits to Tampa and Key West and one of these trips was motivated by the strike declared at the tobacco shop La Rosa Española. So important for the independence cause were the tobacco organizations, that Captain General Manuel Salamanca and Negrete decided to destroy the tobacco centers of Key West and Tampa to annihilate the rebel organization. To achieve this purpose, the strike of the Spanish Rose was used, to transfer the Spanish substitutes to Key West. In response, the patriots organized the La Tranca Society and waited for the strikebreakers, stake in hand. Martí himself instructed lawyer Horacio Rubens to ventilate the illegality of the peninsular incursion in court. After the victory came from the Cubans,

Even so, the revolutionary work continued and all the tobacco workers gave 10% of their salary to support the cause. Another form of assistance to men, who during the Ten Years’ War had fought against Spanish troops, consisted in giving them the opportunity to win a wage and live decently in Key West or Tampa. For this purpose, they were allowed to learn lucrative trades, while those whose health status did not allow them to perform certain kinds of work, they were sought employment as tobacco shop readers, school teachers, office workers, etc., so that they would not They will be ashamed to live on behalf of others. Apart from the individual voluntary contribution, there were other avenues that also produced numerous entries to the freedom funds: picnics, patriotic evenings, theatrical functions, raffles,

In 1892, tobacco workers organized and celebrated the First Workers Congress, not without causing persecutions, by the authorities, who recognized in them a prepared and organized enemy, therefore more dangerous. In the workshop of Blas Hernández, the tobacco that brought to Juan Gualberto Gómez the lifting order for the second half of February 1895 was elaborated. Three ships, the Amadís, Laganda and Baracoa, brought to Cuba the expedition that failed by the North American betrayal, when the ships were discovered in full crossing. The cigar workers had to recover what they lost and they did so to send new weapons to Cuba.

Hence, when the revolution broke out in Cuba in February 1895, it found Cubans abroad completely organized, with revolutionary societies, whose purpose was not only political propaganda, but mainly to raise funds. All thanks to the genius, the tenacious and indomitable spirit, the inspired word and the patriotic ardor of Martí, who managed to perform this miracle. When Martí fell in Dos Ríos on May 19, 1895, the Cuban cigar makers did not give up or get discouraged, but instead increased individual collections, the labor unions put their resistance and relief funds at the disposal of the revolution and there were many the workers who left the key and left for Cuba to avenge Marti’s death and offer their lives for the homeland.

In 1898, Spain was expelled from the island, thanks to the victory of the Cubans, which was ignored by the Americans who intervened in the country. The cigar makers had lost their funds to the Americans and their confidence in the US government was betrayed. Blacks released after the definitive abolition of slavery in 1880, despite their status as free men, were discriminated against with the worst jobs and lowest wages, along with women who were inserted into labor jobs as cheap labor , responsible thereafter for tobacco destemming, in which it was not read because females did not have to cultivate or learn. They were discriminated against like ex-slaves and many were inserted in the struggle to defend their equality of thought and deed.

In the colony stage, the history of tobacco readings merges with that of the tobacco proletarian movement. Tobacco readers along with the other workers participated in strikes and strikes, rallies and meetings, fundraising and arms transportation, as well as in all struggles for the independence of Cuba. Tobacco readers, of intense patriotic work among the emigrants, were, among others, José Dolores Poyo, Martí’s friend and selfless and valuable assistant; Francisco María González Quijano, a good speaker and with an outstanding service attitude to disseminate in the press, thanks to his efficient capturing personality, the emotional torrent of the Apostle’s speeches; Luis Valdespino, author and theater artist; Honorato Domínguez, also an actor, and Víctor Muñoz, who after serving the interests of the country from the United States, acquired in the early years of Republican life an enormous popularity that led him to a position of Councilor of the Havana City Council, from the ballot of a political party of recent formation and few followers.

Reading in the tobacco shops of the Republic

When the Republic was established in 1902, the enormous contributions of the tobacco worker to the independence movement were not considered. The discriminating Hispanic colonial bases for the native in the most paid sectors still remained. It was only accessible to the man, the apprenticeship of the tobacco shop and the woman of the destemmer. The other departments were nourished with emigrated Spaniards who learned laggards, pickers, fillers, etc., and after a few years they reached foremen and managers. Nothing had changed the new regime for Creole tobacco workers.

On the same date, 90% of the total export of cigars and tobacco in Cuba were under the control of the American Cigar Company, a production that represented 50% of the total production of these products in the country. But the US trust was also affected by the iron wall of the United States , which deprived them of selling tobacco in the best market; To this were added the social problems that he had to face in the Republic. Therefore, many factories emigrated to the United States and, along with them, many tobacco workers, who sought employment and better wages. History was repeated before 1898.

This led to the fact that in mid-November 1902, the tobacco workers of the Villar and Villar factory demanded certain claims, among which was the free admission of Cuban workers in all departments of the industry without exclusion of race and the learning of The other sectors. The request was not answered and the movement became general to extend to the interior of the country and other branches such as transport. Bloody encounters between strikers and the armed forces originated, a serious situation was created that was stopped only with the intervention of General Máximo Gómez, which asked the workers to depose their attitude, and offered their mediation to solve the problem. However, this offer, the strike was lost without all requests could be obtained and in an assembly, held on November 30, 1902 at the Cuba theater, the return to work was agreed.

In that same year the General League of Cuban Workers was organized, which collected almost all of the tobacco companies integrated in the old Workers Alliance. The defeat suffered in November 1902 affected the dispersion of the organization, and the twists returned to the former practice of the guilds by workshop. This is how in the first years of the republic, the tobacco workers were left without a formal organization, the unions and societies were scattered and without links, they joined only in strikes.

From 1906, the export of crooked tobacco began to decrease and it was not until the last years of the First World War that it managed to rise a little. Salaries began to fall and those who kept working in the branch and did not emigrate, began to face the beginnings of one of the most difficult times in Cuba’s tobacco economy. On February 22, 1907 a general strike was declared in the tobacco shops of Havana , subsequently seconded by those of the interior of the country. The maximum leader of that movement was Emilio Sánchez.

The strike originated from the claim for the payment of working hours and salaries in American currency. At that time, workers in the tobacco industry earned their salary in Spanish gold, silver was quoted and Havana was full of stained glass windows (exchange houses). This operation significantly reduced the days of tobacco workers and was a real abuse, because the dollar was quoted at a weight of forty cents Spanish currency. The (American) Currency Strike was maintained for 4 months, with the help of the entire town and the cigar makers of Tampa and Key West; with it the cohesion and discipline of the tobacco worker was demonstrated; the triumph of the demands came on June 15, 1907. Subsequently, they were organized in the Tobacco Federation, directed by Emilio Sánchez himself.

The federation was liquidated when the “no reduction” movement in tobacco prices, undertaken by tobacco growers, failed. This situation remained until 1914 when the cigar makers, demonstrating their fighting tradition, began to consolidate their organization again. In this year, Resistance Societies were created throughout the province, with the aim of obtaining funds for eventual strikes, the construction of a social building, the purchase of a printing press, the promotion of libraries and schools, the publication of a newspaper, the protection and assistance to family members of dead tobacco workers and other proletarian benefits. In a few years, the association, which in 1925 would be the Torcedores Resistance Society of Havana, came to have a fund of 38,000 pesos in the Spanish Bank. Regrettably,

During the regency of Mario García Menocal , the strike movements were numerous. In the second period of his government, the trade organizations of the provinces of Havana and Pinar del Río were consolidated in the Biprovincial Federation, with the recognition of the manufacturers (also organized). Its top leader was José Bravo Suárez, who betrayed the cigar makers and fled to Mexico with the money they had raised after the huge loss of 1920.

In the government of Alfredo Zayas Alfonso , a National Federation formed by three biprovincial federations was created, in which all tobacco workers from Cuba entered into a powerful organization, respected by the government and the manufacturers. But the year 1921 was one of the worst for the export of tobacco and it is not until 1925 that this activity increases slightly to collapse again in subsequent years.

As mentioned earlier, most tobacco factories belonged to Americans, who also owned the best export market. Cuban manufacturers had to “beg” their exports against US power; That is why different committees began to be created to promote one hundred percent Cuban and manual tobacco, discrediting the machine-made or American-owned tobacco. Thus, on July 12, 1922, the law was passed through which the National Commission for Propaganda and Defense of Habano Tobacco was created, whose functions were to direct and propagate the merits of Cuban Habano tobacco in favor of the ruling class.

The cigar workers continued with the idea of ​​constructing a social building and in an extraordinary assembly it was agreed to issue a bond issue of 5 pesos each, to buy the land and manufacture the property. In 1924, the first stone was placed on San Miguel and Marquez González street. The work cost 85,000 pesos and was directed by the engineer Abel Fernández. In this building the schools, libraries and printing press of the Torcedores Society were installed; This building is still preserved and works today as the Palace of the Torcedores.

In 1925, with the government of Gerardo MachadoA new attempt was made to implement the tobacco twisting machine, which would lead to the unemployment of many workers, more black than white and, in addition, an increase in production that would lower prices and directly affect small producers, which would force them to close their factories. In that same year, at the initiative of the tobacco growers of La Corona, the Torcedores Resistance Society of Havana was founded, which, together with other analogues based in towns of the interior, gave rise to the Biprovincial Federation of Torcedores de La Habana and Pinar del Río. Then, following the National Tobacco Congress, held in Santa Clara in 1926, this organization became the National Federation of Torcedores, which when the strike of 1932 failed, was divided again. Havana cigars, When the government of Machado fell in 1933, the leaders of their Society were dismissed, and they changed their name to that of the Union. It was there, in the Torcedores Union, where the monumental construction of the Single Trade Union Center was created and where the figure of Lázaro Peña, an occasional tobacco shop operator and reader, was raised, which allowed him to overcome himself in a self-taught way.

The cigar workers remained in the vanguard of the labor movement. It was a magnificent environment for the political propaganda of Julio Antonio Mella, whose popular universities were filled with tobacco companies in San Antonio de Los Baños and Havana. Mella was his idol, the readers in the workshops avidly read the student manifests from the FEU printing press. All political dissemination against Machado passed through the tobacco stands and in the most acute moments of terror, the proclamations circulated there from hand to hand. Together with an old collaborator of José Martí, Carlos Baliño, a tobacco worker from emigration since colonial times, Mella constituted, in 1925, the first Communist Party of Cuba. That year the National Workers Confederation of Cuba (CNOC) was created,

In 1926, the tobacco workers’ campaign began against the tobacco twisting machine, used since the beginning of the Republic, but which boomed from the previous year; there were then strikes, strikes and boycotts to the products of this. For two years, these actions were maintained, which in 1928 took on a national character. The torcedores organized excursions to different parts of the country to mobilize workers and hold rallies in public places and had the competition of local authorities, a situation that lasted until 1930.

At the death of Mella , in 1929, there were strong protests and, at the end of the year of his death, work was paralyzed throughout the Island for an hour, whose first fifteen minutes the tobacco workers spent them standing and silent. At the death of Trejo, in 1930, some tobacco companies joined the protests and adhered to the manifesto of the University Student Directory, which cost them the expulsion from the federation. As of this year, a wave of unemployment and fierce struggle of the popular masses against the government began. This stage of violent struggles corresponded with an acute economic crisis in the tobacco industry. Trade declined and money barely circulated. In these circumstances, the manufacturers requested a reduction in the prices granted to them in 1931. They then requested it again and were denied this time, which led to a strike of more than 180 days in which the US trust took its factories and the economy almost collapsed. Manufacturers lowered wages and raised taxes, then caused all or almost all tobacco workers to quit jobs. But, over time they had to return to their positions in order to live.

In 1933, the general political strike broke out against Machado , led by the Confederation to which all tobacco workers joined. The syndicalist tendency was manifested among the tobacco workers to the influence of the National Confederation of Workers of Cuba (CNOC), all societies became unions with the objective of creating the National Trade Union of Industry, which took the place of the former National Federation of Workers.

After this triumph, some manufacturers who had moved their factories from their place of origin for fear of the cigar makers, refused to return, which led to the declaration of a new strike and a boycott. It was the moment of greatest labor agitation after the fall of Machado. All tobacco moved to the United States to be produced there. The Joint Committee was mobilized and Antonio Guiteras was required(Secretary of the Interior), who landed tobacco or would have a national general strike and Guiteras agreed. This situation lasted for months, in which tobacco of any kind was not exported. But, in the Mendieta government, in 1936, after a bloody fight, everything returned to normal and the Tobacco Confederation was thrown into illegality. On that date, the National Tobacco Federation (FNT) was constituted, which a semester later acquired legal personality, upon obtaining its registration as a Provincial Association. On February 4, 1938 he was granted the character of national organization.

With such social, economic and political events, the tobacco worker became a reflection of the impoverished national economy, although this did not diminish his desire for struggle and organization of tobacco workers. Therefore, under the direction of the FNT, activities such as the First Tobacco Congress were sponsored, from December 4 to 5, 1938; the first National Conference of Destemmers, held in Havana , on May 14, 1939; various concentrations and parades to demand your needs; the promulgation of decrees that will improve the quality of tobacco and tobacco workers’ work, etc.

By 1940, the precarious Cuban economy and unemployment caused by it yielded chilling statistics in which it was shown that only 5 out of every 100 workers who worked in 1906 worked. From 1943 to 1944, there was a small improvement in the export of tobacco that It ended at the end of World War II (1939-1945), when many important markets, such as the British , had been lost.

The postwar period was characterized by the aggressiveness of national and foreign monopolies, in their eagerness to seize the economic sectors that were not under their influence and in a greater exploitation of those dominated by them. Again the twisting machine threatened the workers, but they remained united and created a commission to analyze the mechanization in 1945, it was agreed to make a census of the tobacco industry that ended on September 12, 1946, to give way to the work of the War Economy Board and the Tobacco Industry Committee that gave rise to the Tobacco Stabilization Fund.

After the second inauguration of the government of Ramón Grau San Martín , he pretended to respect the Central of Workers of Cuba (CTC) and even met with leaders of the Popular Socialist Party (PSP), but what he did was to undermine these organizations with employees of anti-communist ideas that led to the creation of fraudulent “workers ‘organizations, the organization of separatist congresses that boycotted the true workers’ demonstrations and called on true leaders like Lázaro Peña to leave the labor movement under penalty of” accidentally “dying.

In 1947, the tobacco workers managed to eliminate the twisting machine from most of the workshops, the bases of the workers’ organizations were well established, they had managed to organize nationally and a simple town strike could become a national strike, which forced the authorities to respond immediately.

Until this decade of the Republic, tobacco readers were strong pillars in the organizations, propaganda and actions of tobacco companies against the puppet governments on duty. They had to fight their own fight against radio, a context that began when the first devices arrived in Havanaand one of them was installed in the Cabañas y Carvajal factory to broadcast the National Baseball Series of 1923. But reader and radio managed to live together, the reading continued with the novelty that, with the passing of the years, the microphone was added and the amplifier. The cigar makers listened to news and music that came to them on the radio, but when important events arose and it was essential to claim their warmth and effort, the tribune occupied a companion whose voice, as in other times, joined them in The same emotion.

The Cabañas factory, the only one that did not renew the reading after the War of Independence , changed its address, when it moved, at the beginning of the Republic , from its former residence in Dragones No. 6 between Industria y Amistad, to the modern building that the twists called the Iron House, because it was one of the first buildings that were built in Havana with a frame of that metal. [one] There the offices and parts of the workshops of the Tabacalera Cubana, SA were established and the reader’s tribune in the new premises was inaugurated by Víctor Muñoz, one of the best readers of Cuba, known by the cigar makers by the nickname of El Abogadito and who also distinguished himself as a journalist of exceptional faculties in the most important newspapers of the capital, who is also credited with the establishment in Cuba of the celebration of Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May.

The practice of reading remained in the workshops. In the tobacco shop they read Leopoldo Tejedor, a notable actor in the vernacular theater; Ambrosio Borges, Representative to the Chamber; Francisco Cabal y Flores, Eusebio Coll, Manuel Castelló, Pancho, the Mexican; Manuel Alfonso and Juan Pastor, who for many years occupied the tribune of Partagás; José Manuel Cortina, one of the best speakers in Cuba, as a young man was a reader in Caruncho; Hevia the Trichuelo; Bernardo Lobo; Celestino Álvarez, Manuel González, Pedro Eloy Fundora, Dean Córdova, Facundo Acción and Martín Morúa Delgado.

When the 1950s arrived, readers maintained their status as tobacco workers. According to the prestige of the factory, represented by its brand, which in turn affected workers’ salaries, they donated 5 to 25 cents of their weekly salary to pay the reader. At that time, the microphone was used to help the reader, although the reading only reached the galley and the despalillo and did not include the rest of the departments that make up a tobacco shop.

The reading was suggested by the cigar makers themselves, who, upon entering the reader to begin reading, placed what they wanted to be read that day on the platform. Following the tradition of its beginnings, the President of Reading rang a bell, calling for discipline and silence to begin reading. The activity, with a duration of 180 minutes per day, was divided into four shifts of 45 minutes each, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. In the morning shifts, the flat press, magazines and political propaganda materials disclosed by the PCC, Revolutionary Directory, the FEU, and the Tobacco Union were read. In the afternoon shifts, novels, classics of literature and, above all, books with strong content concerning social struggles and proletarian movements were read.

The situation of the tobacco companies in the factories was not as difficult as in the previous times. The employer, as the owners were called, did not deal with what they did and, therefore, was not an obstacle to the readings against the government. On many occasions, the owners even put themselves in favor of the cigar makers when the police broke into a factory to take the revolts and revolutionaries, as happened in Partagás, in 1958, when the reader finished reading History will absolve me , only reading public that was made of this work before 1959.

On the eve of the revolutionary triumph, the tobacco workers had a strong unity and solidarity in their sector and with other branches. They were organized and prepared to continue the fight against capitalist oppression and were strong support in the cities for the consolidation of the rebel victory on January 1, 1959.

Tobacco reading in the post-revolutionary period

The triumph of the Revolution was embraced by the tobacco workers who left their factories to celebrate their conquest. They no longer had to give anyone an account of what was read in their factories. The funds no longer had to be raised to support the revolution or to bribe the minions of tyranny. They were finally free to create their own organizations with the freedom to spread their working class ideas without receiving criticism from the media or the government’s ban or persecution of their leaders.

Tobacco readers, as part of the revolution that triumphed, were able to extend their range of action to those chosen and destemmed. They stopped being paid by the cigar makers, now they charged as one more operator of the factory. It was not possible to specify how the payment of the reader was before the promulgation of Instruction No. 2214 of the Organization of Labor and Social Security, of June 25, 1983, so this date is taken as the legal starting point of the trade, assuming that previously the payment of the reader was the product of a subcontract. Following the VIII Tobacco Congress, after having taken as a proposal in the Agreements of the First Meeting of Readers of Selected Tobacco and Despalillos, held from November 19 to 26, 2003, the position of the reader was classified as Technical Reading, a salary readjustment of 198 pesos to 230 pesos was made and a recognition from the social point of view by the masterful work he performed. In addition, he was granted a card that identified him to enable his access to libraries, information centers, as well as other institutions that he would need to attend, according to his interests.

Fundamental and decisive changes were operated from the conceptual point of view, and the purely masculine performance became feminine as well. Traditionally, reading in tobacco shops was a work reserved for men, in history the presence of women was recorded in isolated cases. But with the increasing incorporation of this to work and its integration into all the tasks of the Revolution, the reading began with female voices, a change that was well received by the cigar makers. They recognized in women the patience, discipline and sacrifice that is required in the activity of reading. On the other hand, the low initial salary of the profession made readers occupy more remunerative positions; This is how women entered into the reading of tobacco shops and today they represent the majority in the trade.

The work of the readers began to be governed by the Technical Advisory Council, which is based in the Tobacco Museum of the Office of the Historian. This Council is responsible for raising the culture of readers, intensifying their training systematically, disseminating their work, as well as setting work goals in correspondence with existing needs. The Council meets on a quarterly basis and through a work plan consolidates activities of a specific nature in each center, according to the particularities of the place.

If in previous periods it was the cigar makers themselves who chose their readings and their reader, after the triumph of the Revolution, in each tobacco shop, despalillo or chosen there is or must be a reading commission, composed of a president, a vice president, a representative union, an administrative, the reader and two members (a young man and a prominent worker). This structure is responsible for selecting and approving the reader of the center, providing documentation and assessing the genres that are addressed in the readings. It is about finding a balance between them and proposes in an assembly with the workers, the titles for approval. They are organized in all the tobacco shops, together with the union section and the cultural houses of the town where the factory is located, the activities of the Thursday of Culture, made in the afternoons of this day. Participating in the conference are amateur artists from houses and tobacco shops, and lectures, talks, etc. are given.

The reading commission requires the reader to use their card, inside and outside the center, suggests initiatives that enrich the reader’s work, proposes to the assembly workers the music that will be heard; seeks compatibility between existing generations and supervises that between reading shifts, information, soap operas and music are disseminated so that there is no empty space that loses the effect of cultivating the intelligence of tobacco workers.

There is a regulation for reading with the use of the base radio, approved on July 20, 1998, which set the guidelines for defining the functions of the reader, while serving as a guide in their work and avoiding confusion. in factories about their work content. The emergence of the base radio allowed the reading of all the departments of the factories, which changed their conditions completely, from reading to cigar makers (referring to the twisters), to reading for banders, destemmers, tobacco school where the apprentices, center management, reception and others were concentrated.

For its part, the Tabacalero Trade Union was responsible for taking readers to systematic training exercises through the Provincial Party Schools, the CTC, the José Martí Cultural Society , universities, radio stations and libraries. The Union, in addition, instituted its day of celebration framed from November 19 to 26, as a worthy tribute to the words with which the Apostle, on November 26, 1891, addressed the cigar makers in Tampa:

My heart goes to a worker like a brother. Some writing the sheet and others twisting it. On an ink table and on the other casing and layer. Of tobacco there is only the virtue of the one who works it, perhaps the reason for his right and the way to conquer it.


During this day, readings were made in the tobacco, despalillos and chosen, related to the Martian ephemeris that were framed in the period. Conversations were established on the life and work of the Apostle, where retirees participated, and the constitution of forests, gardens and Martian clubs, with more than 5,000 workers, was promoted as part of joint activities with the José Martí Cultural Society .

This date was also taken to organize every two years the Meetings of Tobacco, Despalillo and Escoctores Readers, held twice since the idea proposed in the VIII Tobacco Congress was put into practice: the first one was held in 2003 and the second, on February 24, 2005. In the meetings agreements were made in favor of the development of reading, its improvement and greater reach in the new times. A representation of each province attended, which then met with their countrymen and transmitted their experiences to share them with the tobacco workers, eager to know the progress of their reading.

In socialist Cuba, reading achieved the social and labor recognition that had been sought since its creation. Currently, after so many contextual changes, readers have become the political and ideological force of the trade union organization, they occupy a position within their section, which should conveniently be in the sphere of education and propaganda. The union has taken advantage of the skills of readers as communicators, to summon the historic spirit of justice and combat that has characterized the tobacco worker.

The reading of tobacco shops, and after the decade of the 60s, also of destemmers and chosen ones, has kept its essence practically unchanged for more than a century. Currently, it has reached its true formative character and a definitive profile with the incorporation of women into reading, as an unmistakable sign of the new times.

Although the reading process has lost part of its tradition, work is being done to reinstate the habit of a Reading President who rings the bell at the beginning and end of the activity to maintain the respect and discipline that reading deserves.

Readers work to exploit the potential of the book on a mission that is not yet perfectly achieved. They collect materials, select the literature, which varies the genres to diversify the tastes of workers who sometimes prefer monothematic literature and lacking professionalism or class-forming sense, so sought after by the initiators of the institution, in a historically politicized sector and instructed by Cuban society.

At present, the main objective of reading is “teaching and cultivating workers intellectually, dignifying their status as a working class, continuing and promoting revolutionary values, motivating the work and the tasks of the Revolution.” In the midst of the Battle of Ideas , the objective has been extended to “enriching the spirituality of the proud tobacco working class of its readers.” [8]

Today, in Cuba, reading in the workshops is a magnificent platform for the dissemination of revolutionary texts and the speeches of Fidel and other high figures of the Revolution. Today the reader’s tribune is the Revolution .


  • It is a tradition that if the workers are satisfied with the work of the tobacco reader, their keys (flat metal blades with which they cut the tobacco leaf) clap against the tables, but if they are dissatisfied, then they will throw them to the ground said tool.
  • It is attributed to the readings of the novels The Count of Montecristo(by Alejandro Dumas ), as well as Romeo and Julieta (by William Shakespeare ), for having assigned such names to vitolas (caliber measures or cigar forms become Cuban brands) They have achieved worldwide fame. The first of these works of universal literature is said to have been one of the favorites, whose reading the crooked workers of the Cuban cigar factories asked for.
  • The tobacco reader is a work that entertains and raises the cultural level of those who listen to it day by day. Through a voice with a familiar face they are aware of the latest national or international news and the best of universal and Cuban literature, as well as other options of interest in the sector. The renowned writer and journalist, now deceased, Tomás Álvarez de los Ríos, also did this work at a time in his life. The bard Fayad Jamís, who from his native Mexicocame to reside as a child to the town of Guayos, about 13 kilometers from the city of Sancti Spiritus, also performed at some point., where he established a close friendship with Thomas. For sure, it is unknown how many tobacco readers currently exist in the country, as they are hired by the workers’ groups, but it is estimated to be 213.


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