The Cigar Strike of 1931

The Strike That Ended the Lector System

On November 28th of 1931, the cigar workers met at the Ybor City Labor Temple and organized a strike to protect the cigar factory lectors after they were banned by the cigar firms. The strike failed, bringing about an official end to the lector tradition.

Long before the first cigar factories were established in Ybor city, a long-lasting oral tradition had cemented itself as a part of the cigar factory culture -- the tradition of the factory reader, or lector. Lectors read from variety of printed materials, including novels, newspapers, and political pamphlets. These political texts helped to create a radical consciousness among cigar workers, leading to unionism and regular strikes and work stoppages in the cigar factories. After the blame fell on the lectors for the cigar strike of 1920, it took the cigar factories of Ybor City six years to allow the lectors to return to the floor, this time under stringent regulation. Owners placed severe limitations on lector’s reading material in the factories.

Three years after the 1926 revival of the lectors, the Great Depression slammed the United States with unprecedented force, resulting in a surge in radical thought and causing many to embrace socialism and communism. During the Depression, the Communist Party in Ybor City grew sharply in popularity, and cigar workers began once again requesting that the readers read more proletariat-focused literature.

Two years later, in November of 1931, cigar workers allied with the Communist Party took to the streets of Ybor City. After a meeting in the Labor Temple on 8th Avenue near 14th St., a gathering of workers took to the streets, intending to march to City Hall. A confrontation with police resulted in one police officer being shot and another hit in the head with a brick. In the aftermath of the violence, twenty-four cigar workers were placed under arrest. A meeting held between the cigar manufacturers soon blamed the street violence on the lectors. They agreed to once again remove the lectors from Ybor City cigar factories. Needless to say, the workers were not happy.

On November 28,1931, the workers organized a strike across all of Ybor City to try and save the lectors. Some 7,000 workers came together and stropped working immediately, taking to the streets for three whole days, and holding out till December 7. The workers didn’t get their way despite their communal effort. The lector system came to an end as the workers could hold out no longer without employment.