1910 Workers' Strike

The issue of “selectors” creates another strike in Tampa

Assassination, Arson, Lynching, and Terror: Crisis during Tampa’s Seven-Month Strike

The Cigar Makers International Union announced its push for recognition at the Labor Temple on 8th Avenue, on June 29, 1910. Angelo Leto, a Union member, declared that the manufacturers were forcing cigar makers to strike by not recognizing their union, denying workers of their rights. And so, the struggle between factory owner and worker gave birth to another crippling strike.

On July 13, the Cigar Makers International Union (CMIU) met once more. Factory owners blamed tobacco leaf selectors for the labor strife. They were looking for the best selectors, and deported those who did not perform to their standards, creating a labor problem in Tampa: four to five thousand men had lost their jobs, and almost two thousand had left Tampa, and the numbers continued to grow. The strife exacerbated questions of ethnicity, class, and race that were already bubbling under the surface.

By August, the strike had gone into full effect, with 12,000 men protesting. It seemed as if there would be little violence, like the 1901 strike. But the lessons learned from the Citizen’s Committee would come back in a dangerous way: city officials resorted to police force and vigilantism, in an effort to end the strike as soon as possible.

In September, factory owners opened several large factories and asked the workers to return to work. No one reported for duty, and outside the factories, confrontations between strikers and police took place. The situation became more and more grim, and worse acts were to follow.

The Balbin Brother’s Cigar factory was burned to the ground by an arsonist, and the Tribune’s office nearly was as well. Many factories closed. On 14 September 1910, J.F. Easterling, a bookkeeper at the Bustilo Brothers and Diaz factory, was assassinated as he tried to enter the factory. He was shot, and fell into a coma from he did not wake. The Tampa Tribune called it the “first American” casualty, a fact that greatly upset the immigrant laborers of Tampa, who saw themselves as American citizens.

On September 20, police arrested two men, Castenge Ficarrota and Angelo Albano, who they believed had killed Easterling. A mob took the two men as they were going to jail, and they were found the next morning hanging from an oak tree on the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Howard Avenue.

The citizen’s committee was re-formed on October 4. The committee convinced factory owners to reopen, arrested three strike leaders, and patrolled Tampa’s streets. Workers slowly returned to work, and on January 1911, union leaders and their Joint Advisory Board ended the strike.

Though defeated, the Cigar Makers International Union did not disappear, like La Resistencia before them, and they were able to grow strong enough for one final major strike in the 1920’s. The 1910 strike caused factory owners to lose a combined fifteen million dollars, dislocated masses of laid-off workers, and created much suffering throughout Tampa.
But the strike was another incident in the constant labor struggle between employers and workers that continues, in slightly different form, to this day.