Walking to Work: Tramps in America, 1790-1935

By Eric H. Monkkonen | Go to book overview

Patricia A. Cooper


The "Traveling Fraternity": Union Cigar Makers and Geographic Mobility, 1900-1919

As a lifelong observer of the Cigar Makers' International Union of America (CMIU) remarked, "The cigar maker is a wanderer."1 The description was simple but accurate. John R. Ograin, who learned cigar making in Salt Lake City in 1904, estimated that "99 percent, more or less" of the cigar makers in this AFL craft union traveled at some time during their working years. 2 In any given year in the early twentieth century, one-third or more of the members of the various locals nationwide left their home base to travel and work elsewhere. 3 Herman Baust, a cigar maker in New Haven, Connecticut, during the 1910s, recalled that there were "cigar factories all over the country, and [cigar makers] would travel. They were great travelers. They'd work so long in a factory, then off they'd be." So central was geographic mobility to the CMIU that members nicknamed their organization the "traveling fraternity." 4

Although in the past many scholars have viewed mobility exclusively in economic terms--workers moved only because they had to--and have also associated it with working class instability and fragmentation, the case of union cigar makers suggests a different picture. 5 Their mobility constituted a vital craft custom and an indispensable element of work culture. By work culture I mean the system of traditions, beliefs, and accepted behaviors of workers in a particular occupation or workplace and the meaning and function of these patterns. Work culture expresses the system of ideas and practices through which workers adjust, modify, mediate and resist the limits of their situation on the job. Cigar makers had a rich craft culture in the early twentieth century, one which stressed values of mutuality, collective action, pride, and respectability and oper-

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