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Elite women workers and collective action: the cigarette makers of Gijon, 1890-1930.

On May 2, 1898, the Spanish industrial city of Gijon witnessed perhaps the most dramatic riot in its history, when thousands of angry consumers took to the streets in protest against an unpopular food tax. Adding to the drama was the fact that the protest was instigated and carried out by women, whose violence and disregard for property shocked local officials.(1) It began in Cimadavilla, the oldest working-class neighborhood in the city, when a customs official confiscated two fish from a woman fishmonger who had not paid the new tax (consumo) on seafood. Immediately the other sellers in the fishmarket closed their posts and marched behind their banner to the city hall. When the mayor did not appear to talk to them, they took to the streets again, and walked up the hill to the tobacco factory. There they convinced the cigarette makers to join in solidarity. The fact that over 1,800 women worked in one place made them very easy to mobilize and added immediate power to any demonstration. The entire crowd of over 2,000 women and children returned to the city hall, stopping on their way at the jail to shout their support for the editor of the republican daily newspaper (El Noroeste), who had been recently arrested for libel. After more silence from city officials, the crowd marched by other factories calling on all of their women workers to walk out.

The demonstration had been peaceful up to then, but in the afternoon, with still no response from the authorities, it turned violent. From the original issue of the fish, the cry broadened to include the other necessities made expensive through the hated tax. When the focus turned to the price of bread, the women went to Zarracina's flour factory, threw rocks and broke all of the windows. A clerk tried in vain to get a commission of the demonstrators to express their demands "reasonably." Instead they entered and tore open sacks of grain. Afterwards they headed towards Zarracina's own house (he was an important republican leader), pelting it, too, with stones. The next stop was the office of consumo administration, where documents were brought out and burned in the street. Other symbols of tax collection received similar treatment. Finally, local officials called out the soldiers to "calm them down," but their shots into the air only increased the excitement. When darkness fell, the women went home of their own accord, probably to cook dinner and rest.

The next day the rioting began again, with a violence never before seen in Gijon, according to the newspapers. First the women shut down the office where farmers registered their produce. Then they sacked several bakeries (one owned by another noted republican) and Zarracina's chocolate factory. They took the sacks of cocoa, coffee and cinnamon to the streets and sold them for a fraction of their market price to any passer-by. Although the chocolate factory was the first target unrelated to the consumo issue, it formed part of a clear pattern. From the rioters' point of view, food, whether basic or luxury items, should be made available to everyone at affordable prices.

By this time the city and regional government had finally coordinated a response, and the Civil Governor, speaking from the balcony of the City Hall, told the crowd that the consumos would probably be dropped. There were further shouts that the mayor should be sacked, and a committee of women presented a petition to the mayor demanding his resignation. With such a loss of confidence in his leadership, the mayor agreed to step down. The announcement of his resignation drew cheers from the crowd, which finally went home peacefully.

This story offers a fascinating glimpse at one face of working-class women's collective action in turn-of-the-century Gijon. The episode also poses interesting questions about the deeper process of politicization that informed the rioters' behavior. For most of the participants of the riot, these questions are impossible to answer, as they left no other historical footprints. Nevertheless, one group of rioters, the cigarette makers, left a more visible trail of their collective activities. In this paper I will attempt to follow that trail over a period of forty years, from the 1890s to the 1930s, and explore what it can reveal about working-class women's political culture.(2) Although the evidence of the cigarette makers' collective presence in the city is sporadic, the pattern that emerges suggests a new approach to understanding not only the 1898 protest but also the broader question of how working-class women forged and expressed a collective identity. Aside from these implications, the compelling drama of the cigarette makers' lives makes theirs a story worth telling.

Since the early 19th century, the female cigarette maker has been a powerful image in Spanish popular culture. In the 1840s, folklorist Antonio Flores extolled the cigarrera as the epitome of "spanishness," with her "graceful figure," her "black eyes that shoot daggers when they are open," and a set of teeth "whose whiteness the snow could not compete with."(3) Bizet, of course, immortalized the picturesque version of the cigarette maker in his story of Carmen, the feisty heroine who works in a tobacco factory. This popular image of the cigarrera fostered the myth that they were more independent and, as a result, more dangerous than most working-class women. The pervasiveness of this myth is revealed in a manifesto issued in 1919 by the cigarette maker's union in Gijon: "it is time to destroy the legend that cigarette makers are common rabblerousers, earn high salaries and enjoy complete liberty in their work."(4)

The cigarette makers' complaints reflected the decline in their position in the Spanish economy after the 1870s, a decline fostered by long-term processes of mechanization, deskilling and the stagnation of wages. And yet, throughout the period, Gijon's cigarette makers retained their image as privileged and independent workers. More importantly, they translated this privilege into a powerful collective voice that defended their concerns in the political community at large. Their strong and independent voice is even more remarkable in the context of the highly politicized atmosphere of early twentieth-century Gijon. After 1900, Gijon evolved into the quintessential worker's city, dominated by construction, shipping and metallurgical industries, and infamous for its contentious politics. In a political sphere crowded with the voices of male republicans, anarchists, socialists and monarchists, the cigarreras transmitted one of the few public, collective female voices. Thus, the unusual position of the cigarreras, both as workers and as community activists, provides an excellent opportunity to examine the complex ways in which gender shaped the formation and expression of political consciousness.

In many ways, the cigarreras' work experience was similar to that of male artisans in other industries. With relatively high wages, a lifelong job commitment, pride in their skilled labor, and the possibility of promotion up to the lower levels of management, these women aspired to an artisanal elite. With the effects of mechanization, and their concentration into large factories, they were also classic proletarians, skilled workers exposed to mechanizing work processes that reduced their autonomy. These job characteristics set the cigarreras apart from the majority of women workers, who either worked in cottage industry, domestic service, or in low-status jobs within male-dominated industries. They also stood out by generally remaining in the workforce after marriage. Thus, for the cigarreras, wage earning did not comprise a phase in the female life cycle, but a permanent fixture in their lives. Simply put, the cigarette makers' work experience shared more with that of other male artisans than with that of the average female worker.

And yet, as is evident by the gender composition of the consumo protest, the cigarette makers' collective action looked very different from that of their activist male counterparts, who invested their political energies more heavily in formal trade union associations. The context of male working-class politics in 1898 makes this juxtaposition very clear. Gijon's first trade unions were formed early that year, but no women workers joined the burgeoning movement. The male workers most likely to unionize first were those in skilled and artisanal trades, but among women workers even the skilled cigarette makers did not respond. With the apparent discrepancy between their elite work status and their collective action, the cigarreras present a paradox, one that puzzled both their contemporaries - who saw them as politically inconsistent - and historians who might expect them to act like their male counterparts in the work force. Since their artisanal work experience did not translate into typical artisanal political behavior, the cigarette makers confound existing models and open the door to a more flexible interpretive framework that incorporates nuanced gender distinctions.

More specifically, the cigarette makers seemed to have formed a collective identity rooted in their varied roles in the factory, in the community, and in the family. Since they continued to work after marriage, most of them had immediate family responsibilities as well as workplace concerns. Beyond the confines of the factory and the home, the cigarette makers also emerged as community leaders in the neighborhood in which the factory was located. Thus, during the protest of 1898, the cigarreras were recruited from the factory by their neighbors the fishmongers, but were also motivated as mothers who had to buy food for their families. While working-class men's collective identity had similarly complex origins and motives,(5) the prevailing division of labor in the society created different sets of possibilities for men and women. As a result, the cigarette makers followed a collective agenda that distinguished them from their unionized male colleagues. Even when the cigarette makers eventually unionized, in 1915, they continued to chart an independent course.

Finding an explanation for this behavior is difficult within the existing interpretive frameworks. While social historians have made great strides in introducing gender into class analysis, they have not yet developed models that can successfully integrate the pyramid of work, community and family for women like the cigarreras. Instead, dualistic categories like private and public spheres(6) and traditional and modern politics have created an overly-compartmentalized world in which most women have been confined conceptually, if not physically, in the home.(7) In fact, parallel narratives of the "modernization" of protest(8) and the evolution of public/private spheres dovetail nicely, since in a circular fashion they explain the apparent disappearance of working-class women from politics and public life after the mid-nineteenth century.

According to this argument, women's primary orientation was to the demands and responsibilities of family, whether or not they held paid employment. Thus, even when women worked outside the home, they were constrained by their identities, mainly as daughters, since most married women left the paid workforce. As such, working women were supposed to be much less likely to engage in collective action at the workplace. Whether women's family identity acted as a brake on the development of political consciousness,(9) or there was a more dynamic tension between private and public roles,(10) there is an assumption that some boundary had to be crossed. On the one side lay domestic responsibility, on the other side collective identity and political consciousness. Women's orientation to this private sphere is then used to explain their lack of consciousness and their failure to join unions and other political movements. Conversely, when women were able to transcend the demands of family through workplace solidarity, they did join these movements.(11) To bring the circle to a close, the fact that women did not participate in these "modern" protest movements provides the proof of their private sphere orientation, especially when placed in contrast to their role in pre-industrial protests. Thus, as women withdrew into the private sphere, they also withdrew from political activity in the public sphere.(12)

However, this kind of compartmentalization cannot explain the actions of a group like Gijon's cigarette makers, who seem to have traversed the boundaries between public and private spheres and upset the linear progression of modernization timetables. But more than forming a special case, the experience of the cigarerras suggests that we should pursue an even broader questioning of these categories. Their unique work experience created the opportunity for unusual point-of-production solidarity, but their collective action seemed equally rooted in what we can infer were their family or community responsibilities. Thus, while the cigarreras engaged in work-related strikes, they also participated in consumer protests, were generous in donating money for striking families, fiercely protective of shipwrecked sailors, prominent in the maintenance of folkloric culture, and proud hostesses. In other words, their actions indicate that they mixed and matched private and public and "modern" and "traditional" concerns with private and public forms of activity in a way that defies the existing categories.

In fact, while the cigarette makers' collective activities represented a blend of workplace and extra-workplace roles, these roles do not necessarily correspond to private and public compartments - at least as we presently articulate them. The cigarette makers' understanding of their extra-workplace duties appeared to be rooted in their specific domestic roles, but their actions clearly indicate that their sense of responsibility often transcended an exclusive concern for individual families.(13) Women maintained a strong sense of responsibility to care for their families, but the same obligations could push them into defending the larger community. Thus, a consciousness rooted in the family division of labor could also dictate a public role for working women, regardless of their relationship to the work force or to official political institutions.(14) In other words, from their "obligation to preserve life," women have been able to carve out positions as community leaders. While the cigarette makers never articulated any of this, and it is especially difficult to get a glimpse into their family life, their public collective behavior makes more sense if we infer a consciousness shaped by family and community as well as workplace concerns.

The gendered political formation of working-class women like the cigarreras suggests the possibility of a distinct philosophical vantage point. The "obligation to preserve life" created, in the words of historians Deborah Valenze and Ruth Smith, an alternative political theory based on an "ethic of mutuality" that contrasted with the dominant political values of liberal individualism. In addition, working-class women's often broad construction of the extent of mutuality could conflict with the socialist-influenced labor movements' evolving class-based understanding of the concept. As a result, evidence of working-class women's collective action frequently has been marginalized because it appears to stand outside the dominant philosophical traditions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.(15) While it is difficult, given the evidence, to assert that the cigarette makers acted according to such an ethic of mutuality, it is apparent that their actions were marginalized because their male contemporaries couldn't understand the logic behind them. If we at least acknowledge the possibility of alternative theoretical starting points, then we are forced to piece together their own agenda and analyze it on their own terms.

The exploration of the cigarette makers' collective agenda provides evidence of the gender bias of public and private categories that deny women's participation in the public sphere because their behavior is shaped by its own priorities and strategies. Likewise, their behavior exposes the fact that an implied modernization timeline privileges certain kinds of political activity over others, thus ignoring or marginalizing women's politics. While some studies, such as those cited above, have begun to chip away at these categories, conceptual barriers still exist between women workers who are expected to join trade unions and working-class housewives, who organize around their neighborhoods. For this reason, the cigarette makers constitute an ideal subject for examining the remaining conceptual barriers. Unlike many women, they had a foot planted firmly in both worlds. Moreover, their dramatic public presence is like a tracer across a night sky that illuminates complexities only dimly seen elsewhere.

In order to explain the unusual collective visibility of Gijon's cigarette makers, the next section will describe their unique professional position, and thus the origin of their workplace identity. The remainder of the article will go on to explore the kinds of activities that cigarreras collectively engaged in over the course of a forty year period, and to argue that their behavior illustrates a blend of community, family and workplace concerns that is difficult to fit into existing models of politicization.

The cigarreras' unique status among women workers stemmed partly from the nature and history of the industry in which they worked. The first factory, inaugurated in Sevilla in the late 18th century, generated such profits for the state that ten more were established, including the factory in Gijon in 1822. The industry's status as a state monopoly in effect made the cigarreras government employees, directly exposed to state economic policies and drawn together by a common boss. It is unclear why, but by the mid-nineteenth century women workers replaced the originally male work force. By 1890, there were 25,000 cigarreras and fewer than 200 male tobacco workers nation wide. At the peak of employment in Gijon, also in 1890, its factory provided jobs for 1,880 women and 46 men, by far the city's largest concentration of women in a single factory.

While both the local and national numbers are small in absolute terms, they are significant in the context of the low rate of female paid employment in Spain. In 1910, only 13.5 percent were listed as employed, compared to 32 percent in England and 36 percent in France. Of the Spanish working women, 40 percent were employed in agriculture, 33 percent in domestic industry, with the remaining 27 percent in industry. The majority of those employed in industrial occupations worked at home, leaving only two major groups of women who worked in large factories - the Catalan textile workers and the cigarette makers. Thus, although the cigarreras made up only 4 percent of the Spanish female industrial workforce in 1914, the tobacco industry was one of the largest secondary sector employers of women in the country.(16) In this context, the cigarette makers epitomized the female version of Spain's classic proletariat.

Even in Gijon, an industrial city of some prominence, the cigarette factory stood out as the oldest industry in the city. The Tabacalera was established there in 1822, while the industrialization of the city did not begin in earnest until the 1870s. Only after the turn of the century did an economic boom push Gijon into its position as a major industrial port and unleash a flood of immigration from the surrounding countryside(17) that created the city's working-class character.(18) Gijon's industrial composition was shaped by the existence of major mining operations in the inland valley of the province of Asturias. The mines created the city's function as a major shipping outlet, while providing raw materials for its primary industry, metallurgy. By the turn of the century, some 30,000 people lived within the city limits; by 1930 that number had jumped to over 50,000.(19)

Despite Gijon's relative industrial diversity, wage work for women was not plentiful. Domestic servants still comprised the largest category of women workers; according to the 1930 census there were 2,500.(20) These women, of course, were the most dispersed and difficult to organize, especially since many of them immigrated from rural areas of the province. Gijon had never had a domestic textile industry, but two factories opened around the turn of the century, providing jobs for over 500 women and a much smaller number of men. Women worked in the two dozen food processing plants in which each facility probably hired fewer than several dozen women at the most. In addition, there were many small tailoring shops where women worked as dressmakers. Finally, some 200 women worked in the city's important metallurgy industry, in the enameling and packing divisions.(21) In this employment context, the nearly 2,000 women employed at the tobacco factory were even more statistically significant at the local level than they were nationally.

These women were significant not only for sheer numbers but for the way in which they dominated their work environment. Women handled all the jobs from stemming to rolling to low level supervision. Men were hired only for the upper levels of management and for the upkeep of the physical plant. The implications of this female-dominated workplace become clearer when contrasted with the situation in the American tobacco industry, which was ruled by gender and race hierarchies.

In American factories, the employment of skilled white men prevented the assimilation of women or African Americans into the higher echelons of production. In one case, Dolores Janiewski describes the rigid race and gender hierarchy in a southern cigarette factory, under which black women were confined to the lowly stemming room and white men ran the "making" machines.(22) In another scenario, Patricia Cooper portrays the replacement of male cigar makers with women, once the work process was divided up into tasks that women were thought capable of performing.(23) This transformation did not persuade men to organize unskilled female laborers, nor did it persuade the women to turn to male trade unionists, who disparaged and disdained them as workers. Thus, women were resented as wage cutters and union busters. In either case, the hierarchies of the workforce limited both employment opportunities and a sense of collective identity for women workers. In contrast, the Spanish women had many more opportunities both for advancement in their job and for building solidarity with fellow workers.

The possibilities for advancement were structured into the work organization of the factory itself, since the production process could accommodate various ages and skill levels. Without the operation of formal race and gender hierarchies, a cigarette maker could traverse different jobs over the length of her career. Young girls from the age of fourteen started as apprentices, usually assigned to the least desirable task of stemming, or removing the stems and veins from the tobacco leaves. When older cigarreras lost the dexterity to perform other tasks, they returned to the stemming room, lodged in the basement and appropriately labeled the inferno. One factory observer described: "many women, the majority of them old, sit buried to the waist in the mountains of tobacco leaves that they manipulate with their tremulous hands."(24) In between the two extremes, women could work their way up through various ranks of machine operators, rollers, packers and wrappers. With several years' experience, the most talented were promoted to supervisory positions. Above the operators were the maestras, forewomen who were in charge of an entire workshop, and the portera, who was the senior female supervisor in the factory.

Gijon's cigarette makers' opportunities for advancement were further enhanced by their apparently lifelong job commitment. Unfortunately there are no company records to document the number of years of employment, but there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence to suggest that many women worked in the factory for years - as when two elderly cigarreras who were showing the Infanta (a daughter of the King) around the factory surprised her by revealing that they had worked there from ages seven and nine, probably assisting their mothers.(25) Further evidence can be inferred from the ages of 38 cigarette makers who emerged in a population sample of Gijon in 1900 and 1910. In 1900, only sixteen of these women (31 percent) were under age thirty. In 1910 over 97 percent of those sampled were between thirty one and sixty years old.(26) Statistics provided in 1911 by the National Institute for Social Reform confirm a general pattern; all of Gijon's cigarette makers were over twenty-three years old.(27)

The position of the sampled cigarreras within the household bolsters the impression that they remained in the work force after marriage. In 1900, nearly 60 percent of the women were wives, another 13 percent were heads of household, most likely widows, and only 15 percent were daughters living in their parents' household. In 1910 daughters disappeared from the census, leaving a combination of wives, relatives (probably maiden aunts), and heads of household.(28) The conclusions implied by these data are reinforced by the importance that such issues as maternity benefits, protection of part-time workers and maintenance of orphans held in tobacco factory labor disputes.(29) Taken together, the data seem to indicate that the majority of cigarette makers in the early 20th century were either married or supporting themselves. In other words, these figures suggest an unusually integrated life cycle, in which the women maintained their work identity even as they started and raised their families.

The apparent aging of the factory population was not only a result of work tenure. Changes in the work process after the first round of mechanization in the 1880s radically altered normal patterns of hiring and training. While the nature of these changes is unfortunately obscure, the result was that after the peak in 1890 the company virtually stopped hiring new workers. From a workforce of 1,880 in 1890, the staff dropped to 1,340 in 1907 and to a low of 870 in 1921. It seems that the company did not fire large numbers of women, but simply waited for them to retire. Thus, from 1890 to 1921 there was a very stable, aging work force that contrasts with the image of the 1880s, when between a third and a half of the cigarreras were youths. To make the generational component more complex, this trend reversed in the early 1920s, when new work processes (again obscure) required that the company begin to hire young women again.(30) After the low point of 870 in 1921, by 1927 there were 1,043, the last date for which figures are available. Between retirements and new positions, 200-300 young women joined the factory workforce in the 1920s.

The competition over these new jobs reflected rising unemployment but also suggests the pride these women took in calling themselves cigarreras. In fact, available evidence indicates that the cigarreras' self-image approximated artisanal pride more than factory alienation. This image is reinforced by the place the cigarette makers occupied in the folkloric literature, which rarely incorporated factory workers into its cast of picturesque popular characters.(31) More concretely, in the middle of the 19th century, the tobacco workers in Gijon formed a mutual aid society called Hermandad, of the kind that only fishermen and master artisans had before 1900.(32) For a small monthly deposit, the society paid for burial costs and some medical services. Jobs at the factory were so coveted in the early years that women had to pay a fee to secure a position, or plaza, which they then owned for life.(33) While by the late 19th century, this financial induction had been abolished, the cigarette makers expected that their daughters and nieces could follow them into the industry and be given first chance in the hiring process. When the company began hiring again, the cigarreras made a big issue of the promise to both hire within families and to promote from inside the factory. Daughters and nieces received lottery numbers according to the seniority of their employee relative. In fact, in 1921, the cigarreras struck because the company hired a young woman, "who is very well-built up front," out of the agreed-upon order.(34)

The pride in their status was further enhanced by their financial position. Cigarreras could earn comparatively high wages, even through the period of wage stagnation during the first two decades of the twentieth century. In 1911, they earned from 150 to 200 percent of the average wage for female workers,(35) and after 1917 the tobacco workers' union's concerted pressure on the industry increased the gap even further. In the "golden age" before the turn of the century, earnings were reputed to be so good that cigarreras became famous as fashionable dressers, wearing the latest boots and dresses for their daily promenades.(36) One reporter remembered that only fancy and expensive hats distinguished the senoritas of Gijon's high society from these modest artisans.(37) The cigarette makers' flaunting of their status through fashion adds a certain gender specificity to their expression of artisanal pride. The fact that the reporter associated a group of women identified by their jobs with a pattern of fancy dress suggests that the women used fashion to establish both a corporate identity and their elite status. Even in the less abundant later years, these women held onto their special reputation.

Apparently, pride in their collective identity extended beyond the boundaries of the local factory, thus underscoring the similarity with other close-knit artisanal trades. The cigarreras maintained regular ties with other members of their profession throughout Spain. In 1931, for example, the cigarette makers' "excursionist club" travelled to Santander with thirty comrades from Logrono and a dozen from Bilbao to celebrate the May first holiday at the local tobacco factory.(38) In 1932, they returned the favor, inviting their counterparts from Logrono, Santander and Bilbao. Even a 73-year-old woman from Santander made the trip because she did not want to die without seeing the province of Asturias, and especially the shrine at Covadonga, with its "most miraculous Virgin of all time." The group was entertained with a banquet, during which various speeches reviewed the benefits of organizing and encouraged the enthusiasm of the young. The gijonesas gave scarves in the colors of the National Federation of Tobacco Workers, and a ten-year-old girl recited a poem entitled "Extolling the Cigarreras."(39) On another occasion, the cigarette makers of Gijon undertook a "crossed arms" work boycott in support of tobacco strikers in Cidiz.(40)

This national sense of collective identity also expressed itself in more institutionalized solidarity. With all cigarette makers sharing the same employer, they were one of the first trades to establish a national industrial union in defense of common interests. The National Federation of Tobacco Workers, inaugurated during the First World War, formed part of a unionization trend in Spain that culminated during the rebellious post-war years. Furthermore, it blossomed into one of the most powerful industrial unions in the country at a time when other industries were just beginning to build ties across regions. By 1919, it had attracted 10,000 members, or some 83 percent of the tobacco workers, a considerably higher percentage of unionization than in any other industry at the national level. Almost immediately, the Federation undertook a series of national campaigns, many of them successful, to raise wages and improve benefits and working conditions.(41) The workers in Gijon participated fully in these campaigns, even sending delegations to Madrid to submit demands to the government.

Part of the Tobacco Federation's success in winning workplace concessions derived from its neutrality on divisive political issues. Trade union affiliation in Spain was hotly contested between a socialist labor movement and an anarcosyndicalist movement, but the Tobacco Federation managed to stay out of the fray by concentrating on purely "ouvrieriste" strategies. Although the Tobacco Federation began under the auspices of the UGT, the trade union arm of the Socialist Party, in 1929 the Federation took the unusual step of revoking its Socialist affiliation and declaring independence from any "political" labels. It pledged not to "rule out solidarity with any social gesture which supports the proletariat,"(42) but it managed to remain aloof from the destructive animosity that plagued working-class solidarity throughout the early 20th century.

At the local level loyalties and attachments were probably more complicated, since individual branches had to establish ongoing relationships with local anarchist and socialist federations. In Gijon, the anarcosyndicalist federation (CNT) had dominated labor politics since its victorious struggles with the socialists around the turn of the century.(43) However, the cigarette makers' union, La Constancia, was one of the few local unions that belonged neither to the tiny UGT nor to the powerful CNT. The lack of formal affiliation meant that La Constancia did not meet at the CNT union house, but had its own center near the tobacco factory. It also meant that manifestos signed by the CNT did not include La Constancia, since the cigarette makers had no vote or voice in the organization. This independence understandably caused some friction, since it created confusion and some suspicion about the cigarreras' loyalties.(44)

Despite this friction, the cigarette makers clearly saw themselves as part of the local labor movement and collaborated with the CNT in many campaigns. La Constancia's signature appeared on numerous CNT manifestos, the union always honored general strikes, and in return, the CNT federation would often issue statements of support in tobacco factory conflicts.(45) Thus, it was clear that the cigarette makers identified themselves as workers and with the workers' cause, made demands and fought for them, and even showed solidarity in larger labor disputes, all of which allied them with their male colleagues. But at the same time, as their independence suggests, they refused to subsume their collective identity in the male-defined arena of the labor movement, a refusal that had important consequences for their public role in the community.

Thus, while the cigarreras maintained a strong presence in the local labor movement, their public role very often extended beyond these concerns. And since the collective activities that did not revolve around the workplace clearly emerged from a different set of priorities from those of the rest of the labor movement, contemporary observers of all political stripes saw the cigarreras as politically inconsistent. These activities suggested a commitment to a broader ethic of mutuality, both in preserving their families and in protecting the larger community. On a material level, this sense of responsibility manifested itself in concern for the welfare of both family members and unrelated victims of social injustice or natural disaster that contrasted with the union movement's mutual aid inside its own ranks. On a less concrete level, these principles came out in the cigarreras' contribution to communal cohesion and unity, what Smith and Valenze call the rejection of "oneness" for "jointness."(46) This contribution was expressed largely in their primary role as cultural leaders, both in the neighborhood in which they worked and in the city at large. Since, arguably, promoting a shared culture can contribute to building a strong sense of community, this role made them defenders of the community par excellence. Working-class men obviously participated in some of these community-building activities, but, as the stories will demonstrate, everyone seemed to acknowledge that the women made a special contribution.(47)

The shape of the cigarreras' public role was also determined by the character of the unusual neighborhood in which they worked. In other words, the community these women defended in turn influenced their own sense of identity and responsibility. The tobacco factory, situated in a 17th-century Augustinian convent, was located in the neighborhood of Cimadavilla, a head-shaped protrusion of land surrounded by water on three sides. This was the site of the ancient town of Gijon, which only began spreading outside its confines in the late 18th century (See Map I). Until the 1840s, the district still housed the city's wealthy inhabitants.

However, the establishment of the tobacco factory in the centrally located convent proved to be one of the turning points in the fortunes of the neighborhood. This event, together with the aging and decay of the buildings, initiated an exodus of the wealthy and an influx of workers. The city officials put their stamp on this metamorphosis when they moved the administrative apparatus to a new city hall outside the neighborhood in 1865.(48) By the 1890s, Cima had completed the transformation from prosperous downtown to popular slum. The physical character of the new Cimadavilla was symbolized by the factory itself, a quaint stone building with none of the amenities of modern urban life. As one observer wrote in 1890:

The conditions of this locale are not the most appropriate for the purpose to which it is put. In the workshops there is neither enough space for the number of operators who work there, nor adequate ventilation and light on the first floor. In general all of the rooms suffer from an unhealthy dampness.(49)

Relieved of its bureaucratic functions, Cimadavilla's well-being grew dependent on the tobacco factory and the fishing industry. Likewise, the neighborhood's focal gathering points became the large square in front of the factory and the docks, where the fishermen brought in their catch and laid out their nets to dry. With over 50 percent of the families involved in fishing or related industries, the neighborhood was by far the most homogeneous in the city. Furthermore, it had one of the most stable populations, with almost 70 percent of its residents in 1900 born in the city, and 86 percent having lived there over 15 years. If we compare these numbers to Humedal, one of the new working-class suburbs on Gijon's outskirts, the contrast is clear; in 1900 only 32 percent had been born in the city, and 53 percent had lived there over 15 years.(50)

In addition to, or as a result of, this demographic cohesiveness, the residents developed cultural expressions that set them off sharply from the rest of the city. Even outsiders, those writing in the local newspapers, contributed to the way Cima was turned into a symbol. Stories about the neighborhood always mentioned it in one breath as a single unit of motives and behavior. Moreover, they identified this behavior as a quaint throwback to another age; the residents of Cima carried on traditions long abandoned by modern Gijon; they were the standard bearers of a noble past that was slipping away. Thus it was in Cima that, in the 20th century, women fishmongers still serenaded their companions' wedding nights with a "pandorgada" or charivari, banging pots and pans and singing bawdy songs. It was also in Cima that shoemakers and woodcarvers continued to celebrate the old confraternity saints' days, long after the guilds dissolved. In other words, a traditional public folk culture formed an integral part of Cima's identity.

The cigarette makers, whether or not they resided as well as worked in Cima, belonged to this cultural and demographic community. As such, they were as important a group outside the factory as inside it. Demographic information on the cigarette makers is limited to the thirty-eight women who appear in the sample, but their general patterns fit those of the residents of Cima. In 1900, for example, 87 percent of these women had been born in Gijon, while in 1910 that number had fallen slightly to 79 percent. Of the rest, only one woman in 1900 and two in 1910 had lived in the city less than ten years.(51) Given the fact that many of these women were in their forties and fifties, the figures vouch for their rootedness in the city. Their residential connection to Cima was less pronounced, but still significant. In both 1900 and 1910, 31 percent of the cigarette makers in the sample lived in Cima, while another 41 percent resided in the adjoining neighborhood. Thus over 70 percent of them lived in close enough proximity to maintain strong residential as well as workplace ties.

The anecdotal evidence indicates that the cigarreras' attachment to Cima and its community included the celebration of its rich folk culture and the incorporation of the spirit of its traditions. In describing one of their annual banquets, one story asserted that "the tobacco factory is a bulwark for all the healthy popular mores that have characterized our people in times past but that are fading little by little."(52) Another reporter insisted that "our cigarette makers contain the essence of gijones popular culture; they are the best creators of the |picturesque.'"(53) Moreover, because of their high profile, illustrated in the newspaper coverage of them, they played a major role in cultural transmission and in the broader function of providing and supporting entertainment. With their city-wide reputation, they acted as something of a cultural bridge between the close-knit community of Cimadavilla and the city at large. Thus, their status as cultural leaders emerged as a consequence of their work identity and their place in the community. In return, I would argue, their activities and their reputation strengthened the identity of the community that helped to form them. And yet, many labor union activists viewed this role with ambivalence because they identified the folkloric image with what they saw as the anachronistic culture of Cimadavilla, quaint but unrelated to the real business of political organization. Thus, the cigarreras' identification with the community in which they lived and worked created a collective presence that diverged in significant ways from that of the larger labor movement.

For example, one of the "quaint" traditions with which the cigarette makers were identified was the daily "paseo de los Arcos," when the young cigarreras finished their work day by parading down the hill from the factory and through the arches of the Plaza Mayor past lines of waiting bachelors. This courting ritual blossomed in the years before the hiring freeze changed the generational composition of the factory, but nostalgic articles appeared periodically in the local newspapers into the 1930s.(54) The paseo managed to maintain a delicate balance between sexuality and purity in what was clearly an informal daily performance that gathered together a youthful community of onlookers and participants. As the cigarreras aged and married, and no new ones arrived to take their place, the communal courting practice gradually fell into disuse, while the tradition of public performance found other avenues. Besides their eligibility, the young cigarreras brought energy and life to all the local festivals. One reporter remembered how organizers of all the neighborhood and parish picnics inevitably travelled to the factory to discuss organizational plans with them.(55) In turn, the organizers expected the cigarreras to be the belles of the ball, the group without which, in the words of another reporter, no party could be a true success.(56)

The cigarette makers created their own reputation for entertaining, especially the lavish parties they planned for several Infantas, a Queen and even King Alfonso XIII. Until the military coup of 1923, royal visitors almost always scheduled a visit to the Tabacalera, for which the cigarreras prepared for days: decorating the workshops with pictures of the royal family, national flags, flowers, curtains, doves carrying the national emblem, and preparing food, gifts and songs to present in a solemn ceremony.(57) It is difficult to interpret the cigarette makers' attitudes towards the monarchy as an institution, but it seems clear that they viewed themselves as being part of a special relationship with the royal family. This relationship may have been another consequence of the state ownership of the tobacco industry, where long association created a tradition of loyalty to the crown. The special bond also allowed the cigarette makers to assert their importance as cultural leaders, representatives of the community to the nation. This interpretation fits the image of the royal procession marching solemnly through crowded streets to arrive at the tobacco factory where it was greeted by a commission of cigarreras standing on the front balcony. (58) On the other hand, the same image reinforced the confusion over the women's political allegiances.

Another cultural tradition upheld by the cigarreras suggests a similar ambiguity: the yearly banquet to celebrate the festival of comadres, or godmothers. While the festival promoted a version of female solidarity, it was not one that fit neatly into the labor movement's categories. The original nature of the ritual is obscure, but its purpose seemed to be the cementing of female ties beyond immediate blood relations. Interestingly, by the late 19th century, the tradition, once practiced throughout rural Asturias, had virtually died out in the rest of the province. Besides the cigarreras, only a few dressmaking shops carried the festival into the 20th century. (59) Until the mid-1920s, the Thursday of comadres continued to be a day of merrymaking in the factory, where eating, drinking and performing plays prevented any serious work from being accomplished. It is interesting in itself that this celebration of female bonding evolved into a workplace-centered event. The symbolic meaning of such a crossover is not clear, but it indicates a permeability between the women's family and work identities. Either the festival cast one's fellow workers as extended family members or the workers took a day off to affirm their female responsibilities; from most angles, the comadres' banquet appears to be an institutional representation of the complex origins of the cigarette makers' collective identity.

Over the course of the 1920s, the comadres festival gradually declined in importance as the cigarreras put more energy into their trade union activities. (60) Even their establishment of La Constancia, however, did not signal the "modernization" of the cigarette makers' collective agenda. In fact, they preserved much of their old presence even within the new union format. For example, the yearly godmothers' banquets were replaced by an equally regular union fete. In 1929, the newspaper reported that "the banquet of La Constancia is a deeply established custom among the congenial and popular element of our factory." (61) Although descriptions of these celebrations do not exist, the union dinners probably celebrated a complex version of female solidarity that drew on both gender and professional ties. Likewise, if organizers no longer rushed to invite young and eligible cigarreras to traditional picnics, they did ask the aging work force to participate in a series of democratic festivals celebrating the election of a Socialist deputy to the Parliament in 1919. An announcement run by the "Democratic Women of Natahoyo" (another working-class neighborhood) assumes the same kind of special reputation that had made the cigarreras the preeminent belles of the ball when they were younger:

Since the young women of the organizing committee are convinced that the immense majority of Gijon's cigarreras sympathize with the festival, they would like to publicly invite them. Not only would their presence bring immense satisfaction to the organizers, but would add tremendously to the prestige and brilliance of the act itself.(62)

The tradition of performance found its way into a theatrical troupe established by La Constancia. Initiated in 1917 to raise funds for sick tobacco workers, the troupe of cigarette makers linked entertainment with mutual aid.(63) It performed local and regional plays, both farces and those with "social" content. In addition, its programs featured Asturian musicians who alternated traditional folk songs with rousing renditions of the Marseillaise or the Tobacco Federation's anthem. After the factory began hiring young women again, these new members turned the troupe into the most important working-class performance group in the city.(64) Its regular tours of all the neighborhood cultural centers made its members local celebrities, even recognized by people on the streets.(65) The generational factor certainly played a role here, since most of the performers and organizers were young.(66) However, it seems clear that the older women were passing on a tradition to be emulated and expanded by a new generation. As one observer noted, "the crop of young women who have brought new youth to the old stone building of the factory are not closed to the humanitarian tendencies of the old gijones cigarreras."(67) Compassion and performance provided elements of continuity, while the new context introduced elements of change. The troupe's benefit shows for strikers' families and library fund-raising drives gave their entertaining a new political significance while it retained old notions of their responsibility towards community members in need. The benefit shows and the democratic festivals also demonstrated that the cigarette makers could use their folkloric popularity in the service of more political goals. That is, they could manipulate and transcend their folkloric image in the service of causes that belied the unthreatening picturesque stereotype of the cigarette maker.

Throughout the period, conservatives and radicals alike recognized the cigarreras' duty, as women and as mothers, to protect and succor the weak and oppressed. Whether they donated money to anarchist political prisoners in jail over the holidays,(68) or gave their overcoats to shipwrecked sailors,(69) or sent sardines to Asturian soldiers fighting an imperialist war in Morocco, the underlying motive, "the bottomless charity of the cigarreras," as one writer put it,(70) was similar. These images of nurturing women may have been glorified by the newspaper, but the kinds of life-protecting gestures made by these women do seem to be gender-specific. For example, while many people gave money to political prisoners, the cigarette makers were specifically bothered that these men were being kept away from their homes during the holidays. In these acts of charity, I think we can read a female sense of responsibility that is directly connected to what they would do for their own sons or husbands who might be fighting in Morocco or shivering without overcoats.

But the cigarette makers' status and visibility gave these acts of charity an unusual power. Thus, a public act of charity combined the force of their workplace identity, the consciousness of their obligations as mothers and the pride of their role as community leaders. In one event, the cigarreras stood out in a crowd of people applauding the release from jail of an elderly republican politician in 1889 by presenting him with a wreath of flowers. The scene was witnessed by local poet Pachin de Melas when he was a young boy:

One day at dusk, a great crowd collected in front of the old jailhouse. I wound my way like an eel between the crowd, and I managed to get close to the door. A numerous commission of cigarreras waited with a crown of flowers. I heard a rising murmur, and in the doorway a venerable figure appeared: white bearded and distinguished looking. "Long live the honorable gentleman!" shouted the crowd upon his appearance. With difficulty a passage was opened for the old man, and, followed by the people cheering him, he returned to his home. It was Alejandro Blanco, the Republican leader, the first mayor of the Republic of 1873, who was leaving the jail after completing a sentence of 40 days imposed on him for criticizing the administration during a city council session.(71)

The contrast between this event and the cigarreras' royal fetes, laced with such cries as: "Long live the most beautiful sovereign of all the nations of the world,"(72) could be disconcerting. But again, it is only disturbing from the perspective of a political spectrum neatly divided into right and left. The compassion that these women felt for what they saw as a fragile old man who had been grievously wronged fits awkwardly along this continuum. Unless we recognize an alternative political perspective, the cigarette makers' behavior would be judged as quaint or simply irrelevant in the grander scheme.

Similar confusion arises when attempting to analyze protest movements, such as the 1898 riot, that women organized and executed exclusively. While working-class women rarely got involved in party politics, they continued to practice a street politics often centered around the provision of market goods and rooted in their domestic obligation to feed and provide basic comforts for their families. Women's prominence in these types of protest has already been noted, in the earlier reference to Thompson's article on the moral economy. The problem is that the market tradition has been treated implicitly as a stage in the modernization of protest, in which there is an appropriate evolution of collective action, in its forms, its motives and its participants. In this scheme, 18th-century bread riots by consumer mobs give way to workers' strikes and political demonstrations; the politicized worker replaces the consumer, who increasingly targets power at its central source, the national government. Once a timeline is in place, historians view certain types of protest as meaningful only in specific contexts.

This scheme ignores, however, the fact that working-class women, whether workers" or not, retained a powerful interest in consumer issues and continued to organize most effectively at the local level. As a result, they continued to take to the streets when they felt cheated by hoarders, shop owners, or an indifferent government. And, as evidenced by the cigarettes makers' participation in the consumo riot in May of 1898, wage-earning women shared this perspective with their housewife neighbors. In fact, although the immediate instigators of the protest were sellers not buyers (the fishmongers), its escalation depended to a large degree on all of the women's common concerns as household managers. The dismay of government officials and the incomprehension of trade unionists(73) in the face of the May riot illustrated that men often failed to understand women's language of protest. Once again, the cigarette makers and other working-class women's gendered identity created a collective agenda that set them apart from their male counterparts.

As the narrative of the riot makes clear, Gijon's working-class women capably defended their "private" sphere concerns in public. Moreover, they accepted the use of extreme measures to force the government to reconsider the policies that affected the lives of themselves and their families. Why, then, did they not join the emerging union movement, which, by the following year had gathered together the majority of the city's male workers? As stated earlier, the cigarette makers, with their visible corporate solidarity, were the first women to organize, but not until 1915, almost twenty years later. Women's ambivalence toward the labor movement did not necessarily mean that they were too conservative or apathetic to join. The cigarette makers were clearly anything but apathetic, and all the evidence points to their ongoing political and cultural activism. And yet the style and content of their activism did not fit neatly into the trade union model of progressive politics. This divergence in agendas led the cigarette makers, and perhaps other women, to remain on the margin of the mainstream labor movement.(74)

Recognition of this divergence requires that we reconsider the process by which the cigarreras, and perhaps other working-class women, became politicized. Clearly the construction and expression of the cigarette makers' collective agenda does not fit the dichotomies of public and private or modern and traditional. Instead, their behavior suggests a mixture of public and private concerns, workplace and community solidarity, "modern" strikes and "traditional" riots. Without the status and solidarity provided by their jobs, the cigarette makers would not have had the powerful public presence that they did. But without a consciousness shaped by multiple concerns, related to work, family and community, their collective agenda would have looked very different. While this qualification could apply equally to mate workers, the gendered reality of working-class experience dictated that men and women often followed different paths of politicization. The experience of the cigarette makers suggests the need for more flexibility and imagination in putting together the pieces of working-class women's collective identity and in breaking down the dualities of housewife/worker, community/workplace, private/political.

But how are we to extrapolate from the experience of such an unusual group of women? We cannot expect them to speak for all other working-class women, but their story does allow us to see the limitations in rigid models of politicization that have not fully integrated a gendered set of assumptions. If the cigarette makers have been marginalized or misunderstood in the language of politics, then other working-class women's experience has probably suffered a similar fate. It is not that all working-class women's politics should look the same, but that we need to ask a different set of questions about men's and women's politics. Thus, the cigarette makers' story raises a challenge to push further the ongoing process of integrating gender into labor and social history.


(1). The following narrative is taken from El Noroeste, May 3 & 4, 1898.

(2). These dates were chosen for two reasons. First, sources for accounts of "popular" activities were limited before the inauguration of El Noroeste in the late 1890s. Secondly, the 1890s marked the beginning of Gijon's unionization drive, which set up the male model of politicization in the 20th century.

(3). Quoted in Claude Morange, Siete calas en la crisis del antiguo rigimen espanol y un panfleto clandestino de 1800 (Alicante, 1990), p. 208.

(4). El Noroeste, January 8, 1919. This daily newspaper provided a semi-popular alternative to the business-oriented, El Comercio. It was run by republican and reformist sympathizers critical of the monarchical political establishment.

(5). For example, historians who study male artisans have recognized the impact of social networks, established in close-knit neighborhoods, local bars and cafes, on workplace solidarity. As Michael Hanagan and Charles Stephenson have argued, the formation of trade unions has depended as much on these social networks as on the bonds created in the workplace itself. The implication is that political consciousness arises out of a fluid interaction between work and community experience. Michael Hanagan and Charles Stephenson, "The Skilled Worker and Working Class Protest," Social Science History 4 (1980).

Other historians have emphasized the impact of family life on working-class mobilization. Elinor Accampo, for example, tries to demonstrate that a stable family environment gave workers the class consciousness, inspiration and courage to resist exploitation and demand more rights in the workplace." Elinor Accampo, Industrialization, Family Life and Class Relations: St. Chamond, 1815-1914 (Berkeley, 1989), p. 12. See also Jane Humphries, "Class Struggle and the Persistence of the Working Class Family," Cambridge Journal of Economics 1 (1977), and Michael Hanagan, The Logic of Solidarity: Artisans and Industrial Workers in Three French Towns, 1871 1914 (Urbana, 1980).

(6). As Carole Pateman explains, when, with the development of industrial capitalism, productive activities were pushed out of the home and into the factory, the domestic arena and family relationships emerged as paradigmatically private." Regardless of women's relationship to the new public work force, they were seen as naturally" connected to the private domestic sphere, while men took on the role of family representative to the outside world. Carole Pateman, "Feminist Critiques of the Public/Private Dichotomy," in The Disorder of Women (Stanford, 1989).

(7). Many historians have shown that working-class women were not literally confined, but crossed the boundaries between public and private realms in the daily exercise of their domestic duties and leisure activities. On single women and leisure activities, see Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn of the Century New York (Philadelphia, 1986). Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860 (Urbana, 1982). On married women and domestic responsibilities see Ellen Ross, "Survival Networks: Women's Neighborhood Sharing in London before World War I," History Workshop 15 (1983); Rayna Reiter, "Men and Women in the South of France: Public and Private Domains," in Toward an Anthropology of Women, edited by Rayna Reiter (New York, 1975).

8. The conceptualization of the "modernization" of protest comes from Charles Tilly, "The Modernization of Protest in France," in The Dimensions of Quantitative Research in History, edited by W. O. Aydelotte, Allan G. Bogue and Robert W. Fogel (Princeton, 1972).

9. Louise Tilly and.Joan Scott make the classic formulation of the basic argument in Women, Work and Family (New York, 1978). Leslie Woodcock Tentler, Wage-Earning Women: Industrial Work and Family Life in the U.S., 1900-1930 (New York, 1979).

10. Alice Kessler-Harris,"Independence and Virtue in the Lives of Wage-Earning Women: The U.S., 1870-1930," in Women in Culture and Politics: A Century of Change, edited by Judith Friedlander, et al. (Bloomington, 1986).

11. John Sharpless and John Rury, "The Political Economy of Women's Work, 1900-1920s," Social Science History 4 (1980). Louise Tilly, "Paths of Proletarianization: Organization of Production, Sexual Division of Labor, and Women's Collective Action," Signs 7 (1981).

12. Since E. P. Thompson's article on the "moral economy" of 18th-century Englishmen, historians have noticed the presence of women in 18th-century bread riots and other consumer struggles. Collective bargaining by riot was the primary political strategy of the poor, who were not yet organized as workers, and women appeared as full participants in this political dialogue. However, when working-class men began, after the mid-19th century, to turn their energies to different forms of collective action, especially trade unions and political parties, working-class women did not usually follow them. On women and food riots see E. P. Thompson, "The Moral Economy of the English Riots, 1790-1810," Past and Present 120 (1988). Despite Bohstedt's argument that women's participation has been overrated, his statistical findings demonstrate a strong presence in, particularly, food riots. See also Louise Tilly, "The Food Riot as a Form of Political Conflict in France," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 2 (1971).

13. Temma Kaplan, in an oft-quoted article, has defined working-class women's responsibility, with its "obligation to preserve life," as an historically developed "female consciousness." Although Kaplan does not say this explicitly, female consciousness has both a private and a public dimension. Temma Kaplan, "Female Consciousness and Collective Action: the Case of Barcelona, 1910-1918," Signs 7 (1982).

14. In fact, a growing body of literature has been dedicated to demostrating and legitimating this public presence, much of it focused on neighborhood activism carried out by women who speak collectively as housewives. See Martha Ackelsberg and Irene Diamond, "Gender and Political Life: New Directions in Political Science," in Analyzing Gender: A Handbook of Social Science Research, edited by Beth B. Hess, et al. (London, 1987); Martha Ackelsberg, "Communities, Resistance, and Women's Activism: Some Implications for a Democratic Polity," in Women and the Politics of Empowerment, edited by Ann Bookman and Sandra Morgan (Philadelphia, 1988); I. B. Susser, "The Participation of Working Class Women in Neighborhood Movements: Brooklyn, New York," in Women and the Politics of Empowerment; C. Gilkes, "Holding Back the Ocean with a Broom: Black Women and Community Work," in The Black Woman, edited by Rodgers-Rose (Newbury Park, 1980); Ardis Cameron "Bread and Roses Revisited: Women's Culture and Working Class Activism in the Lawrence Strike of 1912," in Women's Work and Protest, edited by Ruth Milkman (Boston, 1985).

15. Ruth L. Smith and Deborah Valenze, "Mutuality and Marginality: Liberal Moral Theory and Working-Class Women in 19th Century England," Signs 13 (1988). Temma Kaplan also discusses the implications of female consciousness on political theory in "Female Consciousness and Collective Action," (see footnote 14). See also, Ackelsberg "Communities, Resistance and Women's Activism."

16. Rosa Capel. "La cigarrera y el Reglamento para las Fabricas de Tabacos de 1927." Unpublished paper delivered at the Colloqui d'Historia de la Dona, Barcelona, Octubre, 1986.

17. Over the 40 years between 1980 and 1930, the city of Gijon absorbed much of the population of the rural "aldeas," which were the unincorporated areas of the township of Gijon, as distinct from the city itself. While parts of the city doubled and quadrupled in size, the rural aldeas grew no more than 50% over the entire period. Direccion General del Instituto Geografico y Estadistico, Nomenclator de la Provincia de Oviedo, 1988 and 1930.

18. The worker population is a difficult number to calculate, since statistics are often contradictory and leave out certain categories of workers, notably female. Angeles Barrio reviews the various estimates and concludes that in 1901 the province of Asturias contained over 35,000 industrial workers, including miners, factory employees and artisans. About half of the male industrial workers - 11,000 - lived in Gijon. Add to this another 4,000 female workers and we arrive at a 16,000 worker peak during the turn-of-the-century boom. The only comparison that exists is to the estimated 2-3,000 workers in the 1857 census. Angeles Barrio, El anarquismo en Gijon (Asturias, 1982), pp. 65-67.

19. C.M. Criado Hernandez and Ramon Perez Gonzalez, Notas sobre la dinamica y aestructura de la poblacion de Asturias (Oviedo, 1970), p. 20.

 19th Century Population

 1831 5,236
 1857 10,000
 1887 18,000

20. Only in the 1930 census were domestic servants counted as a separate category and thus easily quantifiable.

21. The data on women workers was gathered from editions of the Anuario Estadistico de Espana, Madrid, 1915-1934.

22. Dolores Janiewski, Sisterhood Denied: Race, Class and Gender in a New South Community (Philadelphia, 1985).

23. Patricia Cooper, Once a Cigar Maker: Men, Women and Work Culture in American Cigar Factories, 1900-1919 (Urbana, 1987).

24. Emilia Pardo Bazan, a 19th-century Spanish writer, describing a factory in Galicia. Quoted in Rosa Capel Martinez, El Trabajo y la educacion de la mujer en Espana, 1990-1930 (Madrid, 1966), pp. 151-152.

25. El Noroeste, August 18, 1913.

26. The sample comprised 10% of the entire population of the city, randomly selected by neighborhood, for four census counts, in 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930. The 38 cigarreras who appear in 1900 and 1910 may or may not include some of the same individuals. Unfortunately, only 16 cigarreras appeared in the 1920 census and 9 in the 1930. In both of these small samples, all but one of the women were over 33.

 1900 1910

 15-20 10.5% 2.6%
 21-30 21.1% -
 31-40 28.9% 26.3%
 41-50 23.7% 39.5%
 51-60 15.8% 31.6%

27. Boletin del Instituto de Reformas Sociales (Madrid, 1911). The Institute was established in 1902 to gather data about social conditions and employer/worker relations across the country. Because of lack of funds and reluctant compliance by many employers and local authorities, the information collected was more episodic than serial.

28. Relation to Head of House

 1990 1910

Head of house 13.2% 7.9%
Wife 57.9% 52.6%
Child 15.8% -
Relative 10.5% 28.9%
No relation 2.6% 5.3%
Boarder/guest - 5.3%

29. Demands including these issues were noted in stories printed in El Noroeste, August 21, 1929, when cigarreras complained to a visiting minister about their maternity benefits; August 8, 1929, in a list of demands made by the union which included maternity benefits and care for orphans of deceased cigarreras; December 11, 1919, when the issue of part-time work was defended, so the women "could attend to their domestic responsibilities."

30. El Noroeste, August 14, 1932. The reasons for the peculiar demographic structure of Gijon's factory are unclear, since nationwide, the tobacco factories continued to lose ground, from 25,000 in 1890, to 21,317 in 1902, 14,951 in 1914 and 12,570 in 1930. Rosa Capel, "La cigarrera y el Reglamento para las Fabricas de Tabacos de 1927." Unpublished paper delivered at the Colloqui d'Historia de la Dona, Barcelona, Octubre 1986, p. 4.

31. Claude Morange makes this point in "De Manola a Obrera. Una huelga de las cigarreras de Madrid en 1830," in Siete calas en la crisis del antiguo regimen Espanol (Alicante, 1990).

32. Joaquin Bonet, Biografia de la villa y puerto de Gijon, v. 1 (Gijon, 1968), p. 260.

33. In his 1843 essay "la cigarrera," Antonio Flores explains that the new worker literally had to purchase the chair she sat in and the table she worked at. Cited in Claude Morange, Siete calas en la crisis del antiguo regimen espanol, p. 219.

34. El Noroeste, March 9, 1923.

35. Boletin del Instituto de Reformas Sociales, 1911. Cigarreras earned between 1,50 and 2,75 pts/day, while the average female wage was about 1,50. The lowest paid women in textiles and in dressmaking made between, 37 and, 90 centimos/day.

36. This reputation would only have been possible with the expansion of the ready-made clothing industry in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. Recognizing this fact, Christine Stansell illustrates how important "fancy dress" was for working-class women in New York. City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860 (Urbana, 1982).

37. El Noroeste, July 19, 1921.

38. El Noroeste, April 30, 1931.

39. El Noroeste, January 5, 1932.

40. El Noroeste, September 3, 1919.

41. Successful major campaigns were launched in July-December, 1917 (El Noroeste, July 10, 1917, December 15, 1917, December 22, 1917), in December-January 1919-1920 (El Noroeste, December 11, 1919, December 25, 1919, January 8, 1920, January 16, 1920), and December 1930 (El Noroeste, December 2, 1930, December 12, 1930). These campaigns involved wage rates, length of work day, pensions, maternity benefits, hiring practices, promotions, and benefits.

42. El Noroeste, October 9, 1929.

43. For a detailed look at trade union politics in Gijon, see Angeles Barrio, Anarquismo y anarcosindicalismo en Asturias, 1890-1936 (Madrid, 1988). Pamela Radcliff, "Community Politics in Gijon, 1900-1934" (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1990), chapter seven.

44. For example, a local anarchist newspaper gave one account of a conflict over the right of the cigarreras' union to be present at a local trade union Congress sponsored by the CNT. They were apparently allowed to remain, but over the protests of some hard-liners. Solidaridad Obrera, July 20, 1923. In another cryptic reference, one story about La Constancia's cooperation on a labor issue began with: "Solved for the moment the differences that disturb the relationship between our union and the local trade union federation...." El Noroeste, October 20, 1920.

45. For example, during the "crossed arms" boycott over hiring patterns, the local CNT expressed solidarity in a note in El Noroeste, March 9, 1923.

46. Ruth L. Smith and Deborah Valenze, "Mutuality and Marginality: Liberal Moral Theory and Working Class Women in 19th Century England," Signs 13 (1988).

47. See Temma Kaplan, Red City, Blue Period: Social Movements in Picasso's Barcelona (Berkeley, 1992) for an analysis of working-class women's roles as cultural and community leaders.

48. Aladino Fernandez Garcia, et al., Georgrafia de Asturias, v. 2 (Asturias, 1982), pp. 186-87).

49. Ricardo Caballero and M. Palacios Suarez, Guia ilustrada del viajero en Gijon (Gijon, 1890?), p. 111.

50. These numbers were calculated from samples taken from the Censo de la Poblacion de Gijon, 1990, published by the Direccion General del Instituto Geografico y Estadistico.

51. The smaller sample for 1920 shows 15 out of 16, or 93%, born in Gijon. For 1930, the number are seven out of nine.

51. El Noroeste, September 30, 1930.

53. El Noroeste, November 17, 1917.

54. For example, El Noroeste, July 19, 1921 and August 14, 1932.

55. El Noroeste, July 19, 1921.

56. El Noroeste, August 14, 1932. The author of the story gushed about their beauty, their vivacity and their unique contribution to local fiestas.

57. These details come from a description of the Queen's visit to the factory, El Noroeste, August 14, 1913.

58. El Noroeste, August 18, 1913.

59. "The cigarreras of the tobacco factory of Gijon continued to observe this festival for some time; it was a kind of corporate tea, without male participation, that tried to maintain the old traditional flavor." Joaquin Bonet, Pequenas historias de Gijon (Gijon, 19690, p. 40. "We know that in Gijon the festival was much more important than elsewhere, and it was observed through the first quarter of the century; later it languished." Eloy Gomez Pellon and Gema Coma Gonzalez, Fiestas de Asturias (Asturias, 1985), p. 20.

60. In 1929, El Noroeste reported that the festival was no longer celebrated in the tobacco factory (January 7, 1929), while in 1933 it reported sadly that even the dressmaking shops had given it up (January 23, 1933).

61. El Noroeste, August 2, 1929.

62. El Noroeste, June 5, 1919.

63. The first notice of it came in El Noroeste, November 15, 1917. To raise funds for a union pension fund, 30 volunteers formed a theatre group to be directed by one of the well-known cigarreras.

64. A story about one of their performances called it the best entertainment troupe in the city, with none of their early amateurish quality remaining. El Noroeste, August 7, 1929.

65. El Noroeste, January 1, 1927.

66. El Noroeste, January 1, 1927, notes that all the members of the Cuadro were youths.

67. El Noroeste, September 30, 1930.

68. El Noroeste, December 28, 1930. 115 pesetas were collected among the cigarette makers so that the prisoners in the local jail would not be forgotten over "these days of happiness and peace." In another instance, the cigarette makers issued a protest against the beatings of prominent anarchist labor leaders when they were in jail. El Noroeste, September 4, 1910.

69. In typically florid language, El Noroeste, March 28, 1917 gushed about the "saintly women, who uncovered their bodies right there on the docks, facing the southeasterly wind that drained the life out of them, in order to cover the numbed bodies of the shipwrecked men."

70. El Noroeste, February 24, 1927. The story was about beggars outside the door of the tobacco factory, taking advantage of the known compassion of the cigarette makers.

71. Pachin de Melas, La Prensa, June 17, 1931.

72. El Noroeste, August 18, 1913.

73. Commissions of workers came to the offices of El Noroeste, to express their disgust with the riot. The republican paper itself was equally disapproving, although it used the incident to rail against misgovernment. May 4, 1898.

74. I do not mean to discount the well-documented ambivalence of make unionists to welcoming women into the trade unions. I am merely suggesting that the feeling might have been mutual. On male ambivalence see Alice Kessler-Harris, "Women's Wage Work as Myth and History," Labor History 19 (1977); John Sharpless and John Rury, "The Political Economy of Women's Work,, 1900-1920," Social Science History 4 (1980); Lucy Middleton, ed., Women in the Labour Movement: The British Experience (London, 1977); Heidi Hartmann, "Capitalism, Patriarchy and Job Segregation by Sex," Signs 3 (1976).
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Author:Radcliff, Pamela
Publication:Journal of Social History
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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