Ana María Saloma Gutiérrez*Posgrado de Historia, ENAH.
This article is a first approach to the life and working conditions of the cigarette industry female workers in Mexico City during the last quarter of the XIX century.
Anthropology and history have developed a growing interest towards everyday life. A characteristic of this perspective is what has been defined as the happening in the field of the domestic, outside the working hours, including all ludic activities. Except for some authors, what happens in the working world has been set aside from this point of view.
The life of the female cigarette workers in Mexico City during the last decades of the XIX century were intertwined in a strong and closed weft constituted by their working hours and their hours of domestic life. What happened at the working world of these women represented an integral part of their everyday life.
Inside the working place, during the working day, female workers produced goods, earned a salary and established complex bonds that involved power relationships as well as relationships of blood and/or ritual kinship. In the same way, it was in the working space where a transcendental part of culture and of the imaginary (individual and collective) of female workers during the studied period was formed.
The cigarette factories of Porfirian times developed in a society and in an economy filled with contradictions, where traditional forms inherited from Colonial times lived together with new elements provided by an incipient Capitalism.1 The very passage from artisanal workshops to factories was a slow and complex process, due to the fact that their development was subject to the dominating political and economical factors of the country.
In the political aspect, along the first half of the XIX century, the cigarette industry was subjected to continuous changes of legal statute, between the State monopoly (estanco) and its release; the latter was definitely achieved by the promulgation of the Constitution of 1857, in which the State monopoly of tobacco was abolished.
As to the economical aspect, once the tobacco industry was freed and the monopoly of the State Company was broken, small artisanal workshops proliferated in Mexico City. It was not until the seventh decade of the XIX century that some of these workshops simultaneously consolidated to become factories; besides, new factories of a capitalist type were formed.
Around 1875 some factories introduced steam machines, but they did not mechanized the entirety of the production process; in fact, the old artisanal techniques kept dominating the manufacture phase of the cigarette and the cigar, this stage contrasting with the mechanization of the cleaning and crushing process of the leaf. It is said that in 1899, the factory El Buen Tono, owned by the French Ernesto Pugibet, had machines for the manufacturing of cigarettes and was equipped with electric power already in that year.2
During the last years of the Porfirian period, between 1900 and 1910, there was an accelerated disappearance of artisanal workshops, and a concentration of manufacture in a few factories, which monopolized the capital, technological innovations, including electric power and the commercialization of tobacco; it was also during this period that machines massively replaced female workforce.
Another characteristic of tobacco manufacture centers in Mexico City –particularly of cigarette workshops- is that traditionally and at least since the late XVIII century and the early XIX century, most of the workforce employed in said establishments was constituted by women.3
It was not accidental that the owners of the cigarette factories of this XIX century period preferred female workers; this tendency was based on the long tradition and experience women had in this craft; along the XVIII century, first in the artisanal cigarette workshops and then when they were massively incorporated to the Royal Tobacco Factory.4
In the XIX century, owners hired female workforce because these women had previous knowledge of the craft, they accepted lower salaries than men, and they were considered to be more careful, skillful, responsible and less troublesome than male workers. Factory administrators also preferred female workforce opposed to their male peers for the purpose of breaking strikes or to force work value to drop.
The reconstruction I propose herein about the life conditions of female workers of the cigarette industry inside and outside the factory was possible thanks to testimonies and articles of that period, some of which were published in the so-called labor press or in publications of a liberal tendency, and which consciously or subconsciously covered the atmosphere that prevailed within tobacco manufacturing centers in Mexico City between 1872 and 1899.
A very important source for the study of female workers of the cigarette industry from 1887 to 1889 is constituted by the publication La Paz Pública (Public Peace). The owner and editor of this newspaper, Federico M. Fusco, as a result of the general strike undertook by female workers of the tobacco industry in Mexico City in 1887, wrote several articles in defense of these workers. Besides, he actively participated in the institution of the mutualistic association Las Hijas del Trabajo (The Daughters of Labor) of the cigarette industry.
To the consulted firsthand sources I would like to add a recent study on the cigarette factory of Madrid, as well as a novel written in the XIX century by the Spanish author Emilia Pardo Bazán, who in her work managed to recreate the atmosphere that surrounded cigarette factories inside and outside the factory of La Coruña.5
The use of these two Spanish works is totally justified because both authors, in their respective time and perspective, closely knew the operation of the tobacco factory. Pardo thoroughly described the facilities and the work of the tobacco workshops of her native Coruña; whereas Candela performed a diligent research on the conditions in Madrid.
The work conditions that prevailed in Spanish and Mexican factories came from the same tradition of work process administration and organization which originated during the monopolization of tobacco by the Crown in the New Spain (1764); the Crown established the Royal Tobacco Factory in Mexico as a fundamental part of its monopoly (1770).6 This explains the similar circumstances that prevailed in the cigarette factories of the XIX century at both sides of the Atlantic. Therefore, it is possible to establish a comparison, and even to fill with the narrations of these Spanish authors some of the gaps that exist in the information taken from the Mexican sources.
Rolling cigarettes. LIfe in the factories
This is the story of Dolores Hernández, Fermina Barajas, Ana Arroyo and many other female cigarette workers during the late XIX century in Mexico City. All of them forged a very significant part of their life with the work in the factory, where they used to remain between ten and twelve hours a day, six days a week, earning an insignificant wage.7
Female workers accepted these work conditions because their husband, father or sons did not make enough money to provide for the family unity; it was also possible that some of these workers were women without male relatives or without a permanent partner; they had to support themselves and in case they had dependants (including an unemployed, disabled or alcoholic spouse), they had to assume the headship of the family.
Women who worked at the factory were known back then as cigarette workers, workwomen, factory workers or estanqueras. These terms, which were not synonyms, included a double meaning; the first was associated to their condition and craft as women who worked at the cigarette manufacturing facilities, therefore alluding only to their situation as work force.
The second meaning of these terms was pejorative, because in the discourse of the time, the words factory worker and estanquera implied a series of prejudices held by the society of the time. These words intended to disparage and single out in a negative way the women to whom these names were given, considering them as synonyms of vice, disorder and prostitution, as was denounced by a constant defender of female workers, who wrote: “is she a female cigarette worker?, because society refers to them with horror, gives them pejoratively the label of estanquera, considering this name to be a synonym of an ignorant and ordinary person and of a prostitute […]”.8
During the late XVIII century and along the XIX century, the loss of prestige that accompanied the cigarette industry was due to the fact that the elite and the middle sectors that shared the values of the dominant groups were terrified by the mere idea of these women succumbing to the temptation of prostitution.9
Fear from the possible corruption of women and particularly of those who stayed outside their house for long hours came from a conception of the time on female nature: weakness of character, lack of strength before adversity, lesser intelligence than that of men for making wise and prudent decisions and, finally, the belief that they were ignorant beings, easy prey for fanaticism and superstition.
The combination of the characteristics mentioned above resulted in that sectors of the Porfirian society, whose elite had adopted bourgeois morals, considered that women in general and workwomen in particular, before economic adversity, were propitious to succumb to temptation and solve their problems through prostitution. An example of this belief is found in the following affirmations: “Rarely is a woman perverted for the sake of it; when a woman descends to the bottom of degradation, it is because she has been driven by ignorance or starvation: poverty and ignorance are very bad advisers”.10 The degradation and perversion to which this author refers are undoubtedly those of prostitution.
As a result of a generalized negative opinion that floated in the atmosphere of the XIX century Mexican society, female workers of the cigarette industry responded to these ominous qualifiers in different ways, sometimes defending their dignity and reputation as honest women writing in the so-called labor press; we see an example of this in the text sent to the El Socialista newspaper, where hundreds of female workers of the cigarette and textile industries affirmed: “[…] when we have had to receive the precious legacy of loving our work, only assets our parents can offer to us on earth, it has been with the perfect knowledge that this means would keep us from vice and damnation […]”.11
Clear and direct defense, such as the one undertaken by the workers who signed the abovementioned article, was an extraordinary case; in general, female workers individually protected their good reputation on a daily basis, displaying to all, day by day, their good behavior, dignity and honesty inside and outside the factory, as was expected from any decent woman.
The argument within Porfirian society about the decency, indecency and tendency or not towards prostitution of female cigarette workers is of interest in this work because these moral judgments were constantly present in the life of these workers, as we will see when I deal with the time they got off work, when the so-called random body search could occur.
Most of the cigarette workers started their tobacco learning process between the ages of fourteen and fifteen, a few started working at an earlier age, and apparently they didn’t always receive a wage at this stage. Some of them were orphans; normally, they worked until they got married, established a formal relationship or got pregnant; many of them came back to the factory when their husband died, or when they were abandoned; some others, due to their extreme poverty, could not afford to leave their jobs and they continued to work even when they had small children or a partner.12
The day of a cigarette worker started at five in the morning,13 when she got up to get ready, and once set with her cotton dress covered by a rebozo or shawl, she came out in search for work at the Capitalist cigarette factories, or at the surviving late XIX century artisanal workshops.
In order to find work, most of the women workers used to wait in line at the doors of factories such as El Buen Tono, and others asked for work at workshops because many times they already knew the owner, and because in these places traditional and known work processes were kept, as well as personal or even family relationships.
The factors that influenced workers to prefer factories were the prevailing work conditions. Whereas in the factories they had spacious rooms, well lit and ventilated, small workshops were famous for being small rooms, which were very hot and humid, not properly ventilated and poorly lit, where female workers were stacked.14
The descriptions of the workshops of the two different manufacturing centers are eloquent examples of what we have affirmed. The case of a modern factory is found in an article dated 1889 published in El Monitor del Pueblo, in which the journalist narrates a visit to the cigarette factory El Buen Tono, where there were: “six vast and very clean halls, well lit and with excellent ventilation, furnished with symmetrical rows of workers”.15 On the other hand, as to the conditions that prevailed in the existing cigarette workshops, we find the following narration: “Is she a cigarette worker? […] She works thirteen or fourteen hours a day, stacked in humid corridors, with no light and no ventilation […]”.16
In the cigarette factories and workshops, workers were hired temporarily and by the job. The factory mistresses, at the doors of the factory and following the instructions of their superiors, were in charge of hiring the number of workers needed for that day.
When choosing among rows of workers those who would enter the factory that day, the mistresses noted their names on a notebook. That decision was based on how well they knew the applicants, if they thought they were trustworthy, honest and hardworking; in the same way, they took into account if they were troublesome or lazy. Possibly, kinship and ritual relationships as well as location were also present at the time the mistresses decided. Apparently some of them even asked the workers for a fee in order to hire them.17 In this way, the mistresses played a key role because they practically regulated the work market and the wages.
Once the required workforce was reached, the factory closed its doors, and this generally happened at seven in the morning; many of these doors did not open again until the workers got off work, which was between seven and nine at night; however, other facilities, such as the factory El Buen Tono, opened its doors at lunch time.
Once the working day started the mistresses, as their second responsibility of the day, decided how to distribute the tasks each worker had to perform according to the production needs of the factory. The mistresses sent the number of workers needed to each department, and they assigned the type and amount of work (task) each one had to perform along the working day.
Normally a Mexican cigarette factory had the following departments related to manufacturing: storage of raw materials and finished product, moisture, selection, cutting, drying, moisture reduction, cooling, cigarette workshop, cigar workshop, and packaging. If it was a large factory, it also had a machinery room, a repair shop and a lithography area.
Following the tradition of Cuban tobacco workshops in the sections of storage, moisture, machinery and cigars (Havana cigars or regular cigars), the workforce in these departments was always male. In the first and second departments, only male workers were hired because the task was considered to be heavy (carrying and handling the large bulks of tobacco leaves); in the third and fourth workshops, qualified and specialized work was performed; in fact, workers of these sections received a better payment and were generally hired permanently.
In the factory El Buen Tono, there was, as an exception, a small department of cigar manufacturing made up by women, but it had an uncertain fate, because when the owner of said factory had to reduce personnel in this area, the first workers to be let go were women.
Workers at the machinery and tobacco departments felt proud of their craft and tried to appear at the factory better dressed than the rest of their co-workers; their outfit consisted of a suit including vest, tie and hat; the masters could add a watch, unquestionable symbol of status and prestige.18
The transformation process of tobacco leaves into cigars or cigarettes always began with the moisturizing of the raw material taking into consideration the final use it would be given. The leaves for cigars were manually moisturized, whereas those used to manufacture cigarettes were moisturized mechanically, as described in the procedures of El Buen Tono where moisture workshops were “totally covered by glass forming two vast galleries […] Using steam as motor force we find the zarandas (sieves) that remove the granaza and clean tobacco, and the reservoir to moisturize the leaves through a drain system […]”.19 Once the moisturizing process of tobacco concluded, the selection stage was performed; it took place in the selection workshops, where tobacco leaves were handled by female hands for the first time since their arrival to the factory.
Female workers at the selection department were in charge of selecting and classifying tobacco leaves. Not only did this task require a delicate handling of the raw material to prevent it from being spoiled, but it also meant that the female worker had to decide which leaves were susceptible of being used in the manufacturing of cigars and which were to be used to make chopped tobacco for cigarettes.
First, the leaves destined for cigars had to be opened, which was handmade, over the worker’s knees and without any tools. A complete description of this workshop may be found in Paloma Candela Soto’s work, who affirms: “The manual operation of vein removal […] consisted in gently detaching the central vein of the leaf, carefully separating the part of the leaf that was originally to the left of the central vein from the right half”.20
In the second half of the XIX century, the chopping of tobacco leaves for the production of cigarettes was performed entirely by machines. Around 1889 some of the factories had already mechanized the drying, cooling and cleaning processes of the raw material.21 For this department, only male workforce was used. Once this procedure was over, tobacco was transported to the cigarette manufacturing workshop.
Female workers assigned to the cigarette workshop took their seats along large tables and there they were handled chopped (and wet) tobacco in baskets and also the paper used to wrap it; both raw materials were weighed beforehand. The combination of payment by the job and weighing of the raw materials caused conflicts between owners and female workers. I will discuss these conflicts later on, when I comment on the body search.
Female cigarette workers then started to manually roll between 2300 and 2800 cigarettes, depending for the performance of this task only on the agility of their hands and a few tools: a blade to cut, some springs, some sticks to shape the packs and a box called plazuela, where they put the finished cigarettes and which also served to shape the packs they would later send to the packaging department.
The prevailing atmosphere in these rooms varied with the pass of time and according to the type of establishment; in some of them, female cigarette workers could chat and laugh; in certain workshops, they kept the tradition of having a person in charge of reading a newspaper, a novel or a short story. In some other establishments, however, they were forbidden to move, talk or having someone to read to them, and they were even fined if caught chatting.22 Afterwards, when the radio appeared in the XX century, some owners allowed the introduction of a radio receiver.23
The reader, paid by male and female workers, was a tradition inherited from workers of cigar workshops. Since tobacco workers paid the reader, they were able to decide on the material they wanted to hear along their working day. This habit was not completely well seen by the owners, because they believed what was read to the workers was not always completely convenient, and sometimes the material was even considered to be subversive. Some owners tried to banish or at least control what was read to their workers. Owners did not conquer workers, who always defended this privilege.24 However, for different reasons, female workers were not always able to defend this practice.
A practice at cigarette factories that affected the workers’ wages was the owners charging their workers whenever a work tool or table was broken, or when they were damaged as a result of normal wear.25 This policy was taken to an extreme by Julio Pugibet, owner of the factory El Ideal, when he tried to charge his female employees for the electric power consumed in his facilities.
Since 1889, as the factories began to introduce automatic machines to roll cigarettes, the atmosphere that used to exist in the establishments was qualitatively modified, because female workers stopped sharing a common table, and they were assigned new individual seats, distributed in rows, one worker behind the other, which together with the noise, rendered communication among them or listening to the reader impossible.26
This situation became worse in the XX century with the introduction of the first large cigarette machines, which were fed by a female worker and her assistant, and this radically altered the work conditions and diminished the number or workers employed.
We already explained that before mechanization, tobacco and paper were weighed when given to the female workers, who at the end of the working day had to deliver an amount of cigarettes estimated according to the raw material. If the worker did not complete the task at the end of the working day, she was forced to give back the raw material she had not used, and it was weighed again. If the weigh did not correspond, then the worker could be fined or fired. Owners considered that the difference in weight was caused by the worker wasting the raw material due to carelessness, lack of ability or indolence; or worse, they thought that the worker was trying to steal tobacco from the facilities, and accused them of theft.27
We find an example in the following article from 1874:
The cigarette workers of the factory La Bola complain again of the ill-treatment of which they are object from the part of Mr. Pedro Munguía […] whenever they are late in completing their work, and because this fact they are fired without any consideration; they are forced to work with a paper that, due to its low quality, breaks in half when rolling the cigarette, thus causing the delay and loss of paper these poor women experience […]28
Tobacco weight sometimes not corresponding is explained by the fact that leaves were moisturized in excess the previous night and so the next morning their weight was higher than usual. As the day passed, the heat concentrated in the workshops and the handling of the leaves caused them to dry, thus diminishing the weight.
As to the paper they were given to roll cigarettes, there were different practices at the manufacture centers. In some, for instance, it was weighed at the beginning of the working day and, same as tobacco, the amount of finished product delivered had to correspond to the raw material received; on the other hand, in some factories the boss subtracted the weight of the paper and added it to that of tobacco, supposedly obtaining a margin to compensate the normal loss due to manipulation of tobacco; however, this practice became burdensome for the workers, who were subjected to arbitrary wage discounts, creating conflicts between them and the owners; an example of this happened in 1888 in the factory El Ideal:
Apparently, it is customary not only in El Ideal but also in the rest of the factories, to give the female worker the tobacco weighed, with the raw material being sometimes slightly wet and others excessively.
The tasks of the factory we are dealing with… the material weighs five pounds, but we must take into account that as tobacco loses moisture, it suffers quite a loss either because of airing [sic], or because part of it disintegrates into fine powder while making the cigarettes.
Apart from tobacco, the female worker is also given the corresponding paper, which weighs almost eight ounces if black, or ten if white.
At the delivery of the completed task, the weight is compared and it must be exactly the same it was when the material was given for its manufacturing.
It is true that, to compensate in part for natural loss, at the comparison between the paper [sic] but we must also take into account that on the day tobacco is moisturized more than usual, said loss exceeds the paper weight.
Not only is this fact disregarded -which should also be taken into account by the manufacturers-, but it has also become a habit, which obeys to no law. Discounting from the wages the amount of the aforementioned loss, leaving to the consideration of the owner or superior of the factory the specification of the price, which fluctuates between five, ten, fifteen or even twenty cents.29
This iniquity from the part of the factory and workshop owners as to the handling of tobacco or the low quality of the paper was a constant source of conflict with the workers, because apart from imposing fines to them, they subjected their female workers to body searches before they left the premises of the factory in order to detect possible thefts of raw material. This action was considered an outrage by the cigarette workers and a serious offense against their honor and honesty as employees, virtues which workers valued.
Body searches worsened when they were performed in front of male workers, or when they were not performed by mistresses and were assigned to men instead. José María González y González denounced the aforementioned situation: “subjected to body searches even of her private parts, where modesty imposes even to libertines, body search performed in front of single men who devour with impertinent looks the delicate forms of well-formed bodies […]”.30 Another anonymous journalist joined Gonzalez’s denounce and, like him, with irritation wrote: “due to the impudent abuse brought [by body search], when performed by male individuals”.31
Some mistresses, following orders from the owner and/or zealous for their work even forced female workers to remove their stockings and shoes in front of them; an example of this may be found in the already mentioned article by González who wrote “We have seen superiors who demanded from their female workers that they removed their shoes and stockings before leaving the factory to prove they had not stolen any tobacco”.32
Body search was a huge humiliation that degraded the cigarette workers who were subject to this action, but it also offended the guild. This is why body search was one of the first causes for the most irritated protests by female workers.33
Relationships between owners and female workers were not always easy, among other reasons because the owners more than once did not treat their female workers right, or because they allowed their subordinates to mistreat them not using with them a language in accord with their honesty and decency, and treating them as if they were prostitutes. An example of this may be found in the following text: “abuse goes on, as usual, and the poor women [cigarette workers] who have the misfortune of working there are treated most roughly; we are said that the language used to talk to them would embarrass even a convict […]”.34
In some cigarette factories, there was a workshop that manufactured cigars keeping the Cuban tradition, that is, cigars were manufactured entirely by hand. The criteria to consider an individual as a good tobacco maker were that he/she should know the different characteristics of tobacco (color, taste, fragrance and texture) and have “good taste” to know how to combine the different qualities and characteristics of leaves; finally, the tobacco maker had to perform the right rolling (not too lose, not too tight) to allow a proper and even combustion, as well as good air and smoke circulation.
Some female workers at the El Buen Tono had the privilege of being admitted into the cigar workshop, becoming tobacco mistresses; however, these women, in spite of their advantageous position regarding the rest of their female co-workers, occupied a fragile place among their male peers , because if there was the need to reduce cigar production, and therefore the need to reduce personnel, the first employees to be let go were women, even though their wages were lower than those of male workers. Besides, tobacco workers never accepted their female counterparts as equals and they never admitted them in their guilds.
In some factories, women workers were not allowed to leave the premises at lunch time, and so they had to bring their own food and consume it in places that were not hygienic or agreeable, such as near the bathroom or trash can areas. On the other hand, in some other factories owners opened the doors to allow free transit, such as at El Buen Tono, where cigarette workers were allowed to leave the premises to have lunch, or to remain in the garden inside the factory to eat the food some relative or vendor would bring them. This break was profited by some of the workers not only to eat, but also if conditions allowed, to feed their small children or see some family member or friend.35
The time assigned for lunch was different at each of the tobacco factories; once this period concluded, female workers got back to their work, which ended only after sunset.
When dark fell, the most primitive workshops lightened the rooms with candles, gas or oil lamps; on the other hand, the largest and more modern factories introduced electricity to their facilities during the late XIX century to increase production through mechanization, and at the same time they provided a lighting system for their workers.
Illumination had direct repercussions in the workers’ life and work conditions. Even if it is true that electricity extended day hours, it also brought machines into the factories, increasing productivity but taking the place of labor force and widening the catalog of work risks; the new installation of electricity contributed to diminish one of the most common diseases suffered by cigarette workers: blindness, caused among other things by lack of adequate lighting.
Now I will discuss the diseases of cigarette workers derived from their craft, and also their life conditions which, more than once, led them to an early death. Another specific problem of female workers consisted in the difficulties they faced to take care of their children.
Shaping disease, death and child neglect
Poor work and hygiene conditions at the cigarette factories and workshops together with unhealthy housing and undernourishment resulted in the workers’ tendency to get sick and in their life expectation being shorter.
Diseases derived from the work activity that used to attack these workers, apart from blindness, were among others: permanent cough caused by tobacco dust, which at the same time could derive in various pulmonary conditions such as bronchitis or tuberculosis; to these illnesses we need to add hysteria and typhus, the latter being the result of unhealthy conditions at workshops and housing.36
The diseases mentioned above used to worsen due to undernourishment since childhood. There is information confirming that along the XIX century, wages earned by male and female workers were generally insufficient to satisfactorily cover their most basic needs, and nourishment was not an exception. The diet of Mexican popular sectors at this time was not precisely the most adequate, and that is why this social group tended to contract diseases and to become an easy target for epidemics.
Recent studies on XIX century Mexico City registered that housing normally occupied by male and female workers used to consist of reduced areas, with no services or hygiene. It must be added that the conditions of the capital of the country at that time were not optimal either.37 The unhealthy environment around the working population explains why typhus was an endemic disease.
Another source of insecurity for female cigarette workers was the habit of placing at their work centers different religious images, among which they preferred that of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who was considered their patron saint and for whom they had great devotion. The danger consisted in that said images were always accompanied by candles that lightened them. There are accidents registered in cigarette factories and at least one was caused precisely by these candles. The consequences were tragic: an unknown number of female workers perished. The fire to which I refer happened in Puebla, and was related in the following terms:
In the factory Cesar […] there is a deposit or tank full of gasoline which is resupplied every three or four days and which illuminates said factory by means of pipes […] A servant was carrying a tank when it broke down and the contents were spilled all over the pavement. The unfortunate workers had an image to which they were devoted, lightened by the flame of a lamp, immediate cause of the terrible catastrophe. The gasoline caught fire at the speed of lightning and the explosion caused the door to close with a deafening noise, leaving the people inside the house suffocated by asphyxia. Many of these people were horribly burnt and those who managed to escape came into neighboring houses asking for water and help moaning most heartbreakingly, since they were still covered in flames.38
Risks of disease and accidents at the factories were very high for female cigarette workers. Other sources of insecurity for them were explosions of steam machines and mutilation caused by new machines.
Among the everyday problems female workers who had children had to solve were the abovementioned care of these children while their mothers remained in the workshops and factories; this situation was not new; in fact, it existed since the opening of the Royal Tobacco Factory in 1770 when to this facility were massively incorporated cigarette craftsmen and their families, and so they had to move into the facilities with their wives and children.39
In the second half of the XIX century, female workers were not allowed to bring their children to their workplace; they had to leave them in charge of a relative, neighbor or friend, because institutions such as day care did not exist.
There was an attempt by the part of women of the Porfirian olygarchy to support female workers in general when they founded La Casa Amiga de la Obrera (The Friend-House of the Female Worker); however, in spite of all good intentions, this center did not manage to solve the needs of the cigarette workers, because its service was limited, restricted to 150 children only.40
The inexistence of public or factory day care facilities, as well as the rule -generalized in cigarette manufacturing centers- that forbidden female workers to bring their children to work, resulted in the best of cases in that children were raised by relatives or neighbors who agreed to substitute the mothers; however, not all these children were as lucky, and many of them grew up neglected and on the streets.
Neglect, poor life and health conditions and possibly constant abuse explain the high infant mortality rate that prevailed during the XIX century.
The working world of male and female workers goes beyond the ways of labor organization, of productive processes or economic and social relations established by individuals within the factory. When people enter a factory, they do not divest themselves of their culture or their family, social or ritual bonds. They do not abandon their history, their problems or dreams. All these constituting elements of individuals enter the working place with them. The usual life for these people of Porfirian times was to go to the factory or workshop six days a week, twelve to sixteen hours a day.
Female cigarette workers in Mexico City developed, together with their skills to roll cigarettes, a collective imaginary, an everyday routine in which their craft mixed up with their family and personal needs. In the same way, they established a series of horizontal and vertical connections, in which the key roles in their relationships were played not only by economic factors or by their know-how of the craft, but also by kinship, ritual, housing and ethnic factors which made part of the development of these relationships.
The conversion from artisanal workshops to factories caused a number of transformations, not only in the ways of organizing and controlling work, but also in the modification of work processes caused by the gradual mechanization of production. Besides, factory owners combined –according to their interests- old artisanal practices (payment by the job, for instance) and some values of the capitalistic factory system, such as punctuality, discipline and honesty. On their part, female workers agreed to some of these conditions, but they opposed and even responded in different ways to certain actions of their superiors which they considered oppressive (wage reduction) or offensive (search).
Historic studies performed on the Mexican working class have provided us with a rich knowledge of various aspects of this social actor; however, in most of them the fundamental difference between male and female workers is not taken into account, and this dissimilarity is given by their gender condition.
In the second half of the XIX century, the Porfirian elite believed that the fate of every woman was to be a good mother, regardless of the different conditions that prevailed between women of the working class and women from oligarchy. However, this ideal of what was feminine and of the role every woman had to play was shared by female workers. This explains why they assumed the care of their family members as part of their responsibilities, and this care included from traditional domestic chores to assuring the survival of those who depended on them.
Female cigarettes workers, unlike their male peers, and as a result of their specific gender, marginalization and poverty conditions, did not develop pride for their craft. The construction of their identity, dignity and sense of belonging passed through other values and mechanisms, which had to be authenticated day by day, inside and outside the factory. The recurring discourse of these women and their defenders about their decency, integrity and –given the case- their capacity as good mothers was not enough; each one of them had to fulfill, perfectly and every day, this role society had appointed to them, unless they wanted to suffer general rejection and censure, even from their own class and gender co-worker.
Arrom, Silvia Marina, Las mujeres de la Ciudad de México (1790-1857), Mexico, Siglo XXI, 1988, 382pp.
Ayala, Manuel, “Bellas”, in El Monitor Republicano, 5th period, year XXV, num. 235, Mexico City, October 1, 1875, First page.
Candela Soto, Paloma, Cigarreras madrileñas; trabajo y vida (1888-1927), Madrid, Tecnos, 1997, 234pp.
CEHSMO, La mujer y el movimiento obrero mexicano en el siglo XIX, CEHSMO, 1975, 64pp.
El Monitor del Pueblo, “El siniestro de Puebla”, t. I, num. 12, Mexico City, March 20, 1885, p. 3.
____________, “Explosión”, t. I, num. 12, Mexico City, March 29, 1885, p. 3.
El Monitor Republicano, “Prostitutas clandestinas”, 5th period, year XXV, num. 226, México D.F., September 21, 1875, p. 3.
El mundo Ilustrado, “El Buen Tono S.A.”, t. I, year VI, num. 10, Mexico City, March 5, 1899, p. 196-197.
El Reporter, “Una visita a la fábrica de cigarros El Buen Tono”, in El Monitor del Pueblo, year V, num. 919, Mexico City, July 24, 1889, p. 1-2.
EL Socialista, “¡La Bola! ¡La Bola!”, year IV, num. 72, Mexico City, March 22, 1874, p. 3.
____________, “El antiguo estanco”, year IV, num. 73, México City, May 24, 1874, p. 3.
Flaquer, Concepción Jimeno de, “La obrera mexicana”, in La Paz Pública, 2nd period, year III, num. 3, México City, January 5, 1888, p. 2.
Gayón Córdova, María, Condiciones de vida y de trabajo en la Ciudad de México en el siglo XIX, Mexico, INAH, 1988, 154 p.
González y González, José María, “Prostitución clandestina”, in La Convención Radical Obrera, year II, num. 55, Mexico City, June 12, 1887, p. 2.
____________, “Pobres obreras”, in La Convención Radical Obrera, year II, num. 62, México City, August 7, 1887, p. 2.
____________, “La huelga”, in La Paz Pública, 2nd period, year III, num. 74, Mexico City, July 3, 1888, p. 2.
González Sierra, José, Monopolio del humo. Elementos para la historia del tabaco en México y algunos conflictos de tabaqueros veracruzanos 1915-1930, Xalapa, Universidad Veracruzana, (Historias Veracruzanas num. 5), 1987, 246 pp.
Hernández, Dolores, “Un ocurso”, in La Paz Pública, 1st period, year II. num. 64, Mexico City, August 14, 1887, p. 2.
Iparraguirre, Hilda y Mario Camarena, (coords.), “Continuidades, rupturas, resistencias culturales y simbólicas en las familias de los trabajadores textiles”, in Tiempo y significados, Mexico, Plaza y Valdés, 1997, pp. 117-129.
Juvenal, “Las estanqueras de la esquina de Santo Domingo y Tacuba”, in El Monitor Republicano, 5th period, year XXII, num. 53, Mexico City, March 2, 1872, p. 3.
La Convención Radical Obrera, “¡Pobres cigarreras!”, year III, num. 110, Mexico City, August 5, 1888, p. 3.
La Libertad, “Trabajo de mujeres”, year I, num. 57, Mexico City, March 13, 1878, p. 3.
La Paz Pública, “La Casa Amiga de la Obrera”, 2nd period, year III, num. 8, Mexico City, January 17, 1888, p. 1-2.
____________, “El Dr. Alberto Gómez Romero”, 2nd period, year III, num. 91, Mexico City, August 21, 1888, p. 3.
____________, “La huelga de las obreras”, 2nd period, year III, num. 96, Mexico City, September 2, 1888, p. 2.
____________, “El Monitor del Pueblo”, 2nd period, year III, num. 96, Mexico City, September 2, 1888, p. 3.
____________, “La huelga de las obreras”, 2nd period, year III, num. 97, Mexico City, September 4, 1888, p. 2.
____________, “Sociedad Hijas del Trabajo”, 2nd period, year III, num. 98, Mexico City, September 6, 1888, p. 3.
____________, “Incendio”, 2nd period, year III, num. 109, Mexico City, October 14, 1888, p. 3.
Lara, Julio de, “La cigarrera”, in El Monitor del Pueblo, t. I, num. 200, Mexico City, November 14, 1885, p. 1-2.
López Medina, Tomasa, et. al., “Las obreras”, in El Socialista, year XII, num. 25, Mexico City, July 17, 1882, p. 2.
Obregón Martínez, Arturo, Las obreras tabacaleras de la Ciudad de México 1764-1925, Mexico, Centro de Estudios Históricos del Movimiento Obrero Mexicano, 1982, 136 pp.
____________, “El siglo XIX. I. Economía y tabaco”, in Fernando Benítez (pról.), Historia y cultura del tabaco en México, SARH/TABAMEX, 1988, pp. 157-179.
Parcero, María de la Luz, Condiciones de la mujer en México, Mexico, INAH (Científica, 264),1992, 239pp.
Pardo Bazán, Emilia, La Tribuna, Benito Varela Jácome (ed.), twelfth edition, Madrid, Cátedra S.A., 1997, 270pp.
Ramos, Carmen, “Mujeres trabajadoras en el Porfiriato” in Historias, num. 21, Mexico City, October 1988 – March 1989, pp. 113-121.
Ros, María Amparo, La producción cigarrera a finales de la Colonia. La fábrica en México, Mexico, INAH (Cuaderno de Trabajo num. 44), s.f., 97pp.
____________, “Del taller a la fábrica: los cigarreros de la Ciudad de México” (typed document).
____________, “Una nueva organización de los cigarreros” (typed document).
Terrazas, Pedro, “La sociedad del antiguo estanco”, in El Socialista, year IV, num. 65, Mexico City, March 29, 1874, first page.
- Hilda Iparraguirre and Mario Camarena, (coords.), “Continuidades, rupturas, resistencias culturales y simbólicas en las familias de los trabajadores textiles”, in Tiempo y significados, 1997, pp. 117 and ss. [↩]
- El Mundo Ilustrado, “El Buen Tono S.A.,” T. I. year VI, num. 10, Mexico City, March 5, 1899, pp. IX-X (page numbers corresponding to the section) and pp. 196-197 (corresponding to the progressive page numbers of the publication). [↩]
- Arturo Obregón Martínez, Las obreras tabacaleras de la Ciudad de México 1764-1925, 1982, p. 73 and ss. [↩]
- María Amparo Ros Torres, La producción cigarrera a finales de la Colonia. La fábrica en México, s.f., pp. 15 and ss. [↩]
- Paloma Candela Soto, Cigarreras madrileñas: trabajo y vida (1888-1927), 1997; Emilia Pardo Bazán, La Tribuna, 1997. [↩]
- The Spanish kings did not monopolize the culture, manufacture and commercialization of tobacco in Spain and their colonies simultaneously. The Crown issued, at different times, specific documents decreeing -according to their particular interests- the monopoly of said product. For instance, the Sevilla factory, the oldest plant in Spain, had already been monopolized in the XVII century. [↩]
- Dolores Hernández, “Un ocurso”, in La Paz Pública, 1st period, year II, num. 64, Mexico City, August 14, 1887, p. 2; Juvenal, “Las estanqueras de la esquina de Santo Domingo y Tacuba”, in El Monitor Republicano, 5th period, year XXII, num. 53, Mexico City, March 2, 1872, p. 3; Julio de Lara, “La cigarrera”, in El Monitor del Pueblo, t. I, num. 200, Mexico City, November 14, 1885, p. 1-2. and José María González y González, “Por las obreras”, in La Paz Pública, 2nd period, year III, num. 74, Mexico City, July 3, 1888; p. 2. [↩]
- José María González y González, “Por las obreras”, in op. cit., p. 2. [↩]
- Regarding the worries about the possible prostitution of female workers of the time, see Arturo Obregón Martínez, op. cit., p. 23-24. As to the XIX century, see the following articles: El Monitor Republicano, “Prostitutas clandestinas”, 5th period, year XXV, num. 226, Mexico City, September 21, 1875, p. 3; Manuel Ayala, “Bellas”, in El Monitor Republicano, 5th period, year XXV, num. 235, Mexico City, October 1, 1875, Front page; José Mª. González y González, “Prostitución clandestina”, in La Convención Radical Obrera, year II, num. 55, Mexico City, June 12, 1887, p. 2. [↩]
- Concepción Jimeno de Flaquer, “La obrera mexicana”, in La Paz Pública, 2nd period, year III, num. 3, Mexico City, January 5, 1888, p. 2. [↩]
- Tomasa López Medina, et. al, “Las obreras”, in El socialista, year XII, num. 25, Mexico City, July 17, 1882, p. 2. [↩]
- Arturo Obregón Martínez, op. cit., 1982, p. 22. This author mentions the hiring of widows and orphan girls. Julio de Lara, “La cigarrera”, op. cit., p. 1-2. José María González y González, “Por las obreras”, op. cit., p. 2. [↩]
- Julio de Lara, op. cit., p. 1-2. [↩]
- A model for a spacious and well lit facility was built by the cigarette factory El Buen Tono, owned by Ernesto Pugibet; there are two detailed descriptions of said building in El Mundo Ilustrado, “El Buen Tono S.A.” op. cit., p. IX-X (page numbers corresponding to the section), and pp. 196-197 (corresponding to the progressive page numbers of the publication), and El Reporter, “Una visita a la fábrica de cigarros El Buen Tono”, in El Monitor del Pueblo, year V, num. 919, Mexico City, July 24, 1889, p. 1-2. About the work conditions of the cigarette workers, the following articles were registered: La Libertad, “Trabajo de mujeres”, year I, num. 57, Mexico City, March 13, 1878, p. 3.; José María González y González, “Por las obreras”, op. cit., p. 2. [↩]
- El Reportero, op. cit., pp. 1-2. [↩]
- José María González y González, “Por las obreras”, op. cit., p. 3. [↩]
- El Socialista, “¡La Bola! ¡La Bola!”, year IV, Mexico City, March 22, 1874, p. 3. [↩]
- This description of the workers comes from a photograph published in the article of El Mundo Ilustrado, “El Buen Tono S.A.”, op.cit., pp. IX-X (page numbers corresponding to the section) and pp. 196-197 (progressive page numbers of the publication). [↩]
- El Reporter, op. cit., p. 1-2. In Mexico City, granaza was the stems and thick veins of the leaves; metal strainers called zarandas were used in order to eliminate them. [↩]
- Paloma Candela Soto, op. cit., p. 71. Interestingly, in some film versions it is this department that has served as stage for the fight scene in the opera Carmen. Generally in this depiction, women wear only a corset and their skirts are lifted, which would confirm the information regarding these factory rooms being extremely hot. [↩]
- El Reporter, op. cit., p. 1-2. El Mundo Ilustrado, “El Buen Tono S. A.”, op. cit., p. IX-X (page numbers corresponding to the section) and pp. 196-197 (progressive page numbers of the publication). The information we have on the factories in Mexico City in the eighties and nineties of the XIX century notes that the way to chop tobacco leaves was commonly in thin strands, unlike the Spanish factories of the period, where chopping in squares was preferred. [↩]
- El Mundo Ilustrado, “El Buen Tono S.A.”, op. cit., p. IX-X (corresponding to the page numbers of the section) and pp. 196-197 (corresponding to the progressive page numbers of the publication). El Reporter, op. cit., p. 1-2. It is interesting to note that the conditions in El Buen Tono changed with the introduction of the machinery to roll tobacco, and this fact may be corroborated by comparing the two articles in which facilities are described. In the second article, the reporter affirmed that female workers worked among laughter and conversation, whereas the first journalist states that they performed their work without engaging in vane conversation. Examples of penalties to female workers for chatting may be found in Pedro Terrazas, “La sociedad del antiguo estanco”, in El Socialista, year IV, num. 65, Mexico City, March 29, 1874, First page. [↩]
- Emilia Pardo Bazán, op. cit., pp. 105 and ss. The author wittily describes the prevailing atmosphere among female workers when their heroine performed the reading of various materials, among which there were articles that discussed the political situation of Spain at the time. [↩]
- José González Sierra, Monopolio del humo. Elementos para la historia del tabaco en México y algunos conflictos de tabaqueros veracruzanos 1915-1939, 1987, pp. 96-97. [↩]
- Pedro Terrazas, “La sociedad del antiguo estanco”, in El Socialista, year IV, num. 65, Mexico City, March 29, 1874, First page. [↩]
- El Reporter, op. cit., pp. 1-2; El Mundo ilustrado, “El Buen Tono S.A.”, op. cit., pp. IX-X (page numbers corresponding to the section) y pp. 196-197 (progressive page numbers corresponding to the publication). [↩]
- El Socialista, “¡La Bola! ¡La Bola!”, op. cit., p. 3; La Paz Pública, “La huelga de las obreras”, 2nd period, year III, num. 96; September 2, 1888, p. 2; La Paz Pública, “El Monitor del Pueblo”, 2nd period, year III, num. 96, Mexico City, September 2, 1888, p. 2; La Paz Pública, “La huelga de las obreras”, 2nd period, year III, num. 97, Mexico City, September 4, 1888, p. 2; José María González y González, “Por las obreras”, op. cit., p. 2; José María González y González, “La huelga”, in La Convención Radical Obrera, year III, num. 115, Mexico City, September 9, 1888, p. 2. [↩]
- El Socialista, “¡La Bola! ¡La Bola!”, op. cit., p. 3. [↩]
- La Paz Pública, “La huelga de las obreras”, 2ª period, year III, num. 96, Mexico City, September 2, 1888, p. 2. [↩]
- José María González y González, “Por las obreras”, op. cit., p. 2. [↩]
- La Paz Pública, “La huelga de las obreras”, op.cit., p. 2. [↩]
- José María González y González, “Por las obreras”, op. cit., p. 2. [↩]
- La Paz Pública, “La huelga de las obreras”, num. 96, p. 2; ibidem, num. 97, p. 2. La Paz Pública, “Sociedad Hijas del Trabajo”, 2nd period, year III, num. 98, Mexico City, September 6, 1888, p. 3; José María González y González, “Por las obreras”, op.cit., p. 2. [↩]
- El Socialista, “El antiguo estanco”, year IV, num. 73, Mexico City, May 24, 1874, p. 3. [↩]
- Arturo Obregón Martínez, op. cit., p. 106. [↩]
- La Paz Pública, “El Dr. Alberto Gómez Romero”, 2nd period, year III, num. 91, Mexico City, August 21, 1888, p. 3. About the death of tobacco workers see José María González y González, “Pobres obreras”, in La Convención Radical Obrera, year II, num. 62, Mexico City, August 7, 1887, p. 2. [↩]
- Silvia Marina Arrom, Las mujeres de la Ciudad de México, 1790-1857, 1988, pp. 153-154 and 195-196. [↩]
- El Monitor del Pueblo, “El siniestro en Puebla”, t. I, num. 12, Mexico City, March 20, 1885, p. 3. [↩]
- María Amparo Ros, Del taller a la fábrica: los cigarreros de la Ciudad de México, p. 3, (typed document) and Una nueva organización de los cigarreros, p. 3 (typed document). [↩]
- La Paz Pública, “La Casa Amiga de la Obrera”, 2ª period, year III, num. 8, Mexico City, January 17, 1888, p. 1-2 and Julio de Lara, op. cit., p. 1-2. [↩]