“Our labor units are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours, and provided benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, unions have brought justice and democracy to the workplace.” This a quote the John F Kennedy once said. In 1881 a man by the name of Samuel Gompers published multiple articles describing the work and living conditions of skilled workers, but more specifically cigar makers. Many of these skilled worker lived in tenement-houses, which are narrow apartments with poor lighting and poor ventilation.
Cigars were often made in these living quarters which causes cancer and other types of diseases and illnesses within the personal living in these apartments.
Samuel Gompers toured many of these tenement-houses and described below are a few described in detail by Gompers. The first tenement-house to be talked about will be Hermann Blaskopf’s Tenement-House. This apartment is a five story double tenement-house holding fifteen families and four families on each floor with about 52 people in all.
The rooms and bedrooms are small with the dimensions of the room being 11 by 13 feet and the bedroom is 5.5 by 7.5 feet, with only one window of 18 inches. The whole bottom floor, and part of the upper floor is used as an office area or a storage area for tobacco. In all the tenants rooms, tobacco is laid all over the floor to dry, this causes young children to constantly be around this drug. The process of rolling cigars in this house begins as early as six in the morning and goes until as late as twelve in the morning with workers earning very little wages of about .
25 to $6.00 per one thousand cigars rolled. An average of 2,800 cigars made a week.
The tentents is from $7 to $9 per month. This tenement-house are very filthy with about 60 to 70 pounds of tobacco rotting. The Rosenthal Brothers owned at least seven tenement-houses all for producing cigars. In tenement-house 632 on East 15th Street, 20 families with about 98 people in all lived in this house. The families each had very small living containers with a room, a bedroom, and a kitchen, each living quarter had two windows each of which are very small. Three or four people work in each room and the fire is constantly running in order to dry the massive heaps of tabacon this causes the air in the room to be very steamy and thick. Another tenement-house owned by the Rosenthal’s is the 634 on 16th Street. This house has about 16 families with about 73 people living there. For the tenants living in the street side living quarters, there is a room, a bedroom, and a kitchen. On the backside of the house are apartment with only a bedroom and a room. Six people usually work in a family and a seventh person is hired in.
The tenement-house is very dirty due to little water on the upper levels and the poor housekeeping, along with the large amounts of tobacco stems. In all tenement-houses children begin work at a young age to increase the families production. However many children die at a young age for sickness or lack of nutrition. The unsanitary work and living conditions also play a part in the mortality rates of the multiple tenants. Samuel Gompers wanted to give the outside communities a very vivid picture of the working and living conditions of skilled cigar makers. He also wanted to make people aware of the large quantities of children that are working and wanted to eventually abolish child labor all together. Lastly Gompers wanted to organize a labor union for skilled workers.