Here’s today’s labor history:
On this date in 1875, Cigarmakers’ International Union Local 144 was chartered in New York City. The local's first president was Samuel Gompers, who would later found the American Federation of Labor, which became the largest and most influential labor federation in the world, and is now the AFL-CIO.
Sam Gompers was born in London, England. At the age of 10, Gompers left school and was sent to work as an apprentice cigarmaker to help earn money for his impoverished family. Owing to dire financial straits, the Gompers family immigrated to the United States in 1863, settling in Manhattan's Lower East Side. In 1864, at the age of 14, Gompers joined Cigarmakers' Local Union 15, the English-speaking union of cigar makers in New York City.
Gompers later recounted his days as a cigar maker at the bench, emphasizing the place of craftsmanship in the production process, which gives us today's labor quote:
"The craftsmanship of the cigarmaker was shown in his ability to utilize wrappers to the best advantage to shave off the unusable to a hairbreadth, to roll so as to cover holes in the leaf and to use both hands so as to make a perfectly shaped and rolled product. These things a good cigarmaker learned to do more or less mechanically, which left us free to think, talk, listen, or sing. I loved the freedom of that work, for I had earned the mind-freedom that accompanied skill as a craftsman. I was eager to learn from discussion and reading or to pour out my feelings in song."