Look for the Union Label!

Saint Louis, 'Bethlehem' of the American Trade Union Movement

Brothers and Sisters,

     Saint Louis Labor Council President Pat White, in an article noting our fine city’s significant contributions to the American trade union movement, referenced our proud lineage as the flagship Local of the IBEW. In fact, it was an organizer from the Council Brother White now leads, Charles Kassel, that would facilitate our formation and its resultant affiliation with America’s then young Labor Federation. A member of Cigar Makers’ International Union Local 44, Kassel was already a seasoned organizer by the time he met with our founders at Stolle’s Bowling and Entertainment Hall in 1891. An 1870's edition of the Saint Louis Republican lists Kassel as Treasurer and Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the Saint Louis Labor and Trades Assembly, one of the original naming iterations of today’s Labor Council. His name would appear often in the paper’s Labor section over the next three decades, sharing stories of his speeches on Socialism and Trade Union organizing, many of them alongside Peter J. McGuire, future Vice-President of the yet to be formed American Federation of Labor (see Speeches). As the AFLCIO’s 28th Constitutional Convention draws to a close, we thought we would share a brief glimpse into the unsung contributions of Kassel and his powerful Saint Louis Cigar Makers’ Union as told by David Kreyling in 1937. Below Kreyling credits our City with the Union Label movement and details the reaction of the Knights of Labor, declaring it one of two concurrent responses by the Order (the other in New York), that would prove fatal and eventually lead to their extinction. Whether or not you agree with Kreyling’s attribution - one thing is clear - without the Cigar Makers’ International Union our movement may not exist today. Saint Louis Labor Council President Pat White now stands where Peter J. McGuire and David Kreyling once stood.

The next time someone hands you a cigar to celebrate their betrothed or to welcome a new life into the world, you would be well-served to reflect on the labor giants who laid the foundation of our movement.!

We stand in Solidarity with the hard-working men and women of the American trade union movement, the “new” AFLCIO, and working people in all corners of our world! 

In Unity,
Frank Jacobs
Business Manager
“My ‘union bosses’ are the members of IBEW Local 1!”

(Reprinted from Golden Jubilee Recollections, Historical Sketch of the St. Louis Central Trades and Labor Union, September 11, 1937, 50 th Anniversary. Note: David Kreyling was Business Manager for the Cigar Makers’ International Union Local 44 and Secretary of the Central Trades and Labor Union of Saint Louis .)


St. Louis First Label City.

The Golden Jubilee historical sketch would be very defective without mentioning the brief, but bitter struggle which developed in the order of the Knights of Labor and soon flamed up as an open war between the Knights and the Trade Unionists. In 1879, the Cigar Makers’ Union of St. Louis, being one of the leading unions of the Western states, decided to have its own union label attached to every box of Union-made cigars. It was agreed that this should be a red label. The only Cigar Makers’ label then in the existence was in San Francisco where a “white label” appeared on every box of cigars made by white cigar makers, the purpose of which was to drive the Chinese coolie labor out of the Pacific Coast cigar industry.

Thus the first real Cigar Makers’ Union label in this country originated in St. Louis. For five years this Cigar Makers’ red label held its ground and contributed much to the improvement of the cigar makers’ position. Two years later, the Cigar Makers’ International Union met in Chicago, and after a long discussion, decided to adopt an International label, in blue color, which is the label of the organization today. In view of the fact that the St. Louis red label had gained a wide market and had become generally known as a trademark of fair labor conditions, the St. Louis Cigar Makers continued their red union label until 1884 when their International Union compelled them to quit the local red label and adopt the blue International label. However, the St. Louis Cigar Makers’ Union claimed the credit of having been the pioneer of the Trade Union label movement, because soon after the red cigar label had become known, other unions followed with adopting similar label methods.

CMIU Union Label

Knights of Labor Had Separate Label.

The leaders of the Order of the Knights of Labor soon showed their hostile attitude toward the International Cigar Makers’ Union, and since most of the Union cigar makers were also members of the K. of L., the Order issued its own K. of L. Cigar Makers’ label and insisted that no other label be recognized. This and similar anti-Union actions on the part of leading K. of L. leaders brought the open collision between the conservative leadership of the Order and the Trade Unions. In October, 1886, the General Assembly of the Knights of labor, in session at Richmond, Virginia, the assembled delegates (or rather a majority of them), declared open war on the entire Trade Union movement, and the main attack was directed against the Cigar Makers’ International Union. A resolution was adopted ordering all members of the Order, who were also members of the Cigar Makers International Union, to withdraw from the latter organization; failure to comply with said order meaning forfeiture of membership in the Order of the Knights of labor. The well-known pioneer Union Labor agitator and labor editor, Joseph R. Buchanan, who was also a member of the General Executive Board of the Knights of Labor, speaking of this drastic action of the Richmond General Assembly, later made this true statement:

“The majority by which this anti-Trade Union resolution was adopted was not comparatively very large, but it was enough; and by this unfortunate action the Order of the Knights of labor, then the greatest labor organization up to that time known in this country, received its mortal wound at Richmond. The anti-Unionists were jubilant over their victory, not realizing that they had given the Order irreparable injury.”

When a year later, in October 1887, the General Assembly met in Minneapolis, it was soon apparent that the Order was falling off in membership at an alarming rate and that the organization was fast going down grade toward the historical abyss of oblivion. Two months later, in December 1887, the American Federation of Labor met in Columbus, Ohio, and the principal matter considered by that convention was the quarrel with the Knights of Labor. There was no longer any conciliatory spirit among the delegates, and the convention adopted radical retaliatory measures.



(Reprinted in part from the Saint Louis Globe-Democrat, July 4, 1879. Note: We maintained the colloquial grammar and presentation from the original article – the Maguire spelling is incorrect. We chose to share this article since it matches the year referenced by David Kreyling above. Note the rally is in preparation for “Workingmen’s Day,” an early Labor Day celebration.)



A Grand Mass-Meeting of the Eight-Hour Advocates.


Arrangements Completed for the Demonstration To-Day.


Some Strong Hiuts Thrown Out at Last Night’s Meeting by PJ. Maguire and Others.

(Introduction omitted)

The Speeches.

Carl Lahmensick (the Socialist organizer) called the meeting to order and nominated Charles Kassel to take the Chair. Mr. Kassel inquired whether Mr. P. J. Maguire (who is the paid agitator of the Socialists) was in the crowd, if so he would step up to the platform as he was the first speaker. As Mr. Maguire did not respond, 

Chairman Kassel

delivered an address. To-morrow they would celebrate, he said, the 103 rd anniversary of the birthday of their Republic. Their forefathers had fought to guarantee every man equal rights, but things had changed. At one time every laborer was considered as a citizen of equality. To-day laborers were considered the same as slaves were at one time in the Southern States. They were about to declare their independence. They did not intend to be any more under the whip. They did not intend to be under tyranny anymore. They had a taste of liberty and they loved it. The great question was eight hours. A great many people were without labor. By having the eight-hour system there would be more work and better wages. If more people were employed there would be more consumption of goods. This was a logical conclusion. There were in the United States about 4,000,000 of laboring men employed. By reducing two hours a day almost a million more could be employed. That would do away with tramps. Those who made laws against tramps were really tramp makers. They sucked the life-blood out of the people for the benefit of a few individuals. They called the workingmen the off-spring of the slums. But the more slum they created the more they would sink down into the mire. Workingmen were the bone and sinew of the nation and were the chief consumers. The speaker apologized for his bad English (Note: Kassel was a first-generation immigrant from Hannover, Germany. His first language was German – Born in 1845, he would’ve been 34 years old on this day ). Tomorrow (the Fourth) was the workingmen’s day. Only the workingmen had true patriotism in their hearts. The others were all sham - and that was the reason they were going to have a sham battle. Workingmen would celebrate the Fourth in commemoration of the battle with the tyrants of England. The present tyrants did not have the title as those of old did, but they had the money. Capitalists, instead of oppressing the workingmen, should try to raise them up. This was a land rich with nature’s bounties, but why were so many poor, and why did so many have nothing to do? There must be something wrong - he’d “bed-d” if there was not. Machinery, instead of being a tool of labor was the master of labor. If workingmen did not succumb to the bosses, then machinery and child-labor would be called into requisition. Children nowadays were sent to work in factories while they should be at school training to be good men and women. Working men should unite against the capitalist scalawags. There was a day in Europe when nobles (noble highway robbers) controlled everything; they enslaved the people, and could do everything with them except sell them. The people left Europe because the air was too impure and dark, to come to a country where the air was clearer. But they found that they were capitalists and monopolists in this country just as bad as the nobles of the Old World. The speaker entered into a tirade against the proprietors of the several papers of the city, especially the owners of the Republican and the Westliche Post. He’d be “dong-donged” if there must be a change - these scoundrels must be driven from power and there must be a different system of government. To-morrow there would be a large body in procession, and there would be a soul in that body - and they would declare in favor of liberty. [A voice – “Hurrah for the Dutchman!” Laugher and applause.] All they wanted was good organization and body in the working classes. There should be but one platform and one principle. The ball would be set rolling and it could not be stopped.

Calls were again made for P. J. Maguire, but no response, promise was made that Albert Currlin, of the Volkstimme Des Westens, would speak . In the meantime the band played.

After a doleful error had been gone through, the cry was again made for Maguire but Maguire came not, so.

(Albert Currlin speech omitted) 

P. J. Maguire

at last put in an appearance. He made a decidedly “rattling” speech. He said he would speak upon two subjects, as announced, which might properly be included within one. As he understood them the subjects were, “What shall we commence to-morrow?” and “How shall we accomplish the work we have begun?” From the crowd before him he saw that the workingmen of St. Louis were not behind the general sentiment of the workingmen of the Eastern States on the eight-hour question. He remembered when he was a stripling, a youth comparatively in the movement, in 1868, when he marched in a procession of 70,000, in solid phalanx, in New York, as a demonstration in favor of the eight-hour law. They were then organized in their trades’ unions and labor societies. It might be appropriately asked, why had these organizations gone down to their present shattered remnants? It was because they fought for the eight-hour question in a different light to what they had now. They did not fight for it with the same broad, general principles as now, which embraced every man that labored, no matter what his craft. The eight-hour question now was endorsed by the most advanced labor reformers of the country. Such an organization was not known in 1868. Today it numbered thousands in this city, and it’s millions in the whole country. [Applause.] The organization had a basis of principles broad enough to embrace every man. It was not that all-selfish, narrow trade union policy of the past, that a bricklayer was better than the man who carried the hod, because the bricklayer had a little more skill and a little more wages than the hod-carrier. Their present organizations said that the hod-carrier or the commonest laborer in the streets was as necessary to society as the bricklayer or the stone-cutter and infinitely more necessary then the millionaire or the national banker. They claimed that every man who performed a useful labor - even though he performed what was called the “most menial” - or who was employed in any work that contributed to the industrial advancement of the world - any man who gave back to society an equivalent for what he received - that such a man had a right to live and to be recognized in the government of the nation. The difficulty was to stop men from taking that which did not belong to them - that which they had not earned. To-day he and his bearers had to work ten hours a day when they could get work. Some of his bearers, no doubt, had to work fourteen hours a day. When they work these long hours they worked more than they ought to work. If every man received a just proportion of what he earned, then there would be no necessity of working more than eight hours a day. Over 100 years ago that old philosopher, Benjamin Franklin, said that if every man worked who was able to work there would be enough produced by a labor of four hours a day. Benjamin Franklin was a printer, and he was not ashamed of being known as a workingman. When he went to Europe as the representative of this country he did not ape un-American courtly manners and extravagances.

If the statement of Benjamin Franklin held good in those days, it held more good now, when there was so much machinery. He would put it as a simple proposition whether with all our vast system of labor-saving machinery, eight hours were not enough for a man to put in a day’s work? Workingmen had the power to reduce the hours of labor to eight each day. Many might say, ”We are not working at anything; we would be glad to work fourteen or twenty hours a day if we could only get a job.” The trouble was that the work they might be doing had been taken away from them by machinery. But machinery had no stomach, no needs beyond the little fuel and water. It wanted no clothes, no education, no house; it had no children to support or family to look after in competition with men. A machine was cheap; a man was dear. There was no need for man to be employed, for the capitalist could get a machine to work a great deal cheaper for him. A machine did not go on strike, nor did it join the Socialistic party. A machine would not inaugurate any revolution. But he would tell them that the influence of machinery would inaugurate a greater revolution than any words of his could. Machinery was one of the best of agitators. It had brought the nose of the workingman to the grindstone, and had made him learn the labor problem through hard knocks and blows and starvation. It was a power which would teach workingmen that they must do something to help themselves. Perhaps some of them would say, “Destroy all the machinery; it is a ruin to us - our damnation, and we would be better off without it.” But machinery was the result of civilization. It was the product of labor. He could prove that nine-tenths of the inventions had been by workingmen. Capitalists got hold of the inventions, and the poor originators received little or no pecuniary benefit and were unknown to fame. The sewing machine was instanced. The name of the real inventor was unknown, although many claim the honor. Inventions had to be introduced into the work from necessity. They were meant as labor-savers. But instead of being what they were intended to be, they merely displaced labor without reducing the hours of labor. Consequently, by the present system of long hours, the more machinery introduced, the less workmen there would be employed. They did not want to destroy machinery. It would be the worst thing they could do. They should use machinery and get the benefit of it. The women and children should be taken away from the factories, where they were brought into bad contact. Woman should be the mistress of the fireside and the moral teacher of the home, and should not be brought into competition with men. No matter how long the man worked he would only get a living. When the national eight-hour law had been passed then Burlingame was sent to China to bring over those pig-tail serfs, who works for 20 and 30 cents a day on the Pacific Railroad. English iron was bought in preference to American, because it was cheaper, and the iron mills of Pittsburgh were allowed to remain idle. He would argue the eight-hour question as long as he had breath and his body. If workingmen worked less and thought more, than they would get more pay. The trouble was that they work too much and thought too little. Eight hours was necessary. In this country workingmen were called upon more than in any other country of the world to take part in the affairs of Government. They had to become an informed on public questions. They were told it was there Government; if it were not, it was their own fault. They had seven tenths of the whole power of the country. Then why were they led by the nose on election day? It was because they weren’t too easily deluded, and allowed others to do their thinking and be their masters. When they asked to have some recognition in the making of the laws, they were told by the legislators that they represented somebody else, and that if the workingmen wanted anything that must form a party of their own and elect their own men. But when they sought to do this, then the public press told them that they were not fit to govern, and were only fit to work, for they had no learning. But if they had not the necessary learning, then by God they should have more time to go to school. [Applause.] if the eight hour system were in operation, than one man in every five could be employed. It was said that if they worked a shorter time they would receive less wages. But this was not so. Wages were not ruled by the hours of labor, the wealth of a country or the rate of interest; but wages were ruled by the standard of living. If workingmen lived on rats and mice or macaroni, they would receive low wages. But were civilization progress their workingmen would receive proportionately higher wages. Wherever the workingmen said they wanted better food, clothes, homes and education, and united to procure them, then there was nothing to prevent it. The condition of the workingmen was not bettered by charity. They wanted justice. They asked for a little more time to enjoy the society of their fellow men. In America they were told they were free. Then why did they not exercise the freedom they were accredited with? It was because workingmen did not see that the motto “every man for himself and the devil for us all” was wrong. It was because they did not unite. Parades and talk meant nothing unless they were backed up by energy. They should organize – organize - and be true to their labor organization. It was said that eight hours would only give them more time to frequent saloons; but it was the very opposite. The primary causes of intoxication were: first, hereditary disposition; and secondly, over-work. Where men work the longest hours there was the greatest amount of drunkenness. In New England, in the cotton manufacturing districts, where there were laws against the sale of liquors but long hours, the operatives made their own beer and whiskey and drank any how. In New York, where the builders worked only eight hours a day, there was less drunkenness than formerly. In Manchester, Leeds, London and Birmingham, where men work only nine hours instead of ten and eleven, as here, there was less crime and drunkenness than in the large cities of this country.

The speaker then paid his compliments to the Globe-Democrat reporter, and concluded by inviting all to join the parade and picnic.

The meeting closed in an enthusiastic orderly manner at about half-past ten.