St. Louis: launching pad for today’s Union Label movement

Business Manager, IBEW Local 1

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Excerpts from a history of the IBEW presented at the union’s 125th anniversary convention in St. Louis in 2016.)

David Kreyling credits our City with the Union Label movement.

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 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, blue in color, which is the label of the organization today.

Since 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.

Without the Cigar Makers’ International Union, our movement may not exist today.

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!

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