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The Great Tobacco Strike
By René Bache
173NDUSTRIALLY speaking, who, notwithstanding a steadily dimin
it is a question of life and ishing output, have seen the price of their death with the tobacco product go down at the rate of a cent a growers of the South. For pound each year, their loss going to swell seven years past, the Oc- the gains of the monster that devoured
topus has had them by the them. throat, and has been squeezing the Perhaps the most remarkable feature breath out of them—until at length they of the situation is the fact that one of the were brought to such a pass that they chief partners in the Trust engaged in were compelled either to quit planting oppressing American tobacco growers is the weed or to fight.
a foreign Government-namely, that of What is destined to be known in his- Italy. In that country the sale of totory as the great tobacco strike, may be bacco is a monopoly of the Crown, which, said to have begun in Guthrie, Kentucky, in this branch of its business activities, is on December 24, 1903, when 6,000 growers represented in the United States by the held a mass-meeting and formed an or- so-called Italian Purchasing System. ganization for defense against the Trust. This System, the American Tobacco The progress of the movement since then Company, and the Imperial Tobacco affords material for an interesting story; Company compose the Trust, which has
secured such control over the tobacco-growing industry that, so far as export tobacco is concerned, it is practically the only buyer. Other people, it is true, may purchase tobacco from the planters, but, if they do so, they cannot sell it.
As a conspicuous illustration of the methods adopted, it might be mentioned that seven years ago Bremen was the largest open market for our export tobacco.
To-day it is closed, TOBACCO Seed-BED UNDER A GAUZE TENT.
being controlled by the
American Tobacco Combut, before starting in to tell it, a brief pany. Anybody, it is true, may offer explanation should be given of the proc- tobacco for sale there, but, if he does so, ess by which the great combination of the Trust will immediately put forward. capital in question succeeded in obtain- an unlimited quantity of the same quality ing absolute control over one of the most of goods at a lower rate. It does not important of our agricultural industries matter how low the price demanded by —a control which has enabled it, in a the independent dealer may be ; the Octofigurative sense, to eat up the planters, pus will cut under him, and sooner or
later will drive him out of business or against the combination. Year by year, into bankruptcy. This plan for crushing for seven years past, the price has been competition has long been made familiar cut, at the rate of about one cent a pound by the Standard Oil monopoly, and it is per annum, until it has actually fallen not surprising to hear it reported that a below the cost of production. Under large part of the stock of the American these circumstances it is not surprising Tobacco Company is owned by the that thousands of growers should give Standard Oil people. .
up planting the weed—owing to which The three concerns above mentioned fact our total output of tobacco, instead declare that they have nothing to do with of increasing, as normally it should, has each other. It is believed, however, been diminishing at an astonishing rate.
that they compose a syndicate, the The blighting effect of Trust control agreement among them being se- upon this agricultural industry, is shown cret. Under no circumstances do they in a striking way by a few figures, which, bid against one another. The American being furnished by the Department of Company will buy tobacco of the planters Agriculture, may be accepted as approxiin one county, the Imperial in another, mately accurate. They relate to the tothe Italian in another. When it comes bacco crop of the last half-dozen yearsto stores of tobacco in the warehouses, a crop which in 1899 amounted to 868,the American Company will make its 163,275 pounds. In 1901, two years purchases on one day, without opposi- later, it showed a considerable diminution; on the next day the Imperial will tion, being 818,953,373 pounds. But do its buying, with no competitors; and from that time on, owing to the reduction so it goes.
of the price paid to growers, it has dropIndependent dealers having been ped much more rapidly, the crop for crowded out by the process already de- 1904 being only 660,460,739 pounds-a scribed, the Trust has become the only loss of nearly one-fourth. In 1905 it sank purchaser, and so is able to pay the still lower, to 633,033,719 pounds. planter what it chooses. All competition The tobacco planters of the South, has been killed, and, under such condi- are many of them ignorant men. A large tions as have recently existed, it has not number are negroes. Most of them live been possible for anybody to stand at least eight or ten miles from any place A FIELD OF TOBACCO. The man is covering the flowers of selected plants with paper bags, to make sure that they will fertilize themselves and thus insure a crop of seed for planting. in particular, and do not read the news head of tobacco; within one year it conpapers. A smooth-talking buyer, repre- trolled nearly 24,000 hogsheads. But of senting the Trust, comes along, looks at what use was this great stock on hand the contents of the barn, and says: "I'm if it could not be sold. None worth mensorry tobacco is so low this year. More tioning, certainly. And it was obvious that of it has been grown than people want no independent buyer would dare to purto buy. On that account I can't pay you chase it, because, if he did so, he could anything like what your crop ought to be not possibly sell it at a profit. As for the worth. But I'll tell you what I will do three great buying systems, notification -I'll give you five cents a pound for the whole lot.”
There are likely to be half-a-dozen different grades of tobacco in the barn, and this is about the value of the lowest grade. Having no pros-. pect of getting a better price, the planter accepts the offer, and thus the Trust obtains possession of the entire lot for something like half of what it is really worth. Obviously this means starvation for the grower; but sentimental considerations of such a
Blossoms OF THE Tobacco Plant. kind cannot be regarded by the monopoly, from whose point of was quietly conveyed to the Association view the matter is simply one of business. that none of them would touch its goods It is inevitable, however, that the pursuit under any circumstances. of such a policy should in the long run The Italian Purchasing System dedrive a large percentage of the producers clared that it was obliged to buy from to abandon tobacco culture altogether. the planters direct, because otherwise the
Such were the conditions which gave tobacco would not be sorted and packed rise to the great strike, which is even suitably to its requirements. It was a now in progress in what is called the plausible argument. For it should be “dark tobacco district' of Kentucky and understood that a single field may proTennessee. If the growing of tobacco duce in one crop tobacco of half-a-dozen was not to be abandoned altogether, it different qualities, adapted for export to was necessary to fight. Accordingly, as many different countries. · Our tobacfifty men met in consultation, and, by co goes to Canada, to Germany, to circular letters and other means, called a France, to Italy, to Spain, to Portugal, mass-meeting of planters, which was and elsewhere, and each country must held at Guthrie, Ky., September 24, 1903. have a special kind and quality. In a As already stated, six thousand of them grower's barn, more or less mixed towere present, and the Dark Tobacco Dis- gether, may be a number of grades, trict Planters' Protective Association was which have to be carefully assorted beformally organized. A charter, therefore they can be put on the market. upon, was taken out under the laws of The ordinary planter knows nothing Kentucky, and a representative was ap- about such matters. To sort and pack pointed on the Executive Board from his crop so that each grade shall be in each county in the district.
a hogshead by itself, demands the skill To-day the Association has ten thou- of an expert professional handler. For sand members. It began without a hogs- this reason, as said above, the argument
of the Italian System was plausible and insured ?” With two exceptions, enough. But, when the Association em- they replied in the affirmative. In this ployed first-class experts to handle and way, means were found for borrowing pack its tobacco, the Trust people said: cash on a considerable scale, in order "It matters not; we shall never buy a that the growers might not starve while hogshead of your goods." .
waiting for the market, which, in the For a while things looked rather black - opinion of the leaders of the movement, for the planters. Many there were who must necessarily arrive if they could only had little faith in the movement; they hold on long enough. had known of other farmers' organiza- By this time the Trust was really tions which had failed. The Association alarmed, and, perceiving that no effort had no money, and the Octopus was so was to be spared in crushing an organizapowerful that one could hardly see how tion so dangerous to its private interests, it could do otherwise than win. But at it inaugurated an absolute boycott just about this time one public-spirited against the Association. The result was tobacco-grower, a man of some means, that nobody wanted the tobacco which came forward and gave to the movement the Association controlled; everybody a substantial financial backing. He em- was afraid of it, and, in effect, it was an ployed speakers to talk at public meetings unsalable product. For four or five in rural centers, and sent out circular let- months of what ought to have been the ters by the tens of thousands. In short, busiest selling time of the year (1905), through his efforts, the organization was practically none of it was sold. so far solidified that it began to be evi- Many of the planters began to think dent that there was going to be a strong that they were making a hopeless fight fight.
—a feeling which was encouraged by This substantial citizen went to fifty emissaries of the Octopus, who assured banks in the district, and to each one he them that the monopoly did not really said: "Would you be willing to advance care whether it bought any tobacco or a reasonable sum of money on a hogs- not. inasmuch as it had an ample supply head of tobacco, stored in a safe place on hand for a long period ahead. But