Armando Ramirez was one of the most important Latino leaders in the US during the 1930s and 1940s. His career had an amazing trajectory and it is one of the great untold stories. I was writing a book based on his life and times when my health declined.
Born in Key West, Florida, in 1900, Ramirez attended school through fifth grade, at which point he followed his father into a cigar factory. Child labor was all too common.
He migrated north, first to Tampa, and then to New York City. One of my favorite pictures of him was taken at the 1934 May Day rally at Union Square in New York City. During that time he was the leader of the Tobacco Workers Industrial Union (TWIU) and the Julio Mella Cuban Workers Club. The club’s multiracial membership is captured in Henry Glintenkamp’s famous painting of the Cuban Club; it resides in the Chrysler Museum.
Ramirez was also a member of the Communist Party’s national Spanish Language Bureau and the party candidate for the State Assembly from Spanish Harlem.
A decade later he was a vice president of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA). UCAPAWA was part of the inchoate Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the majority of its members were women and minorities.
The union embraced Roosevelt as the best way to win World War II and to promote a progressive domestic political agenda.
Ramirez served as the liaison between US and Cuban workers and assisted as needed. Ramirez addressed the 1943 national CIO convention on behalf of the Cuban labor movement, presenting CIO President Phil Murray a box of Cuban cigars.
The union experienced robust membership growth during the war. This included thousands of women cigar machine workers. The federal government facilitated collective bargaining and approved wage increases.
In 1944, Ramirez headed the Roosevelt campaign in the Latino community in New York as part of a major national voter mobilization. The victory proved short-lived for Roosevelt and Ramirez.