In the Fall 2005 and Spring 2006 issues of the interdisciplinary journal Tarih ve Toplum, Yiğit Akın and Ahmet Makal exchanged ideas about and debated new perspectives on labor history.Footnote 1 Although both scholars agreed that the field should be further developed, they identified different reasons for the dearth of scholarship and hence proposed different approaches to overcome it. Akın re-emphasized the dominance of the modernization paradigm and the problem of sources, whereas Makal analyzed historiography in relation to the economic and political context within which the Turkish labor force has developed. Even though the debate was necessary and fruitful for the prospects of labor history, it unfortunately remained totally silent on the issues of sex and gender as integral elements in a meaningful analysis of labor history. Despite their ostensible search for a new perspective on labor history, neither scholar acknowledged the role of female workers or offered gender as an analytical category for revisionist approaches.Footnote 2 They therefore bluntly continued the long history of neglect, omitting gender from the reconstruction of the past. Unfortunately, this shortcoming of the historiography on labor has deepened and been compounded by the failure of women and gender historians to address adequately the differences among women along the lines of class.
In this article, I first summarize the scholarship produced by each field and scrutinize the ways in which both fields have remained unresponsive toward one another. The absence of female workers and gendered analysis of labor in scholarship is, I argue, the outcome of a mutual process. Overcoming this “mutual distancing”Footnote 3 between those two fields will broaden the horizons of both and contribute to our overall understanding of late Ottoman history. In the second part of this article, I offer a specific way to make women visible to labor history in the particular setting of the Cibali Régie Factory in the early decades of the twentieth century. Through the use of photographic images of the factory and an approach which applies gender as a conceptual tool of historical analysis, I discuss the social conditions of work, the sexual division of labor, and the channels through which power structures were established in the Cibali factory. This study does not claim to present a comprehensive history of labor in the Ottoman Empire; my goal is rather to make women visible to labor history, to remind one that women were present on the shopfloor, and to discuss how the available sources can be interpreted in gendered ways.
The photographs of the Cibali factory that I use were taken by Guillaume Berggren in the 1900s at the request of the factory management.Footnote 4 The photographs show the workers of the factory at various stages of tobacco processing and cigarette production. They do not depict workers individually but instead show them in the larger space of the shopfloor, performing their work, and in relation to one another. Hence, they offer us an otherwise unavailable image of the workers within the context of their everyday workplace interactions. Besides visualizing the organization of the immense work space and its layout, the photographs engender a concrete picture of the daily workings of the factory, with its female and male workers, trace the stages through which tobacco was processed and cigarettes were produced, and illustrate the level and use of technology. Those images are also inflected with gendered assumptions, and show that the work was also divided with regard to gender hierarchies as well as to the nature of tobacco production. In that sense, the Cibali factory photographs offer an opportunity to overcome the mutual distancing between Ottoman labor and women’s and gender histories. It is not only the numerous working women that appear in the pictures but also the gendered discourse created by the pictures that create an opportunity to initiate communication between those two fields.
The metaphor of visibility has been central to feminist criticism of gender-blind history. Whereas textual documents might disguise women with the language used or other linguistic strategies, photographic images constitute unique sources for precipitously making women visible in history. Furthermore, what we see from the photographs is not merely women and men, but gender. The photographs suggest that gender was at the heart of the division of labor, definition of skill, organization of the factory space, and the establishment of workplace hierarchies, all of which underlay the definition of workers’ identities. Yet the photographs, like other sources, are mediated through the point of view of their producers, either the photographer or the commissioner. Thus, it will be problematic to interpret them without asking questions such as for whom the photographic images were produced, for what purpose, or how things were made visible. Besides taking advantage of making overt what has hitherto remained indiscernible, I point out the problems of the decontextualized use of visual and textual sources. For that reason, I try to support the photographs that I use with archival documents and other contemporary sources.
Most of the archival documents I used for this article come from the Ministry of Interior collections of the Ottoman Archives of the Prime Ministry. I discuss more elaborately the problem of sources in the next part of this article, when I evaluate the scholarship, but although most of the documents in that archive were produced for official purposes it is still possible to find evidence of human experience in them when approached from a critical perspective. As I will stress once again below, it is not the absence of the workers but the approaches of scholarship that for a long time resulted in a silencing of those workers’ voices.
Feminist challenges played an important role in drawing the attention of labor history away from factories and organized labor to the problems of domestic and unorganized home-based work, especially in the scholarship produced in the United States. Not only did feminist historians broaden the horizons of labor history with their studies of the sexual division of labor, family, leisure, and workplace cultures and hierarchies, they also firmly demonstrated that those categories were the result of complex power relations and that they changed over time. Most of the energy of earlier feminist intervention was spent in making women visible to labor history and in demonstrating that women, like men, were present in the public space, in paid work, in labor unions, and labor struggles.Footnote 5 In other words, the feminist effort was predominantly channeled to fitting women into the topics previously studied in a sex-blind manner and to criticizing the approach that recognized only males as the subjects of historical research. However, from the 1980s, women and gender historians began to point out that, despite crucial contributions, feminist scholarship left untouched the main categories of analysis, class being the most important. Pointing out the limitations of the notion of class and acknowledging the necessity of filling its cracks across the lines of race, ethnicity, and nationality, gender historians shifted their focus from women to gender relations, and besides discussing the differences between men and women they acknowledged and scrutinized differences among women.Footnote 6
Notwithstanding the controversies among women and gender historians, from the 1980s onward, gender theory as a whole made a significant contribution to broadening the focus of labor history from the shopfloor, unions, and labor activism to previously disregarded issues such as consumption, bodies, sexuality, and health.Footnote 7 Encountering the challenges of the linguistic turn, women and gender historians also questioned even very fundamental concepts such as experience and agency, the catchwords of labor history since the publication of E.P. Thompson’s seminal book, The Making of the English Working Class. Of course, scholarship produced diverse ways to come to grips with that challenge. While some scholars claimed that only with the help of the categories, women and men, could feminist scholarship recover the female subject and render her politically active, others argued that the deconstruction of historical agency does not mean the disenfranchisement of women; instead it will redefine femininity, enriching and improving its capacities.Footnote 8
Although the historiography on Ottoman labor has also undeniably come a long way since the 1980s, it is somewhat disheartening to see that generally the feminist challenge has attracted very little critical scholarly attention. Ottoman labor history, even in the traditional sense of concentrating on organized workers, labor unions, and leaders, has developed as a field only recently. Disregarding the global factors that have increasingly led to a lack of focus on topics related to workers and labor in the past few decades,Footnote 9 most scholars agree that the historiographical tradition that places the elites at the center of the historical account is one of the primary reasons for the dearth of scholarship.Footnote 10 This paradigm approaches history from the point of view of the state and the elites, and sees their interests and considerations as the main driving force of history. According to this view, modernization is the ultimate goal to be reached and the whole of nineteenth-century history is understood as a procession toward it. As a result, social dynamics, as well as the role of subordinate classes, workers, peasants, ethnic and religious minorities, and women, are disregarded. Moreover, even the revisionist historians, who criticized the statist approaches, were unable to avoid reproducing the same perspective, since they tackled merely the structural factors and ignored almost totally the experiences of real workers. Regrettably, when they did focus on workers, their discussion was restricted to organized labor and labor unions.
Besides the problems of subscribing to the modernization paradigm, the use of sources played an important role in the paucity of studies on Ottoman labor history, as scholars agree.Footnote 11 Historians argued that most of the available documentation was produced by the state and hence merely reflects the ideals of the Ottoman government authorities rather than the actual practices of workers. Even though this argument is accepted in many respects, by concentrating on concepts and themes rather than chronologies, and taking into consideration by whom those documents were produced, for what purposes, and whose interests they reflect, a critical reading of those sources can help overcome the statist bias in the documents. Furthermore, I reject the claim that there is a scarcity of documents related to workers and argue instead that the perspective that overlooks workers as subjects of history caused an insensitivity to the sources and to the documents that are available.
In the last twenty years, Ottoman labor historians have undertaken important steps in overcoming these two major barriers – the bias of the modernization paradigm and the problem of sources. One of the major achievements of this increasingly sophisticated literature has been the exploration of the relationship between class, ethnicity, religion, and nationality.Footnote 12 Ottoman labor historians have come a long way in uncovering the point of view of the small artisans, unorganized workers, and peasants.Footnote 13 Moreover, some recent studies made significant contributions by showing that the relative absence of large-scale factory work did not mean the decline of industry in the nineteenth century, and that in different parts of the Ottoman lands, small-scale, unorganized, export-oriented industries, some of which were essentially dependent on female labor, flourished. While this approach forces us to re-evaluate what we know about Ottoman industries, it genuinely reconstructs the profile of the Ottoman workforce, by pointing out its fractural character. Thus, not only does it constitute a fertile bedrock for future studies in labor history, it also explains the difficulty of writing the social history of Ottoman labor in relation to its specificities.Footnote 14 Despite these important contributions, however, Ottoman women remain largely invisible to scholars.Footnote 15 Furthermore, Ottoman labor historians deliberately or inadvertently continue to base their assumptions on binary oppositions such as “public” versus “private”, “factory” versus “home”, and “production” versus “reproduction”, a framework that excludes gender.
Unfortunately, women and gender historians, who could have made a meaningful contribution to challenging this dichotomous way of thinking, failed to fill the lacuna of the works on labor history due to their notable lack of interest in labor and working women. For a long time, issues related to women and gender in the Ottoman Empire attracted very little critical scholarly attention. The first serious academic studies appeared in the 1990s,Footnote 16 and focused mainly on making women visible in the historical accounts. Except for a few articles published in edited volumes, most first-generation research did not employ gender as an analytical category of historical analysis and sex/gender distinctions remained largely unaddressed. In the context of a multi-religious, multi-ethnic empire stretching over a vast geography, overlooking the differences among women manifestly weakened that scholarship. Nonetheless, the fact that the historiography has become increasingly sophisticated in recent decades, and topics such as sexuality,Footnote 17 gendered aspects of law,Footnote 18 family,Footnote 19 education,Footnote 20 charity,Footnote 21 and masculinityFootnote 22 are receiving their due attention from historians, is very promising. The increasing use of court records in particular not only helps subtly to reconstruct the everyday lives of Ottoman women but also contributes to investigating the power structures within which gender relations were embedded.Footnote 23 Notwithstanding those major achievements, studies on the history of women and gender have, for the most part, been produced with no regard for the category of class and in relative isolation from the work of labor historians. As a result, women and gender historians have put too little effort into understanding lower-class women as economic actors involved in paid or unpaid work, and hence missed the chance to challenge the historiography on labor conceptually and empirically.
To sum up briefly, I argue that while labor historians overlooked women in the labor force, women and gender historians neglected workers among women. Whereas labor historians limited their focus to the experiences of male workers and reproduce dichotomous polarities, women and gender historians showed insufficient interest in challenging this approach and in highlighting the interdependency and mutuality of those oppositional pairs. As a result of the mutual distancing of both fields, working women were silenced both in the history of labor and in the history of women and gender, and a party which could otherwise have become an important agent of historical change was isolated by most of the social accounts of the Ottoman past. It is regrettable, moreover, that the “mutual distancing” between the two fields of historical inquiry undermined the achievements of each field and weakened our overall understanding of the nineteenth century. My study of the Cibali Régie Factory in the early twentieth century, however, makes female workers on the shopfloor visible and brings their experiences back into labor history. It demonstrates that among tobacco workers gender and class were in constant interaction. Finally, it dislocates the elites from the center of historical research and replaces them with male and female workers as the agents of historical change.
Ottoman tobacco industry
The last few decades of the nineteenth century were a period of major financial crisis for the Ottoman government. After the first external loan taken out to finance the Crimean War in 1854, the Ottoman government soon fell into the trap of paying back its debts using further foreign borrowing. In 1881, the European states founded the Public Debt Administration in order to control the Ottoman state’s major sources of revenue for payments toward its debt.Footnote 24 To control the revenues from tobacco, a major source of income, the Tobacco Régie was founded in 1884 and granted a monopoly over the administration of the cultivation, purchase, exportation, and sale of tobacco. The same year, the Tobacco Régie established the Cibali Tobacco Factory, or the Cibali Régie Factory as contemporaries called it, to process tobacco.Footnote 25 After a short time, the factory, which began to produce cigarettes from the 1900s onward, became one of the most important factories in the Ottoman Empire, with a production capacity of 12,000 kilograms of cigarettes per day.Footnote 26
Within the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul, Izmir, Thessalonika, and Egypt were some of the centers of the tobacco industry in the second half of nineteenth century; all were characterized by the prominence of Greek families in cigarette production.Footnote 27 It is also notable that the tobacco-processing industries in Egypt and the Balkan provinces of the Ottoman Empire have been researched better than the same industry in the Anatolian regions. Beinin and Goldberg, for example, mention that the cigarette industry became the center of gravity of the emergent Egyptian working class around the beginning of the twentieth century. Around the 1880s, 5 Greek firms controlled 80 per cent of the cigarette export trade and employed approximately 2,200 workers. Almost 2,000 workers worked in other firms producing mainly for the local market, including the smaller workshops owned by Armenians and Europeans. The elite hand-rollers were primarily Greek, but included Armenians, Syrians, and Egyptians as well. The least skilled workers, the tobacco-sorters, were mostly Egyptian women. Making cigarettes was initially a highly skilled and essentially artisan activity, but the introduction of machinery by the end of World War I dramatically changed the nature of the workforce, with skilled artisans being replaced by unskilled women and children.Footnote 28
One of the most recent and comprehensive works on the Egyptian cigarette industry is by Relli Shechter.Footnote 29 It examines the role of the Egyptian tobacco industry within the world economy through an analysis of the introduction of tobacco into the Ottoman Empire, the industrialization of cigarette production, and the development of the tobacco market in Egypt. While Shechter duly conceptualizes the market as a web of relations between various actors interacting within a number of different frameworks and aptly demonstrates the multi-layered relationships among the factory owners, sellers, buyers, and the state, he hardly mentions the role of workers within this complex network. As to female workers, Shechter presupposes that scarcely any women were employed in the tobacco industry due to the general exclusion of women from public life and the rigid gender segregation in Egypt.Footnote 30 However, in his much earlier work Beinin criticized those studies that ignored female workers in the cigarette making industry. Referring to the fact that Egypt’s 1907 census, which was the first to count industrial workers, had enumerated only 15 women out of 3,162 cigarette factory workers, Beinin argued that since the same Greek families and production methods prevailed in the Balkan provinces and in Egypt, and since female workers were employed elsewhere in Egypt there is no reason to presuppose that social norms in Egypt posed a greater barrier to women’s factory employment. He argued that this statistical error might reflect the ambivalence of the state authorities toward women working for wages in the public sphere and an uncertainty about how to categorize a new urban social group still largely identified with foreigners.Footnote 31
We are lucky to have several contemporary accounts that shed light on the nature of the tobacco industry and the social conditions of workers in the Balkan regions of the Ottoman Empire. In the early twentieth century, the tobacco processing work was seasonal in character.Footnote 32 During summer, this sector’s high season, the workday extended to eleven or twelve hours, while in winter workers remained idle with scarce opportunities for employment. The inconsistency of the availability of work, and hence of income, throughout the year was one of the major issues raised in workers’ struggles. As the contemporary documents disclose, most of the time the industrialists were driven to reduce the number of male workers, and employed, instead, women and sometimes children in order both to lower labor costs and to increase their authority over the workers. This choice, obviously, helped to avoid union activities, to the advantage of manufacturers.
In the case of the tobacco industry and cigarette production in the Anatolian regions of the Ottoman Empire, due to the paucity of the secondary literature, what we know is limited largely to the industrial statistics compiled between 1913 and 1915.Footnote 33 According to those statistics, Izmir and Istanbul were the two major sites of cigarette production in Anatolia, and 2,109 workers, 923 of them female, were employed in their factories in 1913. Unfortunately, other than noting the presence in the factory of child workers, who packed tobacco, this source does not offer much in relation to the social conditions of labor in the factories.
Cİbali régie factory
In the remaining part of this article, I focus on the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century history of the Cibali Régie Factory. This specific location is peculiar for the photographic evidence available. Berggren did not simply illustrate the physical layout of the factory, he also photographed the workers and the way they worked, dressed, and rested. He vividly demonstrated the stages through which tobacco was processed and cigarettes produced, with a special emphasis on the role of the workers throughout. As such, his photographs offer an unparalleled opportunity to reconstruct the experiences of the workers in the everyday context of their relationships to one another, to their superiors, and to technology. Moreover, they suggest that gender is pivotal for understanding and analyzing worker experiences. The shopfloor was not merely a space where production was carried out, it was a stage upon which gender values were enacted. The history of the Cibali Régie Factory is rife with gender and class conflicts, and both the photographs offering its image and the other textual evidence are tainted with them.
The Cibali Régie Factory was one of the largest tobacco processing and cigarette manufacturing factories in the Ottoman Empire. The factory building was located on the Golden Horn, close to the Jewish and Greek quarters. As Figure 1 demonstrates, the three-storey massive stone factory structure contrasted sharply with the small wooden houses of the neighborhood. The specific location of the factory, by the sea, offered advantages for transportation, especially since shipping was the major and cheapest means of transportation at the time.Footnote 34 Despite the lack of reliable information on the recruitment practices of the factory, the photographs demonstrate that a substantial part of the factory’s labor force consisted of female workers, who, given their uncovered hair, were presumably non-Muslims. Other sources also claim that almost all the female workers were Jewish or Greek girls,Footnote 35 which would also explain the other reasons for the specific location of the factory. Yet, in total, the workforce reflected the cosmopolitan nature of the Ottoman population in the 1900s, and Muslim, Jewish, and Greek workers worked together, shared the same grievances, and organized protests to overcome them.
The factory edifice comprised several buildings that were linked to one another via courtyards or passageways.Footnote 36 Just to the right of the entrance of the factory house was the large depot where the bulks of tobacco leaves were kept. One of Berggren’s photographs offers a view of the depot, with workers and their superintendents carrying, counting, and stacking the large tobacco bales and the processed tobacco and cigarette packages (Figure 2, overleaf). The depot in Berggren’s photograph is quite an orderly place, with signs identifying the tidy blocks, bales, and packages.
The tobacco leaves processed in the factory workshop consisted of different types of Turkish tobacco cultivated in various regions of Anatolia, from the finest quality to the plainest. From the depot, the daily quota of tobacco to be processed was carried to the entrance of the factory in bales. Tobacco was pulled from those bales and sorted leaf by leaf. All the different leaves were then mixed into one quality, called harman. That task was the exclusive responsibility of male workers called tütüncü,Footnote 37 who knew how to handle the delicate tobacco leaves without damaging them and to monitor the moistness or dryness of the leaves. The tütüncü were highly qualified workers, and sorting was one of the most important and demanding tasks of tobacco processing since the tobacco mixes (harman) prepared by the tütüncü determined the quality, taste, aroma, and proper burning of the cigarette.Footnote 38
After the tobacco mixes (harman) were prepared, the leaves were cut either by hand or by machine. The better-quality tobacco was cut by hand, with the use of simple grinding machines called havan, which enabled a more delicate handling. Larger steam machines with a capacity to cut up to 8,000 kilograms of tobacco daily were also employed, but they were used exclusively to process the lower-quality tobaccos that were not as delicately handled.Footnote 39 The hand-cutters, who were responsible for cutting the finest tobacco leaves, had young apprentice boys helping them too, as we can see in Figure 3. As the photograph also shows, the hand-cutters worked in pairs, the apprentice passing the leaves for cutting to his master. The workers were lined up in parallel rows. The master and the apprentice saw only each other, and worked with their backs turned to the other workers. While the workshop in which the hand-cutters worked was smaller than the many other workshops in which other stages in the tobacco processing were carried out, it was quite well lit by the large windows along the two facades. The apprentices were paid directly by the masters, and their total earnings were determined by the overall quantity they produced in collaboration with their masters and by the quality of their product.Footnote 40 The piecemeal nature of this work placed a great deal of pressure on the workers. Due to the nature of the work and to the constant scrutiny of the superintendents, the masters and their apprentices had little opportunity for interaction.
Once the tobacco mixes had been prepared, they were either packed and sold as loose tobacco or sent for cigarette manufacturing. The loose tobacco was packed by female workers, who worked dexterously. Berggren’s photographs also present a snapshot of the female workers employed in the tobacco-packaging department (Figure 4, overleaf). We see three separate rooms opening onto each other. The workers here were quite young girls. Some of them sifted the tobacco through a sieve to separate out the coarse pieces and craps; others prepared cigarette papers, weighed the tobacco, filled and sealed packages, and placed them on a board of hundred-pack batches. Again there was a superintendent, in the second room. The girls had to be precise about the amount they put into the packs since those boards were weighed before being sent to the depot; if the packages were not of the exact same weight, they would all have to be emptied and refilled.Footnote 41 While that process was not considered to be skilled work, in fact it required great precision as to the amount to be put into the packages, and hence a great deal of dexterity.
The tobacco, which was not packed right away, was sent for cigarette manufacturing. To produce cigarettes, cigarette papers were filled with tobacco, rolled, and finally packed. That task was not considered to require special skills and was carried out only by female workers. However, it was highly labor-intensive and several hundred female workers were employed, working in large halls, sitting side by side, doing the same tiring and repetitive task all day.Footnote 42 In Figure 5, we see a large hall where young female workers rolled cigarettes. The photograph offers a wide angle covering the greater part of the hall. We see that the workers were mostly very young girls; some might even have been children. They were lined up and sat on desks facing each other. The hall is rather spacious; however, though the image is of poor quality, it seems a little dim. Berggren offers a similar image in another photograph too (Figure 6, overleaf). Here we see a smaller but still largish workshop, where young female workers are seated in rows of desks. There are windows on both sides of the hall, but they are relatively small. There are three male superintendents watching the workers. There is also one female worker who is standing at the third row. She seems much older than the other workers, and might too be a superintendent.
In addition to employing workers for those main tasks of tobacco processing, the factory was a source of employment for many others. While some worked in the depot storing unprocessed tobacco, processed tobacco, cigarette packages, cigarette paper, packaging paper, tobacco tins, and many other smaller items, others performed mechanical tasks at the forger, grinder, the sheet-metal shop, machine shop, and the carpentry shop. In the Cibali factory, 600 to 1,000 kilograms of tobacco were packed into 350,000 to 400,000 differently sized packages, and an average of 500,000 cigarettes were produced daily.Footnote 43 Although it is hard to estimate the daily production capacity of a worker, it has been suggested that the female workers each produced up to 3,000 cigarettes daily, which must have been quite a heavy workload.Footnote 44
In the Cibali factory, the stages of manufacturing were strictly defined as either male or female tasks and relevant skill components were assigned to them. Male workers were generally supposed to be specialists, whereas female workers were assumed to perform unskilled tasks. However, this assumption was not always based on fact, and while there were many male workers performing tasks that did not require specific training, female workers, those for example packing loose tobacco, needed considerable manual precision, which was not considered to be a special skill.
Workers were organized hierarchically on the shop floor not just in terms of skills but also physically. The female and male workers worked in single-sex departments. Although workers probably could not see the other department and interact with colleagues of the opposite sex, the wooden panels that can be seen in Figure 7 suggest that the walls between the departments were not impenetrable, but porous. The panels allowed light to diffuse into the halls when artificial sources of illumination were not available. Yet, in spite of the porosity of the walls, only superintendents, not ordinary workers, could access the female departments. Moreover, mobility in the factory space was a privilege of power. Only those higher up in the hierarchy could move freely within the factory, while those occupying lower ranks were increasingly static, sitting alongside their colleagues without much space to move. Mobility within the factory space served to reflect and confirm workplace hierarchies. The directors had the right to enter whichever department they wanted to check, the superintendents were free to move within the departments under their control, and masters were able to move about in their workshops, unlike their apprentices, who mostly remained stationary, while at their desks the cigarette-rolling girls repeated the same body movements all day, with virtually no opportunity to move.
While the photographs demonstrate how the workers worked together in the factory, archival evidence shows that they also had other things to share, work grievances being one of them. Moreover, despite the fact that scholars have not been especially receptive to the presence of women in popular protests and labor activism, it is evident that female workers were indeed politically active within the Ottoman Empire. In 1904, Cibali factory workers organized a major strike to reclaim weekly payments withheld from them. To compensate for the amount due, they demanded a payment during the Easter break; a similar payment had been made the previous year. When the factory management rejected their request, the workers went on strike and marched to the headquarters of the Tobacco Régie at the building of the Ottoman Bank in Galata. Of the 250 protesters 50 were female workers. The protestors finally managed to force the factory management to accept their demands, at least partially. Management agreed to pay the Greek workers, who were celebrating Easter, but rejected making payments to the Jewish workers who had participated in the demonstration in support of their fellow workers, and, moreover, fired them. The police subsequently carried out an investigation and identified twelve workers as leaders of the protest. That list included the names of three female workers too, Mari Behar, Raşel Eskinazi, and Bin Behar, who all happened to be Jewish and most probably lost their jobs.Footnote 45 Finally, three workers, Sigaracı (Cigarettiere) Nesim, Vasil Yani, and Vangel Sarandi, were found to have planned and coordinated the entire event. Since Sigaracı Nesim was an Italian subject, he was expelled; the two others were arrested.Footnote 46
The Cibali Régie Factory was highly mechanized by the early twentieth century. Although some tasks were still carried out by skilled hands, many had become mechanized by then. The introduction of contemporary technologies to the production process and the use of modern machinery, which was praised by contemporary observers, did not pass without conflict and caused considerable tension among workers. In 1893, one of the first Luddite protests on Ottoman territory was staged at the Cibali factory and the workers stopped work (terk-i eşgal) to resist the use of the new grinding machines (havan). The workers complained that the new grinding machines were so wide they could not compress the tobacco by hand. Although the factory management consented to the use of the old machines, fifty-two workers did not return to work after complaining and demanding a wage increase. The factory management reported the event to the Grand Vizierate (Sadaret) and the Ministry for Internal Affairs (Dahiliye Nezareti), which immediately contacted the Police Department (Zabtiye Nezareti), the Ministry of Finance (Maliye Nezareti), and the Istanbul Municipality (Şehremaneti). Finally, the management announced that it would continue to employ and would not punish those who ended their protest before that evening, but that those who did not consent to abandon their protest would never be employed at the factory again. The factory management claimed that the ban on future employment would act as a warning to those workers who had not participated in the protest, and discourage them from organizing similar protests.Footnote 47
Ironically, although the introduction of new machinery to production processes led to considerable labor activism, access to contemporary technologies was a privilege accorded only to male workers. The use of technology, in other words, created its own gender values, and those could also be observed in the photographs. In many of the images, male workers were represented in relation to contemporary technologies, while female workers were almost always depicted performing manual tasks. The association of masculinity with technical skills becomes most explicit in Figure 8, which portrays the machine shop. The pulleys, gears, wheels, machines, iron ropes, and metal tools illustrated here were not only part of the ironsmiths’ tradition, but also an indication of mechanization, and were the prerogatives of male workers. Besides their association with and access to contemporary technologies, the male workers performed more varied tasks than female workers did. They sorted, mixed and cut tobacco leaves, worked in the machine shop, carried and stacked tobacco bales and packages, worked in the depot, and, of course, watched and supervised other workers. Female workers, however, performed only manual tasks, and were involved in a much less varied range of activities.
The postures of the workers we see in the photographs also reflect gender values. The female workers were represented as hardworking, industrious, and devout. They were chaste, austere, and proud in their unadorned but neat dresses and white aprons. They seem to be working hard, expending a lot of effort. Still, we should realize that the photographs reflect what factory management wanted us to see, and the values that management sought to impress on the viewer. In the photographs, the workers are lined up in neat rows in huge halls, working industriously, focusing only on their own tasks, without looking around. However, a closer look shows that there were many workers looking around, as well as some looking directly into the camera, as if trying to show that they were not anonymous individuals but had their own hopes, dreams, and resentments.
What the photographs present is a de-contextualized setting, which tells us nothing about questions relating to those women’s daily lives, their families, the neighborhoods they came from, their houses, whether they were tired or sick. We do not know how the supervisor or the factory directors treated them, or whether there was much solidarity or tension between the workers. Although it might never be possible to answer such questions or to recover fully the daily experiences of those workers, the use of other types of historical sources besides photographic images can contribute to reconstructing a more inclusive account. Despite the lack of otherwise solid data on the sanitariness of working conditions, we are offered a glimpse of conditions experienced by female workers in the tobacco industry in a contemporary medical book about pregnancy and childbirth.Footnote 48 The author, Besim Ömer, a medical doctor and a pioneering obstetrician in the Ottoman Empire, listed the tobacco industry among those industries hazardous for pregnant women. According to the statistical data he cited, 45 per cent of women in the tobacco industry had suffered a miscarriage. Although that rate might be slightly on the high side, his claim that the tobacco dust to which female workers were exposed when they handled tobacco and rolled and packed cigarettes posed a serious threat both to their own health, and to that of their infants, is crucial to reconstructing the experiences of female workers in this industry. Besim Ömer also mentioned that those infants which survived the risk of miscarriage were born with either severe health problems or missing limbs, and their health worsened when they were breastfed by their mothers, since the toxins in the tobacco dust passed from mother to infant in the breast milk.
The ideal workspace that was presented in the photographs contrasts not only with the account given above but also with archival documents. In the photographs we see healthy workers, working intently and dexterously, in a peaceful environment without tensions. What the archival documents reveal, however, conflicts with that image. An inspector’s report from 1898 claimed that the shopfloor was not in fact neat, clean, and airy. The report went on to say that although the large hall in the middle of the factory enabled air to circulate, the windows located on just the one side of the building did not allow tobacco dust to be extracted from the shop floor, and hence created a hazard for the health of workers. To solve that problem, several chimneys were opened, the report said, but those were only partly effective in eliminating the dust. The inspector’s report also noted that there were only 22 toilets for 1,300 workers, which was obviously insufficient. What was more, the toilets did not have windows, and as a result of the lack of ventilation they were unhygienic and had to be improved.Footnote 49 The unhygienic, unventilated, stifling, and stuffy factory presented in the inspector’s report is in stark contrast to the airy and clean workshops epitomized in the photographs.
The scant sources produced by Ottoman workers also reinforce the picture of an insufficiency of health measures in the factory. Although Stern praised the presence of a pharmacy in the factory and claimed that workers had health insurance, a later piece published in a worker’s journal asserted that there was neither a pharmacy nor a doctor in the factory. That account also mentioned the harmful effects of tobacco dust on workers’ health, giving examples of workers suffering from tuberculosis.Footnote 50
In Figure 7, we see a clock on the wall. While the clock in the photograph suggests that workers were time-disciplined, the archival documents demonstrate that they were time-conscious in other ways and protested about working hours and the workday, and demanded payment during religious holidays. The increase in the number of holidays was a primary demand when the factory’s workers protested to management in February 1911.Footnote 51
Security and tensions in the workspace constitute a final issue that we cannot see in the photographs but which are crucial for understanding the politics of work in the Cibali factory. Management, which had previously felt intimidated by the vehement behavior and furious language of the workers, used spies drawn from the workforce to monitor its workers. Those spies informed the directors that the workers were planning to destroy a number of machines, and even to set the factory on fire.Footnote 52 Back in 1904, following a demonstration at the factory, a security unit comprising police, gendarmerie, and soldiers was established to monitor and spy on the activities of workers in an effort to prevent further protests.Footnote 53 As other documents also suggest, that security unit was still in place in the 1910s. Yet we see no policeman, gendarme, or soldier in the calm and peaceful image presented by the photographs. We neither see security units nor sense the tensions on the shopfloor. On the contrary, the workers in the photographs seem oblivious of any thought of protest, demonstration, or opposition; they seem content with their jobs and their working conditions. However, in contrast to the dutiful and obedient workers we see in the photographs, one finds recalcitrant workers referred to in the documents, workers who broke machinery and damaged the doors of the factory, threatened to set the building on fire, who went to the headquarters of the tobacco monopoly to protest at working conditions, who organized strikes and demanded better payment and improved rights, who established a labor union at the risk of being arrested or sacked, and who wrote in socialist newspapers.
In this article, I have sought to discuss the distance between Ottoman labor history and women and gender histories. To bridge the gap between those two fields of historical inquiry and to construct new perspectives on labor history, I have argued that we need to pay closer attention to the presence of women on the shopfloor, to critically re-evaluate the theoretical tools through which we approach labor, and to examine the context within which historical evidence was produced. For this purpose, I have used a hitherto untapped source, the photographs of Cibali factory workers, and tried to interpret them through the lens of gender and in relation to other historical evidence. Although female workers are also present in archival documents, as I have tried to demonstrate, historians have tended largely to overlook them. The photographs, however, make it impossible to disregard those female workers. In addition to making them physically visible, the photographs are also rife with gendered assumptions.
As well as ethnicity, religion, and nationality, access to contemporary technologies, the sexual division of labor, and workplace hierarchies defined the ideal female identities on the shop floor. But even on the shop floor, those identities sometimes engendered conflict. The use of different types of historical evidence and their critical reading reveal conflicts between the ideals represented in the sources and the day-to-day reality on the shop floor. Such an approach constitutes a substantial alternative to the dichotomous view based on binary oppositions predominant in the wider historiography. Undertaking such an endeavor will contribute conceptually and empirically to scholarship by weaving theory into historical research. Moreover, it will reshape and contest the traditional perspective on Ottoman labor history, and, one hopes, answer the question as to why the female workers who appear in the photographs, in archival documents, and in other sources have so far remained largely invisible in the historiography.