The Study of the Human Past

“Filter-cigarettes… Business strategies, technological changes and organizational innovations in the Greek cigarette industry between 1945-1973”

Betas Thanasis

Research ProposalShort BioPublications

Summary of the Research Proposal

During the first years of the 1950s the American cigarette industry dominated almost the entire world. That decade a new smoking product, the filter-cigarette, appeared as a result of the grave concern that was put forward by different health institutions concerning the harmful effects of smoking. The spreading of the filter-cigarette in the post-war era provoked technological changes in the cigarette industry. The largest American and European cigarette industries entered a new phase of modernization: renewal of mechanical equipment -the cigarette-filter machine was the major innovation- and the adoption of new methods of labour organization on the whole.

The technological developments that are noticed in the cigarette industry across Europe after the end of World War II, as well as the increasing business interest regarding the scientific management, forced the upgrading of the role of the “experts” who dealt with working conditions, health and safety in the workplace. The measurements and the recordings, the analytical study and the classification of the employees by the “experts”, alongside the matter of precautionary measures in the factories are linked with the demand for the increase of productivity and scientific management.

In Greece, the largest cigarette industries aware of those changes taking place internationally in the branch, sought to modernize their technological and mechanical equipment. In order to respond to the new circumstances and smoking habits that occurred in Europe during that period and gradually adopted by Greek consumers, they acquired new machinery; the most significant technological innovation was the cigarette-filter machine as was the case in most cigarette factories in Europe. Besides, the Greek cigarette industries looked for methods of scientific management aiming to achieve the increase of productivity. In this context, it seems that the status of “experts” –engineers, technical consultants, managers and doctors of occupational medicine- was raised.

In this research, we draw our attention on the issue of the effects that technological and organizational modifications had on labour and their effects on the construction of social relations in the workplace, through a comparative approach between Greek and foreign cigarette industries. The investigation of attitudes, discourses and practices of “experts”, as well as the stance and the rhetoric of employees and labour unions, regarding the issues raised above, constitutes the main goal of this paper.

Thanasis Betas was born in Volos in 1977. He graduated from the Department of History and Archaeology, School of Philosophy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He continued postgraduate studies in Contemporary History at Sussex University of Great Britain and he obtained a Master Degree from the University of Crete. He received his Phd in economic and social history, entitled “Matsagos Cigarette Industry in Volos, 1918-1972, Labour and Survival in Volos”, -with a scholarship by the European Program “Heraclitus II”- at the University of Thessaly. He has worked in research programs of the University of Thessaly and of the Cultural Foundation of Piraeus Bank, as well as in the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam, The Netherlands). He is member of the Greek Economic History Association, member of the Greek Network for the History of Labour and Labour Movement, member of the Portuguese Economic and Social History Association and member of the Oral History Association of Volos.


Selected Publications

  • Thanasis Betas, “From the Tobacco Shop to the Cigarette Factory: Technological Changes, Gender and Surveillance in a Greek Cigarette Firm in the Early 20th Century”, Advances in Historical Studies, 5 (2016), pp. 49-62.
  • Thanasis Betas, “Unequal pay for equal work. Gendered pay systems and wages in the Greek tobacco industry, 1920-1970”, International Conference”, 38th Meeting Gender in Economic and Social History, 16-17.11.2018, University of Lisbon, Lisbon.
  • Thanasis Betas, “Cairo, Athens, Salonika. Strikebreaking and anti-labour employers’ and state’s practices in the tobacco industry in the earlier twentieth century”, International Conference, “Industrial vigilantism, strikebreaking and patterns of anti-labour violence, 1890s-1930s”, 23-24.10.2018, Oxford Centre for European History, University of Oxford, Oxford.
  • Thanasis Betas, “There were some women workers whose hands were working even faster than the machines…’’ Between tradition and modernization; female labour in the Greek cigarette industry, 1920-1970”, 2nd European Labour History Network, 2-4.11.2017, Université Paris Nanterre –  Université Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, Paris.
  • Thanasis Betas, “Modernization of machines, technological and organizational changes on labour and management of workforce in the European and Greek cigarette industry, 1950-1970”,  3rd International Conference in Economic and Social  History Labor History, “Production, markets, relations policies (from the late Middle ages to the early 21st century)”, 24-27.5.2017 University of Ioannina, Ioannina.