Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Granite Industry, Part 6 D - Labor Strikes

Industrial production, if viewed as a collaboration of labor and capital, requires agreement on reward for their respective services. In theory each party has an ultimate recourse: labor can refuse to work, and capital can refuse to employ. In the stone industry these strategies precipitated a chain of strikes and lockouts in 1892 that rippled inconveniences, and conflicting sympathies, nationwide. Labor organizers anticipated that 100,000 men in related industries would be off the job. Work stopped on building sites, longshoremen refused to handle blacklisted shipments, piles of paving stones sat dormant beside ripped-up streets and sidewalks. 1
Boston Globe headline, May 3, 1892
The more skilled Cape Ann granite workers enjoyed relatively favorable conditions and compensation in part resulting from membership in the Granite Cutters Union (1874) and the Paving Cutters Union (1887). When the Quarrymen's Union (1889) sought similar status the manufacturers refused to recognize them. "They say the work of the quarrymen is not skilled work, and on that account will have nothing to do with them as a Union." 2

In May of 1892, 450 Cape Ann members of the Quarrymen's Union struck for wage increases of 2¢ to an average of 20¢ per hour. They were supported by 350 compatriots in the more established unions. They had common cause in resisting the owners' decision to move establishment of the bill of prices [the compensation chart] from May 1 to January 1, when seasonal unemployment gave owners an advantage in the rate-setting negotiations.

The quarry owners had similarly sensed a need for collective action and organized the National Granite Manufacturers' Association (1891) with mutual response pacts designed to sharpen pressure on labor. The strikes by unions were matched by lockouts against non-contestants in Barre, Vermont and other sites as owners closed ranks. 3

With reserves, resourcefulness, and a fighting spirit the Back of the Cape community held its position through the spring of 1892. "Lots have fitted out fishing with poles from the back side betgween Lane's Point and Folly Point, and it is a common sight to see persons passing along by the post office with a string of cunners, and other fish....Meetings of the workmen are held every morning at the rink, where the roll is called of the members of the Union, who are able to receive one dollar per day from the general fund of the Union." 4 Benefit concerts were organized at Rockport Town Hall and the Lanesville Rink.
 
Bit by bit, however, various groups accepted the conditions set by the quarry owners. On May 23 the Granite Cutters' Union settled; on July 7 the Quarrymen's Union surrendered; on July 26 the Paving Cutters' Union returned to work.

Over the next several years the position of labor strengthened nationally and locally. From 1860 to 1894 the United States had jumped from fourth to first place in production of industrial goods, one-third of world's output, more than twice Great Britain. Organized labor struggled to assert its claim to a fair share in the prosperity and decent working conditions. 5 Samuel Gompers of the Cigar Makers Union led the formation of the American Federation of Labor in 1886.

Boston Globe headline, June 18, 1899
A new fiber on the north side of Cape Ann contributed to the granite workers' assertive solidarity. During the strike of 1892 hundreds of Finns arrived to fill out crews in the quarries. Over time they drew many more compatriots from their troubled homeland to Lanesville, Bay View and Pigeon Cove. They formed the core of the 1899 demand for reducing work hours to nine hours a day. "The Finns were imported several years ago to break down the strike of other laborers, but now are proving to be the hardest nationality to handle....[They] say they are here to stay. 6

When the Rockport Granite Company brought in a gang of Italian laborers at the beginning of April to fill in at the Bay View quarries, the predominantly Finn strikers confronted them vigorously. Padrone Marco Rossi pleaded ignorance of strike-breaking and put his 108 men back on the train to Boston with apologies.

The Company tried again several weeks later. This time the mob got ugly and assaulted the Italians who locked themselves in a shanty in the Bay View woods. Shots were fired. Dr. Brindisi, Italian Consul in Boston, conferred with all parties and arranged the departure of his countrymen. 7

Boston Globe headline May 9, 1899
Inflamed by their issues and tactical victory the strikers several days later marched over to the Rockport Granite Company works in Pigeon Cove where they won the support of quarry crews to the cause, especially regarding the offensive scab workers. They descended en mass from the arched bridge to the wharf to halt shipments, nearly driving company teamsters off the pier. Harry Rogers, assistant treasurer, attempted to intervene, drawing his pistol as he has being backed off the edge of the wharf. His brother Louis photographed the mayhem but only this one image survived.

Strikers on the Rockport Granite Company wharf 8
The following decade brought tumultuous friction between workers and management. A strike in 1900 succeeded in winning 35¢ per hour for an 8-hour day, for part of the industry. The next year Frank H. McCarthy of the AFL came to Lanesville on behalf of the Quarry Workers Union to press their demand for recognition by the Rockport Granite Company. Other quarry specialists joined the International Union of Steam Engineers.

The Quarrymen struck in 1902 seeking a 2¢ raise on wages then ranging from 13 to 19 cents per hour. The walkout drew the support of 700 men from all ranks. "The tieup is most complete, and a Sabbath stillness, almost, reigns at the works." Many of the strikers found alternative jobs in the booming public works enterprises, constructing water mains and extending the street railway around the Cape. 9

Excerpt of strike-breaking proposal 10
Exasperated officials of the Rockport Granite Company explored matching muscle with muscle in the strike of 1911. Various unions met at Village Hall and Finn Hall in Lanesville, holding out for an 8-hour day with pay increases. The agreement of settlement is notable for the signatures of manufacturers opposite the ethnically-diverse names of representatives of the now-recognized Quarry Workers International Union.

Signatories to settlement agreement of March 22, 1911 10
By 1922 quarry laborers had won a minimum wage of $1/hr and a 44-hour week. The granite industry was facing historic pressures internally as well as from the substitution of concrete in building, and from the automobile's preference for smooth roads over paving stones that had given horses better traction. Louis Rogers at the end of his life recalled the years 1922-30, when the Rockport Granite Company closed forever, as "a lengthy strike." 11 They are perhaps words of exhaustion.

Sources
1. The Chicago Tribune, May 18, 1892. Courtesy of the website Stone Quarries and Beyond.
2. H. M. Beattie, Notes on the New England Granite Strike, n.d., Rockport Granite Company Collection, Baker Library, Harvard Business School.
3. The foregoing reportage from the Boston Globe, May 2, 1892. Relevant newspaper articles are listed in the Barbara Erkkila Collection of the Cape Ann Museum.
4. Gloucester Daily Times, May 5, 1892.
5. Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, vol 2: "From the Founding of the American Federation of Labor to the Emergence of American imperialism," 1955.
6. Boston Globe, May 9 and 13, 1899.
7. Boston Globe, April 2 and 29, 1899.
8. Louis Rogers photo from the Barbara Erkkila Collection, Cape Ann Museum.
9. Boston Globe, May 25, 1902.
10. Rockport Granite Company Collection, Baker Library, Harvard Business School.
11. Interview in 1953 with Barbara Erkkila, Cape Ann Museum files.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Granite Industry, Part 6 C of 6 - Labor Organizes


"No good thing has been or can be enjoyed by us without having first cost labour. And inasmuch as most good things are produced by labour, it follows that all such things of right belong to those whose labour has produced them. But it has so happened, in all ages of the world, that some have laboured, and others have without labour enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong and should not continue. To secure to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a worthy object of any good government."
Abraham Lincoln, 1847

'Labor' in the collective sense encompasses all the wage-earning and some of the salaried components of the modern economy. It is historically as much a political as an economic term because people in these sectors came to realize common goals and predicaments as the Industrial Revolution reshaped society.

In the nineteenth century the United States of America evolved into 'the world's first corporation nation.' 1 At birth it was an agrarian society with republican ideals but constitutional privileges favoring male property owners who exclusively enjoyed the right to vote and paid disproportionately low taxes. 2 Over the ensuing decades industrialization and urbanization helped generate movements toward universal suffrage; public education; the abolition of imprisonment for debt; and the ending of service in the militia at one's own expense. The philosophical strand of the labor movement drew its fire from progressive conceptions of a just and equitable society relying on an independent, virtuous citizenry.

Trade unions, as they developed, tended to focus on the immediate job interests of their members. The transformative changes of industrial capitalism, especially during and after the Civil War-mechanization, centralization, masses of cheap immigrant workers-were accompanied by painful economic cycles and sometimes glaring disparities between returns to capital and labor. Mutual aid societies were not enough. Unions began to seek more ambitious improvements and rewards in the work environment.

One of the first in the stone industry was the Granite Cutter's National Union formed on Clark's Island Maine in 1877. 3 An early priority was the abolition of the truck system of trading at stores owned and operated by the companies for which the cutters worked. Then they turned their attention to shortening the hours of labor.

Three years from that date at a "very spirited public meeting" of the Cape Ann Workingmen's Union in  Village Hall cheers erupted upon the announcement that Lanesville's granite companies had accepted the men's petition for reduction of the work day to 10 hours. A large delegation from the Pigeon Hill and the Rockport Granite companies were encouraged to stay firm in their stand-down from 12 hours. The previous morning when the quarrymen employed by those firms had reported at seven instead of the usual six o'clock they had  been ordered to resume full hours or quit. "The men gathered around the office and shops of the company, in quiet but anxious groups, and in the course of the day they were as rapidly as possible paid up and discharged. What the result of all this will be is an anxious question to hundreds of families." 4

The strike did not include the stone cutters, or hammerers, who already worked on the ten hour system, but was confined to the quarrymen, blacksmiths, teamsters and other laborers required to work eleven or more hours daily. Solidarity among the various occupations and levels of skill marked a strengthening in labor's position within the industry.

Meanwhile, down in Bay View, Cape Ann Granite Company owner Jonas H. French replied that he would only consider the petition when and if all the other companies adopted it. Col. French took offense to the work stoppage as "a question of dictation, to which he could not yield." 4

While the Lanesville quarries continued to do a brisk business, operations at Rockport's larger granite facilities dwindled drastically. A year later the newspaper chided recalcitrant owners.

The companies that refused, have struggled against the odds during the entire year. This year, when the first of April came around, the demand was renewed, and the Pigeon Hill Company assented, and at once enlarged its field of operations. But the old Rockport Granite Co., Mr. John Stimson's, held out with a vigorous obstinacy worthy of some better object. But its foot hold has gradually crumbled away; laborers have week after week deserted it, till last Saturday there was only one man at work on the entire establishment. That fact touched bottom. Indeed, it scraped on the reef! Monday morning a new departure was inaugurated. Men were employed freely on the ten-hour basis; new men have been engaged every day, and now about fifty are at work. The number will be rapidly increased, to a hundred or more. There is apparently good ground for hoping that this company, with the others, is now entering upon a new era of prosperity. Mr. John Stimson [an incorporator in 1864], it is understood, expressed some time since, to the directors, a desire to resign the active duties of his office. Mr. Charles Rogers, formerly assistant treasurer, now in Minnesota, having declined to return to his old position, the duties will doubtless soon be entrusted to hands that will execute them with vigor and success. 5

Charles S. Rogers did return from Minnesota to become Treasurer and a director of the corporation. He guided the Rockport Granite Company to eventual ascendancy in the Cape Ann quarrying industry through a time of proliferation of unions.

A branch of the Granite Cutters National Union was organized in 1890 at Lanesville's Grand Templar's Hall. All the officers and committee members at this date bore Anglo-Saxon names. 6

Two years later a prolonged national strike disrupted the granite industry and opened the door further to immigrant populations in the quarries. We will explore these trends in the next essay.

Sources
1. See Notes from Halibut Point of May 4, "The Granite Industry, Part 5 of 6 - Government"
2. The historical distillation that follows comes from Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, volumes 1 and 2 (of 8), 1947.
3. Stone Magazine, Vol. V., No. V., October, 1892 as quoted in the website Quarries and Beyond.
4. Cape Ann Advertiser April 2, 10, 16 of 1880.
5. Ibid, April 29, 1881.
6. Gloucester Daily Times, October 4, 1890.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Granite Industry, Part 6 B of 6 - Labor Skills


Ox-drawn garrymander cart and paving block cutters
Bay State Quarry, Lanesville c. 1870s
Sandy Bay Historical Society
The granite industry evolved during the nineteenth century from local artisan enterprise to sophisticated corporations meeting widespread, large-scale, high-value contracts. Machinery increasingly supplemented but did not replace hand labor. The businessmen and the workers gained greater capability in quarrying, refining, and transporting stone. All through its history into the 1930s the paving block sector tended to steady the business cycles for those cutters skilled enough to make a living at exacting strenuous work. They were usually paid piecemeal rather than wages, sometimes within company quarries, sometimes in small operations off hours, off season, or as independents.

Babson Farm Quarry, Halibut Point 1909
Cleaves Collection, Sandy Bay Historical Society
Deep pit quarrying, large blocks, and big shipments required specialized labor and organization. From the front office to various machine operators and crew members both employers and employees had to function alertly in a highly competitive environment. The well-dressed man in this photograph is probably inspecting dimension stone for compliance with contract standards-perhaps the Sandy Bay Breakwater.

Cutting and polishing shed of the Rockport Granite Company, Bay View
Herman W. Spooner photo, courtesy of Robert Ambrogi, Vintage Rockport
Architectural specifications had to be met precisely by draftsmen, quarrymen, and finishers using centralized facilities with compressed air tools and a railroad derrick. The blocks might be fitted, then individually labeled and boxed for assembly at a distant construction site.

Carving fluted columns, Bay View
Postcard scene courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum
Preparing and delivering fluted columns must have ranked among the most demanding challenges for managing bulk with delicacy. Despite its tremendous compressive strength granite can easily be damaged in tension, or chipped in mishandling. Only the most experienced craftsmen would have worked on these projects.

Loading a roughed-out column at Bay View wharf
aboard Rockport Granite Company Lighter # 1
Erkkila Collection, Cape Ann Museum
Supplying stone to a job site only at a rough-finish stage was a safer approach for the granite company, but it missed the potential rewards and status of refined work.

The pair of monolithic fountains hewn from Sea Green granite for the Union Railroad Station Plaza in Washington DC must be considered the crowning opportunity for Cape Ann craftsmen.

Stonecutters standing in a bowl for the Union Station Plaza
Rockport Granite Company works, Bay View 1909.
Note the fabrication turntable, the scale model on the floor to its right, the power plant chimney at right edge of picture, and the Methodist Church steeple in the distance.
Photograph courtesy of Robert Ambrogi, Vintage Rockport
They began with two gargantuan 65-ton blocks brought down by rail from Blood Ledge Quarry to the Bay View yard. The finishing crews roughed in each bowl with imponderable hours of chiseling, then used the 4-point surfacing machine followed by hand work with six-cut bushing hammers to delicately approach the final shape. Barbara Erkkila in Hammers on Stone (1980) savored the achievement with pride. "The men brought the granite surface to a dull hone finish by using iron shot, then putty powder and felt buffers, pouring on the water carefully from old condensed milk cans. But the trick they used with the fountain was that they had the big stone revolve below the buffer for polishing instead of having the buffer dance its way over the stationary stone as was the usual process for polishing. For the first time, electrical power was used to do this."

One of two fountain bowls in place at Union Station Plaza, Washington D. C.
This view appears on a commemorative postcard by the Rockport Granite Company
Courtesy of Robert Ambrogi, Vintage Rockport
The master works arrived at Union Station aboard flatcars chaperoned by Babson Farm Quarry engineer Bucky Moore who rode all the way within one of the bowls. They ornament the Plaza near the United States Capitol to the present day.

One wonders about the temperament of men capable of sustained grueling labor with exacting skill.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Granite Industry, Part 6A of 6 - Labor Portraits

In economics labor refers to all the physical and mental effort that produces goods and services. In industrial-age politics it suggests a class of 'workers' distinct from managers and owners. The political usage bears many more emotional drapery than the economic one because it is entwined with the wants of men rather than their abilities.

Loading Granite at Knowlton's Wharf, Rockport
detail of oil painting by Alfred J. Wiggin 1852 1
Labor accomplishes tasks. In the granite business many of those tasks are skilled, hazardous, and arduous to the point of inspiring a mystique on the part of outsiders. Some of the mystique has been cultivated by the stone workers themselves.

From its earliest days commercial quarrying depended on immigrant labor. A local newspaper in 1866 related that forty years previously, first-generation granite entrepreneur William Torrey "would hire stout rugged men from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Of a large number of applicants for labor, he would make his selection with as much pride as a stock fancier would select his pacer or draft horse." 2 The story carries a sense of adventure on all sides. It is echoed in the recollections of Dr. Lemuel Gott as gathered in the History of Rockport, 1888.
The most of them were young men, lively and full of fun; for the greater number of them, this was the first of their leaving home. They usually commenced coming about the first of March and by the first of April the gangs were full. It was no ten-hour system or weekly payments in those days; but an early breakfast and go to work; one hour for dinner, and then a late supper. Nearly all of the men worked by the month at a certain rate and board, receiving their pay at the end of the season except as they would occasionally call for a small amount of spending money. They were generally frugal and reliable.

Working the Bay State Quarry in Lanesville, 1870s 1
One young Vermonter named John Stimson came in those early days with the advantage of being a son-in-law of the founder of the Gloucester and Boston Granite Company and a stockholder in the firm. Within a few years he set himself up as an independent quarryman, then partnered with Ezra Eames in an enterprise that eventually incorporated in 1864 as the Rockport Granite Company with Stimson as treasurer. He continued on as quarry manager. 3

John Stimson poured powder into a seam and fired it off. Not a satisfactory blast so he proceeded to fill the seam again from a partly filled powder keg in his hand. Contents were exploded in a premature blast. He scorched his face. (1872) 4

John Stimson... was inspecting hoist at quarry when the chain parted and struck him. He fell face forward on ledge surface. No apparent wounds, no bones broken, but concussion. Advanced age. Tuesday and Wednesday still in stupor. (1878) 4

Stimson's physical day in the quarry blurred distinctions between owner, manager and laborer; but his entrepreneurial net worth did not.

In the middle part of the nineteenth century impoverished foreigners began arriving, or being imported, to displace the early generations of quarry workers who had themselves migrated to Cape Ann from northern New England states.

When the employment of Irishmen was proposed it met with vigorous opposition. The house which was being prepared for them to occupy was two or three times blown up with powder; and other means were employed to keep out the unwelcome immigrants. This prejudice, however, has long since died out, and all nationalities are allowed to work unmolested. 4

It was a pattern repeated in later decades when cheap labor came from Italy and Scandinavia.

Finnish paving cutters, Woodbury Hill, Lanesville, early 20th century
Barbara Erkkila collection, Cape Ann Museum
Notes
1. From collections of the Sandy Bay Historical Society
2. Cape Ann Advertiser, May 18, 1866.
3. Cape Ann Advertiser, September 9, 1872 and November 1, 1878. From the Erkkila files, Cape Ann Museum.
4. Lemuel Gott, History of Rockport, 1888.