"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.
Sources1. 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.