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.

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.

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