More Labor Unrest

“THAT ’22 STRIKE IS OVER. I guess the less said about those Frenchmen, the better. They certainly did a good job of breaking the strike. The funny part of it is that many of those same Frenchmen are still here in the sheds today, and they’re strong Union men as you would expect to find anywhere. I don’t think they realized what they were doing in ’22; most of them hadn’t done granite work before. We’ve tried to forget about ’22. There are Frenchmen working beside me. We never talk about it. They don’t want to, and we don’t want to. It had to happen, it’s over with and finished now. There’s no use opening an old sore. We have to work together, we might as well be friends."

—WPA interview with an Irish granite worker from Barre, late 1930s.

One of the quarries of the Vermont Marble Company, which was not unionized until 1945. Working conditions in the quarries were hard and when the economy worsened wages were affected. In Barre in the early twentieth century seventy-three percent of granite workers died from silicosis, a disease brought on by breathing granite dust. One street in Barre was called “La strada delle vedove”—the street of widows. Barre granite workers went on strike in 1915, 1922, 1933, and 1938. The Barre granite strike of 1922 pitted granite workers against owners and French Canadian laborers who were brought in to take their places. It was a bitter struggle with no obvious winners and as in the past, authorities were called in to break the strike. In 1933 workers struck again over wages and working conditions. The National Guard was called at the owners’ request, even though Barre’s mayor said they weren’t wanted.

Workers at the Vermont Marble Company struck during 1935 and 1936 over low wages and attempted to unionize. They demanded a raise from 371/2 cents to 50 cents an hour. Violence erupted when it was learned that housing rents were reduced as a reward for workers who stayed on the job. Rumors circulated that strikers had Communist support. The company’s reputation suffered when it issued stock dividends and when the public learned that the local sheriff’s department had been paid by the state while strike breaking. The workers still lost. The Vermont Marble Company was not unionized until 1945.

A turning point in labor relations came in 1938 when the granite workers struck again. Governor Aiken stepped in and offered a compromise, which was accepted by both parties. For the first time the governor refused to call out the National Guard to put down the strike. Gradually, through the efforts of unions and state and federal regulators, working conditions in the quarries began to improve.

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