1933: Barre Granite Workers Strike

Account of a strike by Quarrymen in Vermont in 1933.

Submitted by Reddebrek on June 28, 2019

Granite workers strike, picket, and march against wage stagnation and job insecurity, 1933

In 1933, granite workers in the city of Barre, Vermont (VT), United States labored under nation-wide economic distress. The Great Depression was in its fourth year — a monumental stock market crash throughout much of the world in 1929, combined with a massive drought in the US, placed strain on the capitalist system, putting millions out of work and causing wages and job growth across the country to reverse. Granite companies began cutting staff and offering lower pay raises. In Barre, referred to as “the Granite Capital of the World” by local residents, workers in granite quarries and processing houses grew restless.

Quarry Workers Union and Stonecutters Union workers in six out of the seven companies operating in Barre went on strike on 1 April. In talks with Washington County (location of Barre) Sheriff Henry G. Lawson, union leaders requested to police themselves while picketing — being allowed to maintain their own peace by democratic process. The sheriff did not agree to the unions’ request, posting a small group of deputies near the picket line. However, citizens opposing the disruption attacked protestors, provoking an armed response by some union members.

On 9 April, a little more than a week after the strike began, Governor Stanley C. Wilson ordered 150 deputies to Barre to break the strike. The local community, however, remained supportive, bringing food and other supplies (as well as moral support) to those on the picket line. A federal labor committee, meanwhile, sought an agreement between the companies and the unionists.

On 29 April, Barre granite companies proposed the very same contract which the union initially rejected. The Quarry Workers Union rejected it once more. The Stonecutters Union, however, accepted this agreement, signaling a potential break of the strike on 5 May. In what appeared to be a final blow, the National Guard stepped in on 8 May, causing many strikers to retreat. Most quarries began operations within the next few days, despite community protest efforts — “lodged by farmers, churchmen, the ACLU, the Vermont Federation of Labor, and a committee of Barre businessmen,” according to reporter John Lawson — to remove the National Guard and allow strikes to continue.

By 1 June 1933, the strike had ended, with strikers agreeing to pre-strike wages. Court cases against arrested strikers continued until August.

Research Notes
Anon. 1933. “150 deputies ready in granite dispute.” The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved 15 April, 2019. (https://proxy.swarthmore.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/150475643?accountid=14194).
Anon. 1933."Tear Gas Checks Granite Strikers." The Washington Post, May 10, Retrieved May 30, 2019. (https://proxy.swarthmore.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/150454992?accountid=14194).
Guma, Greg. 2017. “Commentary: Class Struggle in Early 20th Century Barre - VTDigger.” VTDigger, 6 Jan. Retrieved April 15, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529181351/https://vtdigger.org/2017/01/06/greg-guma-class-struggle-early-20th-century-barre/).
Wood, Paul. 2014. “Granite Column Unionizing the Granite Worker.” Times Argus. Retrieved April 15, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529181457/https://www.timesargus.com/news/granite-column-unionizing-the-granite-worker/article_5fa7bc81-2210-5065-8d32-73744e6247b9.html).
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy:
Matt Koucky, 30/05/2019