Saturday, February 2, 2008

Strike At Sturtevant Blower Works

The Sturtevant Blower Works was the largest employer in Jamaica Plain - I've seen them listed at variously 100 and 500 employees. No doubt employment was fluid as they grew and contracts came and went (you can read about them here). Eugene Foss later became the Governor of Massachusetts, but at this time he was the president of the Sturtevant company. What were the men striking for? A nine hour day. As someone who has worked ten hour shifts in machine shops and foundries - with overtime - I appreciate that those who came before me fought to make the nine, and later eight hour day standard. We can also see that they were threatening to send jobs elsewhere back in the 1800s. Within ten years, Foss did move the jobs out of Jamaica Plain - to Readville.

Boston Daily Globe June 13, 1893

Strike At Jamaica Plain.

Employees of Sturtevant Blower Works Dissatisfied.

Three-fourths of the employees of the Sturtevant blower works, Jamaica Plain, are out on strike and the others are prepared to follow.

Nine hours' work and regular pay is their demand. The strikers left the shops at 8 o'clock yesterday forenoon and in a short time after the remaining employees had petitioned for nine hours' work with full days' pay. If their demands are not granted it is probable that the balance of the employees will come out some time during the day.

Last evening 300 of the men employed in the blower works assembled in the hall of the Bachelors' club on Green st and held a lengthy conference.

All save workmen in the shops were denied admission to the hall. The windows were opened for sanitary motives and at intervals cheers floated out into the damp atmosphere of the night, indicative of the good spirits of the strikers.

A committee was appointed after much talk to confer today with the manager of the company. If their demands are not granted it is probably there will be a long and bitter strike. Only the molders are organized, yet the strikers are confident that their temporary organization formed yesterday will be sufficient to win the day.

E.N. Foss, manager of Sturtevant company, says that the men have struck at a bad time, as their business at present is very dull and the competition in the west, where three-fourths of their business is, is very strong at present and the profit has been cut down to a small figure.

His version of the strike is as follows:

"I have been west on a trip for the firm for several weeks, and on my return three of the job masters who take contracts to do the work and hire their own men came to me and said that their help had petitioned for nine hours' work and 10 hours' pay."

He remarked to the job masters that he did not see how it concerned him, as they got so much for their work, and could make their own terms with the men. The job masters agreed that it did not concern him, and left the office.

Yesterday morning he was surprised to hear that

The Men Had Gone Out.

He went immediately to the shops, but it was too late to effect a compromise. The machinists were the leaders in the strike, and they were joined by all save the moulders and the tinsmiths.

Those who are now working immediately petitioned for shorter hours. The moulders belong to the moulders' union, and will not strike until they have received the sanction of their union, which they have applied for.

In regard to the demands of the employees Mr Foss said, "In the present condition of the trade it will be impossible for us to grant the position of the men. We have always paid good wages for good work, and have a skillful lot of employees. Our business is different from that of the boiler manufacturers and other in apparently the same line of work, for our customers are mostly in the west, fully three-quarters of our goods being sold in that section of the country.

"We have to import the raw material, coal and iron from the west and then have to send it back there. Our shopes should really be located in the west.

"Competition is very keen with the western firms, who have the advantage of lower rates of transportation. Now, the other firms I have mentioned sell their products in this part of the country for the most part, and can afford to give the men better hours.

"Their goods are not sold at listed prices, and the extra cost consequent on the demands of the men can be met by raising the price of the goods sold.

"With us this is impossible, as our goods are listed all over the country. We have to sitck to the advertised rates. In the machine shops, to show the effect of the demand, if we run only nine hours a day we curtail the product of our machines 10 percent. That means we should have to add 10 percent to our machinery, as the machines will only turn out so much work in so many hours.

"In the present state of the market we

Cannot Afford to Do This.

Last week we had to shut down the shop on Saturday or we would have had to discharge some men. We have a good lot of workmen and do not desire to scatter them. Accordingly we shut down.

"This week the holiday would have allowed us this day, and then the week of the Fourth we would have shut down for several days and taken stock. This is the direct result of the close market.

"Business is poor everywhere, especially in the west, and we feel it in lack of orders and some of those we have filled are not (?) and will not be duplicated. Only this morning we received a note from a customer stating he was supposed to be worth $500,000, but that as the money market is so stringent he cold not raise $5000 cash necessary to meet our bill.

"That is only a sample of business at the present time. In answer to the demands of the men we made the statement that we would give them 60 hours' pay for 59 hours' work, and that was the best we could do. If this offer is not accepted by them at present I fear the works

Will Have to be Closed.

"The demand is particularly unfortunate for the men just at this time, as business is so poor that we can afford to shut down. We do dislike to have the men scattered, as we expect to do a much larger business in the fall, and will then have work for all the old hands."

The first meeting of the strikers was held yesterday afternoon and the committee waited on Mr Foss and listened to his proposal of one hours' less work a week for the same pay. The proposition was submitted to the strikers at the evening meeting and they decided not to accept it.

Another committee was appointed to see if the desired nine hours could not be obtained and they will report at a meeting to be held at the same hall this evening. The moulders and the tinsmiths, who did not go out yesterday, will do so as soon as their union grants them the right.

The strikers say that other factories are giving their men the nine-hour day and think they deserve the same treatment. They also argue that the firm is very prosperous and making money, claiming that last year's profits were $250,000 and can well afford to concede to their demands.

The majority of the strikers admit that the firm is a good one to work for, and some few are willing in view of the stringency of the money market to go to work. The great majority rules, however, and all will stay out and try for the nine-hour day.

It is a question how good a fight they will make owing to their unorganized condition, but the 300 who were gathered in the hall last evening were sanguine that victory wold perch on their banners.

A delegation from the moulders has been appointed to wait on the union this forenoon, and they are also confident that they weil be ordered out and then all of the employees will fight shoulder to shoulder for their nine-hour day with present wages.

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