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Workers Strike at Portsmouth Shipyard

Disagreement on the dock/ SeacoastNH.com
THE SHIPYARD

A three-week strike at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is hard to imagine today -- yet it happened about 150 years ago. And it happened through one of those weird convolutions that only federal officials can get themselves into.

 

 

 

In November 1854, the Portsmouth Navy Yard was running in full thrust to meet the demand for new vessels and repair of aging warships like the USS Constitution. Construction of the USS Santee and the USS Franklin were well underway. Yet there was a worm even in that garden of military preparedness. Word came on December 2, according to the Portsmouth Chronicle:

"A STRIKE: We learn that on Friday morning the ship carpenters and blacksmiths employed on the Navy Yard near this city were informed that their wages from that time would be cut down twenty- five cents per day, leaving the ship carpenters $2 per day and the blacksmiths about the same. When the roll was called after dinner, not one carpenter answered; and it was said that all the blacksmiths were to quit last night. The carpenters are to hold a meeting to consider the matter this forenoon, at 10 o'clock, at Mr. Hayes' on the Foreside."

The ship carpenters had met on December 2 in Hayes' Hall, Kittery, and adopted the following resolutions:

     * Resolved Ist that we consider the reduction in our pay unjust and uncalled for, and we will not submit to it.

    * Resolved 2d that we view with contempt the conduct of those who continued to work.

     * Resolved 3d we render thanks to the brother mechanics not employed at the Navy Yard, for their sympathy and efficient aid in our behalf.

The group also named three members to a committee to set firm wage guidelines for the future. Another committee was to inform the Naval Constructor that they would all resume work at the former (higher) rate. Then the labor group voted to have the entire proceedings printed in the local Portsmouth newspapers.

Apparently that little insurrection was quelled. The Chronicle said on December 4 that the strikers had gone back to work, "satisfactory evidence being presented to the Commodore, that their wages were no higher than was paid in private yards. The payroll of the yard remains about 750 names."

For a daily paper the Chronicle seems a step or two behind the times. The December 4 issue reported that the strikers had gone back to work at that the strike had been quelled. The shipyarders had to buy an ad in the paper on December 8 to straighten out one reportorial error. Not all shipworkers refused to work, the ad read. "There were a few who did go to work, against the wish of the great majority --and whose conduct in so doing was strongly censured by the meeting afterwards. Their names were Charles Williams, Wm. W. Brooks, Alpheus Brooks and Ira Delano." Through the power of the press and peer pressure, the strikers named their "scab" colleagues and their own strike leaders openly.

1864 NAVY YARD STRIKE 

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Thursday, November 23, 2017 
 
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