The 1970s Sprague Electric Strike

During the cold Berkshire weather, workers stood outside at the gates of Sprague Electric Co. in strike for fair pay.

During a 10-week long strike in North Adams, workers stood outside the fences of the Sprague Electric Company in strike for better pay and conditions. This event changed the dynamic of Sprague Electric from fast productions to a much slower pace. The cost of living increased after World War II and people needed more money in order to survive. Sprague Electric was performing well economically during the war, but after the war the company failed to keep up with the changes in the economy. Sprague was growing but was not paying enough for their workers.

In the past, people had a sense of community and family between Sprague Electric Co. and many of the North Adams residents who worked in the company. People felt comfortable and connected to the company. The company even had a newsletter called the “Sprague Log” which mentioned what management has been doing and wrote about workers lives and what they wer doing in and outside of the company. This made people feel more connected like a family to the company rather than being just employees. After the war, Sprague kept expanding and growing, losing its connection with its workers, and their workers’ wages became insufficient to meet the cost of living. Due to these conditions, many families, mainly husbands and wives, were forced to work and many were held Sprague responsible for not meeting the needs of its workforce.

During that time many of the workers decided to join unions such as the International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE), and later the American Federation of Technical Employees (AFTE). The unions tried to negotiate with the Sprague management team for better payment adjustment, but when this resulted in very little improvements to workers’ pay, a vote was made to on strike against Sprague Electric.

In the spring of 1970, the strike begun and the union workers at Sprague hoped that management would recognize and understand the struggles workers had to go through after the war and change their wages. They created picket lines outside the gates of the company hoping to encourage their coworkers and friends to join them and slow the factory’s production. Although, not everyone was on board with the idea of the strike, many were influenced and convinced by their peers to join the picket lines, while others decided to keep working pushing through the picket line and work in order to survive.

Even though many workers were not a part of the strike, they understood that their friends and coworkers were fighting for what was right for everyone. During the the strike many jobs were being moved out of North Adams and into other locations under Sprague Electric’s control like the Nashua plant at New Hampshire. This was to keep up with the company’s customer demands since Sprague was already falling behind due to the strike. Trucks went in and out of the gates of the Marshall Street plant taking away machinery, leaving many people uneasy about their positions in the company and unsure if they were still going to have a job or be unemployed after the strike. Management from Sprague Electric and the unions, had multiple negotiations with each other but each time there was a proposal, it was either adjusted or rejected and seemed to go nowhere. Due to uneventful negotiations, both sides agreed on a mediation with federal attorneys and were able to create a compromise for the company and their workers.

Unfortunately, it was not enough for the workers in the long run. From the strike onwards, Sprague Electric reduced production and jobs in North Adams, and shrinking profits were the result. It was also increasingly evident that the company was going to leave North Adams. On November 1971, R.C. Sprague resigned as head of the company and later on, around 1976, the company merged with General Cable/GK Technologies. December 6, 1976 R.C. Sprague lost all control to management and in 1985, Sprague Electric Company finally closed its doors, leaving many North Adams residents unemployed.