Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pullman Strike, 1894

The Pullman Strike of 1894
In May 11, 1894, workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company, which manufactured the famous Pullman sleeping railroad cars, staged a walkout. The basis of this walkout was the fact that George Pullman was cutting wages but not the rent on the company-owned housing. The workers were members of the American Railway Union (ARU), headed by Eugene V. Debs (see post on Debs). Debs directed all ARU members not to handle any of the Pullman cars, an action that not only hurt the Pullman company, but had a secondary and even bigger effect of crippling the railroad industry. The strike continued until mid-July when both the boycott and the union were broken, but not without violence and vandalism. Government soldiers were brought in to get the trains running again. Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to prison for his part in the strike. Although the new ARU had strength and a lot of members, they were not successful in their strike due to the government's intervention on the side of the railroad companies.

"No one could doubt why the great Pullman boycott had failed: it had been crushed by the naked use of government power on behalf of the railroad companies." (America, p. 531)

1 comment:

A. Mattson said...

A good post on a key event American labor history.

What was the significance of this strike? How was it resolved? What role did the state and federal government play? What role did the troops play?

What lessons did the ARU and Debs learn from this confrontation? The government's intervention on the side of Pullman taught Debs that workplace unionism and strikes would not be enough. He and the Union would have to engage in the political process if they really wanted to change the status of labor. The government would have to be changed if real progress was to happen.