From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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June 4, 1894

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Workers affiliated with the American Railway Union called a strike at the Pullman Palace Car Company on May 11, 1894. George M. Pullman, owner of the railroad passenger car company, had cut wages arguing that the depressed times had reduced demand for his product and had required him to produce at less cost. Workers believed however that reductions had been arbitrary and that management was callous to their needs. Especially during the strike's first few weeks when there was no trouble and idle workers conducted themselves with quiet dignity, public opinion was much in labor's favor. The city council unanimously passed a resolution on June 4 calling for a public subscription to aid the striking employees and their families.

After an impasse of over a month Eugene Debs, the union's president, called a general sympathy strike of all railroad employees across the country. In response the national Railway Managers' Association refused to negotiate and hired over 3,600 private detectives to break the strike. A federal court issued an injunction against Debs and his union on July 2 on the grounds that they were interfering with interstate commerce and mail delivery. The following day President Cleveland ordered federal troops sent to Chicago to enforce the court action. This was done over the objections of Governor Altgeld who had protested that the state's national guard could cope with the situation. Several men were killed and wounded on July 6 during an angry confrontation between the soldiers and the strikers and other elements in rail yards near the plant. But the troops prevailed and by July 13 the city's train system was nearly back to normal. The union suspended the strike officially on August 3. Although the workers had gained no concessions public sympathy had been with them and increasingly labor's causes were viewed as just. Eugene Debs was sentenced to six months in prison on December 14 for his failure to obey the injunction and call off the strike earlier.

Points to Consider

Why were the workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company striking?

Briefly describe the Pullman district in 1894?

Why would the city council have considered such a resolution?

Why would people have donated money to the striking workmen at Pullman?

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