Pullman Strike

In 1894, the Pullman Palace Car Company decided to lay off numerous workers and dramatically cut the wages of many more at their Chicago factory. 4,000 of the workers, many of whom lived in the company town of Pullman, Illinois, decided to go on wildcat strike.

150,000 railway workers across 27 US states took their own industrial action in solidarity, refusing to switch, signal, or service trains pulling Pullman cars. The US railway system slowed to a standstill, under the leadership of Eugene V. Debs, the leader of the American Railway Union.

President Cleveland was outraged by this display of workers’ power, so he used the executive responsibility to deliver mail to declare the strike illegal, then sent in 14,000 US marshals to gun down the strikers, and end their struggle through violent force. At least 30 and up to 90 workers were slaughtered.

In the aftermath, President Cleveland proclaimed the new public holiday of Labor Day as a pathetic attempt to reduce class tension. At the same time though, Eugene Debs was jailed for his role in organising the strike, with 71 other strikers also imprisoned. (This was not a completely isolated crackdown; my US repression of leftists page very briefly outlines the context.) The American Railway Union was deregistered and debanded, with the complicity of the conservative American Federation of Labor.

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