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The Pullman Strike of 1894

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The Pullman Strike of 1894 was a key event in American labor history, marked by wage cuts and high rents at the Pullman Company, leading to a massive worker strike. The American Railway Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, played a crucial role in supporting the strike, which escalated with federal intervention and widespread rail disruptions. Despite the strike's defeat, it had significant long-term effects on labor rights and reforms.

The Pullman Strike of 1894: An Overview

The Pullman Strike of 1894 was a watershed moment in the annals of American labor history, emanating from the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago, Illinois. The conflict was precipitated by the company's draconian wage cuts of up to 25% amidst the economic downturn of 1893, while simultaneously maintaining high rents in the company-owned town where the workforce resided. This led to a stark decline in the standard of living for the employees. A delegation of workers who attempted to negotiate with the company's president, George Pullman, were rebuffed and subsequently terminated. This act of dismissal ignited the strike in May 1894, with workers ceasing their labor in protest of the wage reductions and demanding improved working conditions and fairer treatment.
Historical black and white photo of the 1894 Pullman Strike with workers on railway tracks in front of an idle steam locomotive, symbolizing industrial protest.

The Role of the American Railway Union

The American Railway Union (ARU), under the leadership of Eugene V. Debs, was instrumental in the amplification of the Pullman Strike. The ARU, a nascent industrial union representing a significant portion of Pullman employees, had been founded just one year before the strike. Debs initially hesitated to involve the union in the strike, but the intransigence of the Pullman management compelled the ARU to endorse a boycott of Pullman cars. While the ARU did not directly instigate a strike against the Pullman Company, its leadership was present at the pivotal meeting that decided on the strike and lent unwavering support to the Pullman workers throughout the ensuing conflict.

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Pullman Strike Location and Company

Chicago, Illinois; Pullman Palace Car Company.


Economic Context of Pullman Strike

Occurred during 1893 downturn; company cut wages but not rents.


Outcome of Workers' Negotiation Attempt

Delegation to George Pullman dismissed; led to May 1894 strike.


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