Late in 1892, Henry Clay Frick, the chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company, wrote a letter to Andrew Carnegie. In it he complained, "The mills have never been able to turn out the product they should owing to being held back by the Amalgamated men."1
The Amalgamated men were a small number of highly-skilled steelworkers who belonged to the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, the strongest trade union the country had ever seen. The Amalgamated was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, a loose confederation of the exclusive trade unions of highly-skilled workers against which Powderly had inveighed. A hostile historian described the power the skilled steelworkers held over the actual process of production at Carnegie's Homestead Works near Pittsburgh:
The method of apportioning the work, of regulating the turns, of altering the machinery, in short, every detail of working the great plant, was subject to the interference of some busybody representing the Amalgamated Association. . . . The heats of a turn were designated, as were the weights of the various charges constituting a heat. The product per worker was limited; the proportion of scrap that might be used in running a furnace was fixed; the quality of pig-iron was stated; the puddlers' use of brick and fire clay was prohibited; nor might one lend his tools to another.2
This power was exercised by committees in each department.
When investigator John Fitch inquired years later, he was told by both older workmen and a prominent Carnegie official that the union had actually run the Homestead Works.3
In 1889, Carnegie had moved to break the union's power, proposing a twenty-five percent wage reduction and individual contracts for each worker-putting an end to collective bargaining. The workers struck. The company hired detectives and tried to bring in strikebreakers, but was defeated by mass picketing. As Frick described it later:
The posse taken up by the sheriff-something over 100 men-were not permitted to land on our property; were driven off with threats of bodily harm, and it looked as if there was going to be great destruction of life and property.4
In the face of sympathetic strike movements against other Carnegie plants, its subsidiary, the H.C. Frick Coke Company, and the railroads handling Carnegie products, the company backed down and signed a three-year contract with the Amalgamated, to expire in 1892.
The contract, however, was clearly only a truce, for the Carnegie Company grew more determined than ever to eliminate the union. David Brody, in his Steelworkers in America: The Non-Union Era points out that the great objective of the steel masters was to drive down costs. "The maximization of labor savings required complete freedom from union interference."5 As a Carnegie partner put it, "The Amalgamated placed a tax on improvements, therefore the Amalgamated had to go."6
In January, 1892, the company proposed a new wage scale that admittedly would reduce Amalgamated men's wages eighteen percent, tipping off the workers that another conflict was approaching. Early in May, Carnegie drafted a statement which read:
These Works having been consolidated with the Edgar Thomson and Duquesne, and other mills, there has been forced upon this Firm the question whether its Works are to be run 'Union' or 'Non-Union.' As the vast majority of our employees are Non-Union, the Firm has decided that the minority must give place to the majority. These works, therefore, will be necessarily Non-Union after the expiration of the present agreement. . . . This action is not taken in any spirit of hostility to labor organizations, but every man will see that the firm cannot run Union and Non-Union."7
Frick, however, understood that he could break the union without making this the ostensible issue of the conflict, simply by making impossible demands. A Congressional committee later concluded that Frick was
opposed to the Amalgamated Association and its methods, and hence had no anxiety to contract with his laborers through that organization. . . this is the true reason why he appeared to them as autocratic and uncompromising in his demands.8
Following Carnegie's advice, Frick began his preparations for the anticipated strike by stepping up production to record levels. He ordered the construction of a great fence, twelve feet high and three miles long, around the works. Three-inch holes were bored at shoulder height every twenty-five feet, and the fence was topped with three strands of barbed wire. It was quickly dubbed "Fort Frick" and immortalized in verse:
There stands today with great pretense
Enclosed within a whitewashed fence
A wondrous change of great import,
The mills transformed into a fort.9
t Finally, Frick wrote to Robert Pinkerton of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency:
We will want 300 guards for service at our Homestead mills as a measure of precaution against interference with our plan to start operation of the works July 6th, 1892.
The only trouble we anticipate is that an attempt will be made to prevent such of our men with whom we will by that time have made satisfactory arrangements from going to work, and possibly some demonstration of violence upon the part of those whose places have been filled, or most likely by an element which usually is attracted to such scenes for the purpose of stirring up trouble. . . .
These guards should be assembled at Ashtabula, Ohio, not later than the morning of July 5th, when they may be taken by train to McKee's Rocks, or some other point upon the Ohio River below Pittsburgh, where they can be transferred to boats and landed within the enclosure of our premises at Homestead. We think absolute secrecy essential in the movement of these men.10
The Pinkerton Agency was ready, able and willing to provide the men. In the previous decades it had provided its services for management in seventy major labor disputes, and its 2,000 active agents and 30,000 reserves totalled more than the standing army the nation.11
Frick issued an ultimatum that unless the union accepted his terms by June 24th, the company would deal with the men only as individuals. Four days later, the company closed down departments where 800 men worked; by July 2nd it had laid off the entire work force. The battle was on in earnest.
In preparation for the strike, the Amalgamated had formed an "Advisory Committee" of five delegates from each of its eight lodges. Since the Amalgamated Association included only 750 of the 3,800 workers at Homestead, the Advisory Committee called on the rest to support the strike. Three thousand workers packed into the Opera House and voted overwhelmingly that everyone would strike - for the semi-skilled and unskilled feared that their wages would be reduced as well. The Advisory Committee then circulated the following statement:
The Committee has, after mature deliberation, decided to organize their forces on a truly military basis. The force of four thousand men has been divided into three divisions or watches, each of these divisions is to devote eight hours of the twenty-four to the task of watching the plant.
The Commanders of these divisions are to have as assistants eight captains composed of one trusted man from each of the eight local lodges.
These Captains will report to the Division Commanders, who in turn will receive the orders of the Advisory Committee. During their hours of duty these Captains will have personal charge of the most important posts, i.e., the river front, the water gates and pumps, the railway stations, and the main gates of the plant. The girdle of pickets will file reports to the main headquarters every half hour, and so complete and detailed is the plan of campaign that in ten minutes' time the Committee can communicate with the men at any given point within a radius of five miles. In addition to all this, there will be held in reserve a force of 800 Slavs and Hungarians. The brigade of foreigners will be under the command of two Hungarians and two interpreters.12
Military preparations began at once. Frick's plan for a naval landing of Pinkerton men had apparently become known to the Amalgamated men, for they chartered a paddle steamer, the Edna, fitted with steam whistles to give the alarm. Day and night it cruised the Monongahela, supported by an armada of fifty two-man skiffs. Every road leading to Homestead was blockaded.
Armed guards surrounded the railroad depots. Sentries patrolled the waterfront and watched from the peaks of surrounding hills. A communications system was created, using flags, skyrockets and a steam whistle, with the telegraph at the strike headquarters. The picket line grew steadily, until 1,000 men were patrolling ten miles of the river on both sides.
Meanwhile, the Advisory Committee took over authority in the town. It directed the running of the gas, water, and electric stations. It shut the saloons, kept the peace, and issued ad hoc laws. When eleven deputy sheriffs arrived to occupy the works, they were surrounded by 1,000 pickets and told, "No deputy will ever go in there alive."13 The Edna then politely ferried the deputies back to Pittsburgh. When Sheriff McCleary of Allegheny County visited himself, the Advisory Committee gave him a guided tour of the plant and suggested that he deputize 500 strikers to guard it and keep out trespassers. He refused. The Advisory Committee offered to let fifty deputies take over the works - fearing the illegality of its own acts. But the Sheriff was unable to raise a posse, for nobody in Allegheny County wanted to fight the Homestead workers. The few men he was able to recruit refused to bear arms, interfere with picketing or escort strikebreakers. The Sheriff was powerless.
By late June, the Homestead workers had been informed by supporters in Chicago and New York that Pinkerton guards were on the way. The guards arrived five miles down river from Pittsburgh on the night of July 5th and boarded the two barges that had been prepared for them. The union was immediately informed by telegraph that several hundred strangers had arrived. As the barges passed Pittsburgh somewhat after 3 a.m., a. union lookout wired headquarters, "Watch the river. Steamer with barges left here."14 The river patrol was intensified, and a union skiff almost run down by the Pinkerton's tug fired revolvers at the barges. A little before 4 a.m., the Advisory Committee pulled the steam whistle with the signal indicating a river landing threatened, and a mounted sentry burst into Homestead shouting, "The Pinkertons are coming!"15 Workers and their families piled from their beds.
By the time the barges approached the landing, the crowd that met them numbered 10,000. Several hundred carried carbines., rifles, shotguns, pistols and revolvers, most of the rest sticks, stones and nailed clubs.
The Pinkertons, armed with Winchester repeaters, threw out a gangplank and began to land. "Don't step off that boat," someone yelled from the jeering crowd. One striker lay down on the gangplank. When the first Pinkerton detective tried to shove him aside, he pulled a revolver and shot the detective through the thigh, knocking him over backward. Gunfire instantly raked the Pinkertons, killing one and wounding five. A force of additional Pinkertons rushed on deck and began firing steadily into the crowd, hitting over thirty and killing at least three. The fire from the crowd quickly drove the Pinkertons back below decks. When they tried again to land a few hours later, four more were shot down instantly and the attempt was abandoned.
The strikers, joined by large numbers of armed supporters from other towns, now tried to find a way to drive the Pinkertons out of the barges. First they built barricades of steel and pig iron from which they could fire with safety on the barges. Skiffs swarmed around the barges, firing at point-blank range. Half-pound sticks of dynamite were hurled onto the barges, blowing holes in the sides but failing to sink them. A twenty-pound brass cannon used for holiday celebrations and a smaller one residing in a veterans' hall were wheeled out and trained on the barges. Workers flooded the river around them with oil, but were unable to set them afire. A flaming raft was floated toward them, but the current carried it past. A natural gas main was directed toward the barges and the gas ignited with Fourth of July firecrackers, but only a small explosion was triggered.
By the end of the day the Pinkertons were faced with a mutiny of their own men. Most of those on the barges were not regular company detectives but guards hired under false pretenses, then shipped to Homestead at gunpoint much against their wills. Many were wounded; all were terrified; the July heat in the barges was unbearable; the chance of escape was nil. Under these conditions, the men voted almost unanimously to surrender. They were marched out, disarmed, and made to run a bloody gauntlet in which all were injured, many seriously. The crowd, enraged by the deaths it had suffered, initially demanded that "Not one must escape alive!"16 The Advisory Committee, fearing the public reaction to a massacre, finally persuaded the workers to let the Pinkertons go.
The battle electrified the nation. On the strikers' side, forty were shot and nine killed. On the Pinkertons', twenty were shot, seven died, and nearly three hundred were injured running the gauntlet.17 Reporters from all over the country-and even other countries - poured into Homestead. A song, "Father Was Killed by the Pinkerton Men," became an overnight hit.
For several days, the strikers held the works unchallenged.
The Sheriff, with no effective force of his own, appealed again and again to Governor Pattison for the militia. Pattison stalled, stating "I am of the opinion that there would not have been a drop of blood shed if the proposition had been accepted to let the locked-out men guard the premises."18 But pressure on him mounted, and finally he ordered the militia to Homestead. They arrived July 12th.
In the wake of the Great Upheaval of 1877, the Pennsylvania militia had been reorganized and brought to a high state of efficiency. By 1892 it included well over 8,000 officers and men, well armed with Springfield .45's and Gatling guns. The strikers at first wanted to oppose the militia, but the Advisory Committee persuaded them to welcome it instead. As the troops marched off the train, they were met by a welcoming committee, complete with band. A spokesman for the Advisory Committee stepped up and said, "On the part of the Amalgamated Association, I wish to say that after suffering an attack of illegal authority, we are glad to have the legal authority of the State here."
General George Snowden, in command of the troops, replied: "I do not recognize your association, sir. I recognize no one but the citizens of this city. We have come here to restore law and order and they are already restored."19 The General's conception of law and order soon became apparent. That same day he was asked, "General, is it intended to use your troops for the protection of non-union men?" Snowden answered, "The gates are open and you may enter if the company permits it."20
Strikers maintained massive armed picket lines around the works, but the company began ferrying in small groups of strikebreakers by barge. The Guard prevented retaliation. At first the militiamen fraternized with the strikers, but Snowden quickly put an end to it by forbidding his men to consort with workers or enter town without an officer. "Pennsylvanians can hardly appreciate the actual communisn of these people. They believe the works are theirs quite as much as Carnegie's," Snowden reported.21
In response to the killings and the militia, the strike soon spread to the rest of the Carnegie works in the Pittsburgh area. At the Union Iron Mills the men declared July 14th that they would not return to work until the Homestead dispute was settled. The company gradually resumed production there with strikebreakers.
The next day, workers at the Beaver Fall mills refused to work until the company opened negotiations with the Homestead strikers. Frick declared a lockout and the strike continued for four months.
Workers at Duquesne joined the Amalgamated and struck a week later, following appeals from the Homestead strikers. The State militia in August escorted repairmen, mechanics, and other strikebreakers into the plant, suppressed a riot, and allowed production to resume.
On July 16th, the company posted a notice giving Homestead workers until July 21st to apply for rehiring:
It is our desire to retain in our service all of our employees whose past record is satisfactory, and who did not take part in the attempts which have been made to interfere with our right to manage our business.22
But not a single one of the locked-out men applied.
The company was forced to other tactics. Its law firm brought warrants for murder against leading Advisory Committee members. At least 160 other strikers were charged with lesser crimes.
They were no sooner acquitted than the entire Advisory Committee was re-arrested for treason against the State of Pennsylvania. The Chief Justice of the State personally charged the grand jury:
. . . when a large number of men arm and organize themselves by divisions and companies, appoint officers, and engage in a common purpose to defy the law, to resist its officers and to deprive any portion of their fellow citizens of the rights to which they are entitled. . . it is a levying of war against the State, and the offense is treason. . . The men had no further demand upon its property than has a domestic servant upon the household goods of his employer when he is discharged. . .23
In the end, no Pittsburgh jury ever found a striker guilty on any charge. But the prosecutions served their purpose nonetheless. They tied up enormous funds in bail and legal costs. After bail money ran out they kept large parts of the strike leadership in jail awaiting trial. And by all accounts they confused and demoralized the strikers at Homestead. The Amalgamated men had considered themselves conservative, patriotic citizens - most were solid Republicans - defending their rights against Frick's private army, the Pinkertons. The trials made them doubt the legitimacy of what they themselves had done. Were they in fact just a murderous, treasonous mob?
The Carnegie Company continued bringing strikebreakers into Homestead, but had great difficulty recruiting the scarce, highly skilled steelworkers most needed to resume operations. In many cases, strikebreakers had to be virtually shanghaied. Fifty-six men hired in Cincinnati, for example, were offered easy work and good pay at another Carnegie steelworks. They boarded a train and only after the doors and windows were locked did the armed guards tell them their real destination. They battled with the guards and forced the doors; only twenty-one remained by the time they reached Homestead. Once there, a strikebreaker reported,
We were made prisoners in the works and guarded like convicts. The more ignorant were told by the foreman that if they ventured outside the union men would shoot them like dogs. . . . At least half of them are sick from heat, bad water and poor food.24
A local paper reported that desertions were occurring "at such a lively rate. . . as to threaten to depopulate the mill in a week."25 Strikers threw pamphlets from a train into the works, promising good treatment and free train fare home for deserting strikebreakers. There followed a grand rush for the exit, and company officials were powerless to stop a large number from leaving. Nonetheless, by September nearly every department of the plant was running, albeit poorly.
The strike held solid for four months. Frick wrote Carnegie, "The firmness with which these strikers hold on is surprising to everyone."26 But with the company restoring production and winter coming on, morale finally began to decline. On November 18th, the unskilled workers asked to be released from their strike pledge. The Amalgamated agreed, and two days later called off the strike. The men returned to work as individuals-with the leaders blacklisted forever. Frick cabled Carnegie:
Strike officially declared off yesterday. Our victory is now complete and most gratifying. Do not think we will ever have any serious labor trouble again.27
In the wake of the Homestead defeat, the once-powerful Amalgamated Association was practically driven out of the steel industry. By 1895 it retained but half its pre-Homestead membership, little of it in steel. The steel masters had created a seemingly impenetrable arsenal of weapons against unionism - an arsenal we shall meet again in 1919.
In the final analysis, the strikers were defeated by the new technology of the steel industry. In earlier days, it had been impossible to run the mills without the skilled men of the Amalgamated, and so all that was necessary to defeat an employer was "to withhold our skills from them until such time as they agree."28 But with the increasing mechanization of the mills, employers could start up with new men and only a nucleus of experienced workers.
The new giant corporations with many plants could easily shift work from a struck plant to an un struck one and thus be relatively unscathed by a strike. Only a movement embracing all steelworkers, skilled and unskilled, and supported by workers in allied industries would have stood a chance against a corporation as powerful as the Carnegie Company. As we shall see, many workers - especially on the railroads - drew this lesson. But the Amalgamated - like the rest of the A.F.L. - refused to adapt to the new realities of industrial America.
The employers made substantial gains from their defeat of unionism in the Homestead strike. They were enabled without resistance to reduce labor costs and introduce new machinery to increase productivity. In 1897 a Carnegie executive reported "a marked reduction in the number of men employed." The Homestead Works "can now be run full with about 2,900 men," a twenty-five percent decrease since 1892.29 David Brody points out that In the two decades after 1890, the furnace worker's productivity tripled in exchange for an income rise of one-half; the steelworker's output doubled in exchange for an income rise of one-fifth [much of these wage increases merely compensated for inflation]. At bottom, the remarkable cost reduction of American steel manufacture rested on those figures.
The accomplishment was possible only with a labor force powerless to oppose the decisions of the steel men.30
In the depression year of 1893, wages in iron and steel fell an average of twenty-five percent. With the union smashed, the cuts went practically unopposed. A Carnegie official, announcing wage cuts, stated,
With this new scale in force the firm will be in a position to compete more successfully than ever before and will probably have a material advantage over many of its competitors in cost sheets.31
In the period from 1892 to 1907, the daily earnings of highly skilled plate-mill workers at Homestead shrank by one-fifth, while their hours increased from eight to twelve.32
But the most important result of the Homestead strike was its effect on American workers. Secretary of the Treasury Charles Foster, campaigning in Ohio, reported "trouble among laboring men."
"They were talking about Homestead, and about Carnegie being too rich, while they were poor."33 The bloody battle of July 6th stirred a deep sense of identification in workers throughout the country. For example, 90,000 workers in Chicago had celebrated a "Homestead Day" and raised $40,000 for the strikers. Other contributions had poured into Homestead. The defeat of the nation's most powerful trade union at the hands of a private army, the state militia, and the Carnegie company, started workers everywhere on a search for new solutions and a broader solidarity.
Almost simultaneously with Homestead, armed conflict broke out in the Coeur d'Alenes mining district of Idaho. In January, 1892, the companies of the district began closing down their mines; the ostensible reason was to force cheaper railroad rates, but as one mine-owner confided, "such is not the main issue, and you will find when the mines resume operation, wages will be $3.00 per day for shovelers and car men," a fifteen percent reduction.34 The workers, including the skilled miners whose wages remained uncut, refused to accept the new scale.
Soon the owners began bringing in strikebreakers protected by armed detectives, but workers often persuaded incoming strikebreakers to leave. In one case, sympathetic railroad men assigned eighty strikebreakers from California to ride in boxcars, then shipped them 250 miles in the opposite direction.
In May, the Governor was still complimenting union officials on holding their members in check, but this restraint was not to last. Tension built between miners and guards, breaking out in fist fights and peaking June 10th, when the miners gathered with their guns in response to a rumor that the militia was on its way. Early next morning a miner was fired upon by guards at the Frisco mill, and as the miners gathered "a general cry went up to capture the mill."35 The miners circled the hill, dodging the fire of the guards until they got above them. Then, as the battle raged, they loaded a car with powder and sent it down the hill with a short fuse, demolishing the old mill. No one was injured, but the strikebreakers hoisted a white flag and surrendered; they were marched as prisoners down to the union hall.
Following this, the strikers peacefully took possession of other mines and plants in the district, taking prisoner the strikebreakers occupying them.
The Governor immediately declared martial law and sent in the militia. When they proved totally inadequate, the President sent in Federal troops at the Governor's request. But the strikers occupied the Bunker Hill and Sullivan concentrator, and threatened to destroy it unless the strikebreakers departed.
Martial law meant military repression of the strike. The Sheriff and Marshal, who had been elected by miners' votes, were removed, and a hated company doctor installed as Sheriff. Four hundred and eighty people were indicted (although none was ever convicted of any crime) and numbers of strikers and sympathizers were arrested and imprisoned in "bull pens"-stockade enclosures. Two mines running with union workers were closed by order of an Army Colonel, ostensibly because union men used them as a meeting place.
The conflict at Coeur d'Alenes erupted again seven years later. When the Governor on that occasion declared an insurrection beyond the power of the state to control, the strike was quelled by the U.S. Army.
The conflicts of 1892 reached far into the South. Early in that year, streetcar drivers in New Orleans had won a reduction in hours from sixteen to twelve. The street railways, however, in an attempt to break the union, quickly discharged sixteen of the workers who had sponsored the twelvehour movement. The workers struck, and the entire city polarized on the issue. On the side of labor-
Sentiment in favor of a sympathetic strike swept the rank and file of other unions, and was checked only by the conservative leaders who took charge of the car-drivers' fight.36
On the side of business, a committee of fifty merchants from the Board of Trade and the commodity and security exchanges- "representing the commercial capital of New Orleans"37 -came to the aid of the railways, denounced the closed shop, and despite the absence of significant violence, appealed to the Governor to send the militia. The leaders of the strike were arrested on conspiracy charges. The issue stalemated, both sides agreed to arbitration, and the workers were finally granted the preferential closed shop.
In the wake of this victory, workers flooded into the A.F.L. unions of the city. Thirty new unions were chartered. A Workingmen's Amalgamated Council with two delegates elected from each of forty-nine unions was established, representing more than 20,000 workers. Most important was the creation of the "Triple-Alliance" of recently organized [URL=/tags/teamsters] Teamsters, Scalesmen, and Packers. These three unions included both white and black members.
They were potentially powerful because they performed the manual labor essential to the commerce of the city.
On October 24th, 1892, at the peak of business, the men of the Triple Alliance struck, demanding a ten-hour day, overtime pay, and a preferential closed shop. The Workingmen's Amalgamated Council thereupon appointed a committee of five from the most conservative unions, including one Negro, to direct the strike. Not one member of the committee came from the striking unions.
The strikers faced the unified opposition of all New Orleans employers. The Board of Trade centralized its decision making in a committee of five merchants, backed by the four railway systems entering New Orleans, the cotton, sugar, and rice exchanges, the clearing house, and mechanics' and dealers' exchanges. It raised a defense fund of several thousand dollars, and pushed for intervention by the militia and the courts. For a week it refused to recognize the existence of the Triple Alliance or to enter negotiations.
The stalemate paralyzed the city. The Labor Committee, "moved to action by the indignation of the rank and file,"38 called a general strike. Under this threat, the unity of employers cracked, and those not yet struck pressured the Board of Trade to negotiate. An agreement to resume work pending a final agreement was reached. But the agreement blew up when many workers did not return to work and others were refused their jobs. There was bitterness on both sides. The employers' position hardened, and they refused to consider arbitration until every striker had returned to work.
The Amalgamated Council again ordered a general strike.
. . . The unions polled their members in heated meetings which generally ratified the strike order. Despite such eagerness for a demonstration of strength, the Labor Committee did all in its power to avoid it.39
The strike was twice postponed, but on November 8th over 20,000 workers walked out. This was only partly a sympathetic strike; each union on strike demanded recognition, a closed shop, and in many cases wage and hour gains for its own men. The strike was joined by such associations of non-industrial workers as musicians and hat, clothing, and shoe clerks. Gas and water workers, electric light trimmers, and other public utility workers had recently been organized with a full understanding of their critical importance. When they joined the strike, the Labor Committee at the behest of the Governor ordered them back, but was twice defied by the workers. Streetcar drivers and printers broke their contracts to join the strike, but the strike was kept from being complete by the continued working of other trades with such agreements. Nevertheless, the strike was highly effective; business came almost to a standstill and bank clearings were cut in half.
Employers moved to break the strike. With the assistance of the railroads, they telegraphed Birmingham, Memphis, Mobile, and Galveston and began bringing in strikebreakers. They pressured the Mayor to call for special deputies, but only fifty-nine citizens responded. They began training their own clerks for riot duty, and offered to pay all the costs of the State militia if the Governor would call it up. Under their pressure, the Governor issued a proclamation ordering citizens not to congregate in crowds, implying that the militia would be called if the strike continued, virtually declaring martial law, and warning labor of possible bloodshed.
The unions, unwilling to stake their existence upon a collision with the militia, decided after three days to bring the strike to an end. An agreement was worked out granting the wage and hour demands of the Triple Alliance, but refusing recognition to the unions. New Orleans continued as an open shop city. Forty-five strike leaders were indicted in Federal court for violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
The New Orleans general strike revealed an extraordinary solidarity. The close cooperation and loyal mutual support of skilled and unskilled, black and white workers suggest that racism was not always insurmountable, even in the deep South. The strike indicates how widespread was labor insurgency in 1892. And it stands as a monument to lost opportunities in the South.
Meanwhile in Tennessee another little-known struggle was culminating. Throughout much of the South, convicts from the state penitentiaries were leased out to politically powerful employers at extremely low rates. An investigation by the Tennessee legislature reported that the branch prisons were "hell holes of rage, cruelty, despair and vice."40 A conservative newspaper added:
Employers of convicts pay so little for their labor that it makes it next to impossible for those who give work to free labor to compete with them in any line of business. As a result, the price paid for labor is based on the price paid convicts.41
Colonel Colyar, the Tennessee Democratic leader and general counsel for the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, an employer of convict labor, wrote:
For some years after we began the convict labor system, we found that we were right in calculating that free laborers would be loath to enter upon strikes when they saw that the company was amply provided with convict labor.42
In the spring of 1891, miners in Briceville, Anderson County, turned down a contract which would forbid strikes against grievances, give up the right to a checkweightman, and provide pay in "scrip" redeemable only to the company store - the last two were illegal under Tennessee law. On July 5th, the operators imported a carload of forty convicts. The convicts tore down the miners' houses and erected stockades for themselves. Ten days later, the miners decided at a mass meeting to act before the main body of convicts arrived the next day. Just after midnight 300 armed miners advanced on the stockade in a massed line, demanding the release of the convicts. The officers and guards realized that resistance was futile. The miners marched convicts, guards, and officers to the depot at Coal Creek and packed them on the train to Knoxville.
The next day the Governor in person came to Anderson County, at the head of three companies of the militia, with the convicts in tow. After the Governor departed, the miners entertained the soldiers in their homes and slipped food into their barracks. The militia requested leaves of absence and one whole detachment nearly deserted. It was generally doubted that the militiamen would have taken any action against the miners. Similarly, according to the State Superintendent of Prisons, "nearly all the citizens of Anderson County around [the] mines are in sympathy with the mob."43
At 6 a.m., on July 20th, miners from the surrounding counties, including some from Kentucky, armed with shotguns, Winchester rifles, and Colt pistols, began pouring into Briceville and Coal Creek, on trains and mules and even on foot. They formed a line and marched on the offending mine, spreading out into the mountain ranges and taking cover behind rocks and trees as they drew close. They sent a committee forward to demand the expulsion of prisoners. When a militia Colonel moved as if to capture the committee, one of its members waved a handkerchief as a signal to the miners, who sprang from cover. The 2,000 armed miners had little difficulty persuading the militia and guards to accompany them to the railroad station with the convicts, and return again to Knoxville. Meanwhile, the Briceville miners marched on another mine and sent guards and convicts packing.
The Governor immediately ordered fourteen companies of militia - 600 men - to Anderson County. The miners were talked into accepting a truce if the Governor would call a special session of the legislature to repeal the convict lease law. The session convened, but the leasing companies were too powerful and nothing resulted. The miners then appealed to the courts for relief, but received none. Therefore, they turned again to direct action.
At a mass meeting on October 28th, 1891, the committee which had represented the miners at the legislature resigned, and leadership was taken by men of a more radical tendency. The miners then held a series of secret meetings to prepare their action. On the evening of October 31st, the miners filed up to the stockade and demanded the release of the prisoners. Officials turned the 163 convicts over to the miners, who set them free. The miners then marched to another mine and released 120 more convicts in the same manner. Two nights later, the miners rode on horseback to the stockade at Oliver Springs, battered down the door with a sledge hammer, and quickly released the convicts. In each case, the stockades were burned to the ground.
For a time it looked as if the miners had won. All available miners were hired full time with their own checkweightman; other objectionable features were removed from their contracts as well.
"Peace and prosperity had descended upon the entire valley from Coal Creek to Briceville."44 But in the middle of December, the Governor announced that the convicts would be sent back into the mine stockades at Briceville, Oliver Springs, and Coal Creek. "Fort Anderson," a permanent military camp, was established, with 175 civil and military guards, surrounding trenches, and a Gatling gun overlooking the valley. The miners deeply resented this virtual military occupation.
The climax of the miners' struggle against the convict lease system came in the summer of 1892. In July, an operator in Tracy City, Grundy County, put regular miners on half time and brought in 360 convicts to work full time. The miners began holding secret meetings. On the morning of August 10th, the miners converged on the convict stockade, overpowered the guards, captured the mines, and put the prisoners on the train to Nashville. The miners then marched to the Inman mine and repeated the same maneuvers.
This triggered renewed conflict in Anderson County. On August 15th, 100 miners marched on the convicts' quarters at Oliver Springs and demanded their release. For the first time the guards, instead of submitting, opened fire on the miners, wounding several. In response, miners from the surrounding area poured into Coal Creek, commandeered two freight trains, and ordered the engineers to Oliver Springs at gunpoint. Bands of fifty to one hundred miners continued to arrive and mass into formation. They marched to the stockade, disarmed the guards, burned the blockhouse, and returned guards and convicts to Knoxville. They then laid seige to the militia at Fort Anderson, firing on it from the surrounding hills. Only when an army of 500 soldiers was organized and marched to Anderson County was the seige relieved. Large numbers of local citizens were arrested and locked up in railroad cars, the school house, and the Methodist church. In the end, nearly all were released by local juries. Although the militia succeeded in crushing the revolt, the convict lease system was thoroughly discredited and was abolished soon thereafter.
The struggles at Homestead, Coeur d'Alenes and Briceville all involved organized, armed resistance by groups of workers to military attack. The New Orleans General Strike revealed an extraordinary solidarity among all races and classes of labor. But these struggles provide only a prelude to the bitterness and unity of the conflicts of 1894. The strikes of 1892 revealed to workers everywhere their own capacity for cooperation and resistance. But 1892 also revealed that struggles by isolated, local groups of workers could be defeated by the superior force of the corporations. In 1894, 750,000 workers struck - more than in any previous year - and half of them did so simultaneously in the overlapping national strikes of miners and railroad workers.
In 1893, the country went into a serious depression. By 1894, Bradstreet's estimated there were three million unemployed in the country; the Mayor of Chicago reported 200,000 in that city alone. Wages were slashed throughout the coal districts of the country. In the Pittsburgh district, for example, the scale fell from seventy-nine to fifty cents or less per ton.45 Miners were cut to part time. Their desperation was indicated by a miner at Minerton, Ohio:
I have never seen as discouraged a set of men as the miners in this neighborhood have been since the last reduction was made. They know it matters not how steady they work they cannot make enough money to keep a small-sized family in the necessary food, and they have concluded that if they are to starve they prefer doing so at once and not by degrees.46
Thus it is not surprising that when the United Mine Workers convention declared a nation-wide "suspension," the New York Times reported from one mining field, "the miners are elated by the action taken by their delegates at Columbus in declaring for a general suspension to go into effect on April 21st."47 The aim of the strike was to end the coal glut, thereby forcing prices up and allowing the operators to raise wages to the old rate.48
The United Mine Workers had no more than 20,000 members, but on April 21st, more than 125,000 miners struck.49 The strike eventually reached from Tacoma, Washington to Birmingham, Alabama, to Springhill, Nova Scotia, including many areas where the U.M.W. had no organization whatever. Andrew Roy, a miners' union official, reports that even "the general officers were surprised at the magnitude of the strike. . . "50 According to the U.M.W., no more than 24,000 bituminous miners remained at work in the entire country.
The extent of the strike made the workers optimistic. After ten days, President McBride of the U.M.W., announced:
Already operators are offering to pay the price asked, and in some instances more than has been demanded to get men to resume work, but the men are true to the orders issued by the National Convention, and refuse to work at any price until a general settlement has been made. . . . Your power having once been demonstrated, you are masters of the situation, and can command anything within reason.51
The miners of Thompson Run, Pennsylvania, illustrate what McBride meant. They were granted an increase of wages and guarded by deputy sheriffs, but nonetheless went out on strike in sympathy with the rest of the miners.52
The miners organized themselves into bands of a few dozen to many thousands, and engaged in widespread direct action which became, at times, virtual guerrilla warfare. They began with marches to spread the strike to unaffected areas. Two thousand miners from Spring Valley, Illinois, headed by two brass bands, marched into La Salle, Illinois, and organized a mass meeting "ad dressed in a dozen languages," to persuade miners there to strike.53 A delegation of Clearfield, Pennsylvania, miners went to West Virginia to induce their fellows to join the strike. At Pomeroy, Ohio, 500 miners chartered a steamboat and started down the river with a brass band, appealing to the miners along the valley in Ohio and West Virginia to join the strike.54
These activities were usually peaceful, until many operators began trying to reopen with strikebreakers, generally under the protection of special deputies. Under these circumstances, the bands of miners developed into what the press called "armies of intimidation."55 The violence of the miners to strikebreakers is easily understood, for they themselves were making the greatest sacrifices for the strike. The miners "have been on short time for two years, and are in poor condition to stand a long lockout," the New York Times reported on the first day of the strike. It added a week later:
The most alarming feature of the strike at present is the extreme destitution among the strikers. It is estimated that fully one-third or more of the families at the various plants are in destitute circumstances, and do not know where their next meal is to come from. Many of them proclaim their circumstances, and boldly announce that they will either have to go to work or steal.56
One center of disturbance was the Connellsville, Pennsylvania, coke region. Strikebreakers were imported early there:
Rainey & Cochran, who own the plants in the Vanderbilt region, say they will work tomorrow, and have asked Sheriff Wilhelm for protection. A large force of deputies was sent to Vanderbilt tonight. Rainey put fifty Italians in his Elm Grove mines yesterday, and will, it is reported, employ Italians at the coke plant if his employees join the strike.57
At Scottsdale, Pennsylvania, a crowd of women marched to the coke ovens determined to drive out strikebreakers. A mine official fired a rifle at them. The striking men thereupon rushed the mine and several were shot. They captured and severely beat the official. The strikers who had been shot were subsequently arrested.58 Another plant was fired up with a large force of men under a strong guard of deputies. An hour later, strikers armed with clubs, stones, and coke forks advanced under cover of darkness and attacked the men at work. The attack was so sudden the deputies were caught by surprise and the strikebreakers fled in terror.59 A few weeks later, when an agent imported blacks from Virginia to Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, to work in Frick's Standard Works, the wives of the strikers caught him and tore out most of his beard.60
Conflict in the coke region culminated in a massacre at a mine that was being operated by strikebreakers under guard of more than fifty deputies. Two thousand strikers from mining camps along the Monongahela and Youghiogheny Rivers assembled near the mine. The New York Times reported them armed with rifles, shotguns, revolvers, and clubs, though this was subsequently denied by strikers.61 Squads of strikers marched up and down the road to the music of brass bands and fifes and drums. Delegations visited the strikebreakers and deputies with messages such as this:
We are fully prepared to resist every attempt to start these mines. We know the workmen here would join the strike if they were not intimidated by armed mercenaries. We are heavily armed and will return bullet for bullet if the deputies fire on us. We are American citizens and demand the protection that is afforded the company.62
Next morning when the strikebreakers, guarded by deputies, marched to the mines, the strikers yelled to them to go home. The strikebreakers turned around and started back, to the cheers of the strikers. Instantly, the deputies rushed out of the mines and began "escorting" the strikebreakers to the mines. When the strikers moved forward a deputy fired-perhaps in the air. "In a moment bullets were flying in all directions." The strikers fled down the road.
The deputies followed closely upon them, and continued firing at them. The narrow defile of the road prevented the strikers from scattering or getting away. . . . The deputies neared the surging mass of men, and continued to shoot directly at them.63
Four of the strikers were killed outright, an unknown number wounded. Sixty-six strikers were captured, and one hundred fifty were in jail by the next day.64 The New York Times reported from the coke region:
The prospect of a speedy settlement of the strike by peaceable means has been swept away by the riot at the Washington Run mines. The news of the killing of strikers has caused the men to become very angry. . . . The leaders realize the danger of an outbreak in any part of the region and are doing all in their power to hold the men in check. Numerous appeals were issued from headquarters today to the men to abstain from violence and to keep within the bounds of the law. . . . The leaders themselves now admit their inability to control the angry strikers. . . .65
In Spring Valley, Illinois, about 200 striking miners marched on a mine and drove out the strikebreakers. "A battle with clubs and stones ensued."66 The strikers banked the fires and nailed up the entrances to the mines. Fifty deputies charged the strikers and captured one of the "ringleaders." "The mob followed the deputies to the jail, and, after breaking down the door, liberated their fellow-striker. "67
At La Salle, Illinois, strikers held a mass meeting, then proceeded to the La Salle mine and engaged in a gun battle with the Sheriff and his deputies. Running out of ammunition, the deputies fled. Three of them were shot, the rest beaten. Having driven them off, the crowd occupied the town. When they learned that two of their numbers had been taken prisoner they marched on the jail, forcing the Mayor to release them.68 The Sheriff wired Governor Altgeld for the militia, concluding, "Mob surrounding hotel where I am wounded."69 A day later troops arrived. They intercepted 250 miners who had captured a railroad train at Ladd and were passing through La Salle on the way to Ottawa to release miners imprisoned there.70
At Duquoin, Illinois, 700 miners captured a freight train and forced the engineer to take them to Centralia, where they sabotaged a mine that had begun work there. "The shaft was filled with loose material, the belting on the machinery was cut, and the oil cups knocked from all the shafting."71 The militia was sent in and at least eighty-eight men were arrested.
The bands of strikers ranged over considerable area. At Coal Bluff, Indiana, 5,000 miners at a mass meeting decided to march e masse to Pana, Illinois, to force miners there to quit. That same day at Grant, Indiana, 1,000 men captured a freight train and took it to Terre Haute, on their way to Pana for the same purpose.
Of course, violence was by no means always necessary to persuade strikebreakers to quit. When the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad ordered its shopmen and its Italian trackmen to replace the striking miners, they refused and were fired.72 At the Elm Grove mines near Wheeling, West Virginia, the operators imported four lots of strikebreakers, only to have them quit one after another.
Whenever it proved impossible to prevent the mining of coal, the miners turned to blockading coal trains as a way to enforce the suspension. At Oglesby, Illinois, strikers piled rails across the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad in front of a coal train, causing a wreck.73 At Minonk, Illinois, miners put ties, bolts and the like across the tracks and forbade the passage of coal cars. Governor Altgeld sent in the militia; he was also appealed to for arms, but reported he had none left.74 Strikers at Shelburne, Indiana, stopped and examined all trains passing through. "If no coal was found, the trains were allowed to proceed; but when coal was found the cars were sidetracked."75 At Fontanet, women took over the coal chutes on the Big Four Railroad and refused to let the company fuel its engines.76 At Lyford, miners climbed on coal cars and set the brakes.77 Governor Matthews called out the Indiana National Guard to enforce the passage of trains through Cannellsburg.78 At Jackson, Ohio, 5,000 miners held a mass meeting to decide how to prevent passage of coal. They paraded the town with half-a-dozen bands. "Communications from the various railroads were read, many of which were to the effect that the railroads will not haul any more non-union coal."79 At Martin's Ferry, Ohio, strikers burned two railroad bridges. "They had prepared a stone as large as an engine tender at Barton tunnel to drop on a coal train should it succeed in passing the miners' fort."80 Striking miners from Will and Grundy Counties in Illinois burned a bridge near Carbon "as a warning to the company to stop transferring coal."81
Miners at Terre Haute, Indiana, were stopped from blockading coal trains by the arrival of the militia. When the militia moved to another town, they resumed searching trains. "Their policy now is to stop the trains whenever the militia is not present, and, if the militia is sent to where they are, they will congregate at another point on the road."82
At Salineville, Ohio, 500 miners captured a coal train that had been released by troops earlier in the day. They soaped the tracks so that the train could get no traction, backed it onto a siding, and spiked the switch. "Within an hour the coal was scattered all over the ground and the cars were empty."83 In the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia, miners burned a drum house and trestle at a working mine, stopped all traffic on one local railroad, and dynamited a railroad bridge. Another railroad simply gave up hauling coal.84
In all, the militia was called out in at least five states. At Ensley, Alabama, fifteen companies were encamped, but the strikers found new allies as well: "Several hundred idle mechanics and other laborers in Birmingham contemplate going to the Pratt Mines and encamping there, so as to be on hand to aid the miners in case of a conflict with the troops."85
But elsewhere the militia was effective in breaking the strikers', spirit. From Indiana a journalist reported, "The formidable force of militia has awed the strikers."86 Another wrote from Maryland:
The coming of the militia had a most satisfactory effect on the strikers at all the mines. The men seem to realize that unless they at once resume work new help will be employed to fill their places. At the Eckhart Mine, guarded by three companies of the Fifth Regiment, seventy-five men went to work this morning. . . . The outlook for the return of all the strikers under guard of the militia is exceedingly good.87
When the strikers interfered with trains, the United States government entered the fray. On May 28th, a railroad lawyer arrived in Terre Haute with a restraining order from a U.S. Judge forbidding the blocking of trains. This allowed the U.S. Marshal to organize a force against the strikers. "The power of the Federal government being behind the writ, all the force necessary to move the train will be used."88 A week later, the U.S. Marshal at Chicago went with a large body of deputies to Coal City and Streator to enforce an injunction against blockading trains on railroads under Federal receivership.89
Coal shortages quickly appeared. By April 28th, for example, the Colebrook furnaces in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, were banked for want of coal.90 "It will not be long," McBride remarked April 30th, "until there will not be coal enough left in the general market to boil a tea kettle with."91 From Bellaire, Ohio, it was reported on May 5th that nine blast furnaces and four steel plants and nail mills in the area were closed for want of coal.92 The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company "seized for the road's use all soft coal in transit to customers."93 On the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad, many of the engines were reduced to burning wood instead of coaI.94 In Des Moines, Iowa, the water works of the city were shut down for lack of coal to run them.95 All departments but one of the great Edgar Thomson Steel Works in Braddock, Pennsylvania, closed down for lack of iron and coal.96 In St. Louis, by May 24th the coal dealers were simply unable to fill orders in many cases; all but five of the city's flour mills were shut down for want of coal, and the five still in operation were burning wood.97 The Philadelphia and Erie Railroad was forced to switch to anthracite coal. The Missouri River steamers switched to wood. By May 27th, the railroads were reported confiscating "all the coal in sight."98 In Lincoln, Illinois, the electric streetcars were obliged to stop running,99 and local coal dealers at Carthage reported that it was almost impossible to get coal.100
As the strike kept on week after week, the condition of the miners grew severe. From Minonk, Illinois, the New York Times reported on May 30th-
The miners say their wives and children are at the point of starvation. They are subsisting mainly on dandelions, but have no flour, meat or other provisions.101
Despite starvation conditions, the workers held out bitterly.
When union officials accepted a new scale below the old one, large numbers of miners continued the strike anyway. A mass meeting of miners near Camden, Pennsylvania, on June 13th, voted unanimously that the new rate was unacceptable. From Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the miners were reported "indignant at the settlement." At Glenroy, Ohio, 2,000 miners met and decided to continue the strike. At Bellaire, Ohio, the miners said "they will starve before accepting the sixty-cent rate decided on at Columbus." At Spring Valley, Illinois, a mass meeting adopted resolutions "denouncing the action of the convention and calling upon the executive officers to resign." A mass meeting at La Salle resolved to accept nothing less than a return to the previous scale.102
But the strikers were defeated in the end by their inability to make the strike universal. As Andrew Roy wrote, "vast train-loads of coal from the anthracite fields of Pennsylvania, the New River and Pocahontas fields of West and Old Virginia (whose miners had not suspended work) were being poured into the markets which the suspension had been inaugurated to deplete."103 In Fairmont, West Virginia,
The leading mine operators in this section state that over 200% more coal is being mined in the valley between this place and Clarksburg than was ever mined before. Large numbers of miners are flooding in and every pit is being worked to its full capacity. Over 3,500 men are now at work, where a month ago there were only about 1,200.104
Under such conditions, the strike was finally defeated, and after more than two months the starving miners returned to work.
Simultaneously with the coal suspension, strikes had spread among the metal miners. The iron mines of the Eastern Mesaba Range in Minnesota were closed by strikes on May 2nd. "An armed gang of 300 foreign miners. . . marched through the streets of Iron Mountain. . . forced the miners in the Iron Mountain and Rathbone Mines to stop work and join .their ranks, and also stopped work in White & McDevitt's saw mill. The rioters declare that work in all industries must cease. Fifty deputy sheriffs have been sworn in."105 Two days later, thirty armed miners marched to Iron Mountain and prevented the opening of mines there.106
Especially dramatic was the conflict at Cripple Creek, Colorado. Some mine-owners there had tried to lengthen the working day from eight to ten hours; the workers at various mines replied by organizing a union and declaring that all mines would have to adopt eight hours by February 7th, 1894. In response, the largest mines shifted to ten hours, and the men walked out. After a month of quiet, tension began to rise as some of the mines reopened with strikebreakers guarded by armed deputies. The District Court Judge issued an injunction against interfering with the operation of the mines, and the president of the union was arrested for violating the injunction.
The mine-owners now pledged money and arms to the county if it would enroll a large body of deputies to protect the opening of the mines. The county commissioners accepted the offer, and Sheriff Bowers soon recruited and imported an army of 1,200 men.107
The strikers in turn organized on a military basis, establishing a headquarters and camp on Bull Hill under direction of a miner with three years' training at West Point. Taking the initiative, the miners marched under the noses of the deputies and cut them off from a number of the mines. Next they attacked and captured without bloodshed the Strong mine, which was guarded by a squad of deputies, confiscating their arms and ammunition. Early next morning, the strikers tried to raid the deputies' camp to obtain more guns and ammunition; one deputy and one striker were killed in the battle that followed.108
Meanwhile, groups of armed men were forming in mining towns throughout Colorado, planning to march to Cripple Creek to support the strikers. At Rico, for instance, a hundred fully armed men seized a train and rode 100 miles toward Cripple Creek before they were stopped. In Colorado Springs, the mine-owners' citadel, rumors were widely believed that the city was about to be attacked.
The Populist Governor of the state finally negotiated a settlement establishing the eight-hour day, but the army of deputies remained in Cripple Creek.109 Only by sending the militia and interposing them between the strikers and the deputies was a new engagement prevented. Under militia guard, work began again, but it was only a truce. In less than ten years, Cripple Creek and Colorado would again be the center of a bloody mine. war.
The wage cuts and layoffs of the depression of the midnineties extended far beyond the miners. An extreme example of the prevalent wage cuts occurred at the works of the Pullman Palace Car Company at Pullman, Illinois. The entire town - land, houses, stores, churches, and all-was owned by George Pullman.
Rents were deducted from wages by the company, and were unreduced as wages fell. The result, according to the minister of the Pullman Methodist-Episcopal Church was that
After deducting rent the men invariably had only from one to six dollars or so on which to live for two weeks. One man has a pay check in his possession of two cents after paying rent. . . . He has it framed.110
During March and April, 1894, a majority of the workers at Pullman joined a new organization called the American Railway Union, which had started at the beginning of the depression. The Pullman employees, although not railroad workers, were able to join because Pullman owned a few miles of railroad, and anyone who worked for a railroad company - even a coal miner or longshoreman - was eligible. Indeed, the whole purpose of the A.R.U. was to overcome the disunity among railroad workers by uniting them - and eventually all labor - into a single organization. As its president, Eugene Victor Debs, put it,
The forces of labor must unite. The dividing lines must grow dimmer day by day until they become unperceptible, and then labor's hosts, marshalled under one conquering banner, shall march together, vote together and fight together, until working men shall receive and enjoy all the fruits of their toil.111
(Despite this objective the A.R.U. maintained the railroad brotherhoods' traditional principle of including only white workers, with the consequence that some blacks gladly took railroad jobs during the great strike. That, however, did not prevent Chicago blacks from taking part in the movement to the extent of tipping over railroad cars in their own neighborhoods.112
The first major event in which the A.R.U. was involved was a strike on the Great Northern Railroad, controlled by James J. Hill. Three times within a year the Great Northern had cut wages; three times the officers of the railroad brotherhoods had recommended that the men accept the cuts.113 Disgusted, a number of the men had joined the A.R.U. Under its rules - in contrast to those of the brotherhoods - a strike could be called by a majority of members on the railroad line involved.
After the third wage cut, the A.R.U. members on the Great Northern declared a strike - although the A.R.U. was so new that not a single lodge had as yet been organized.114 The strike was supported not only by A.R. U. members, but by a great many other workers, including even the rank and file of the railroad brotherhoods. Even though brotherhood officials helped the company recruit strikebreakers to run the trains, the strike stopped all freight traffic on the line without recourse to blockade. Within little more than two weeks, the company was forced to accept an arbitration decision that was practically a complete victory for the workers.
The victory over Jim Hill in 1894 had much the same results for the A.R.U. that the victory over Jay Gould had had for the Knights of Labor in 1885. Coming in the midst of rising discontent and a series of defeats, the victory dramatized for workers everywhere the possibility and power of solidarity. Workers flooded into the A.R.U. According to Ray Ginger, Debs' biographer,
The officers were unable to pass out charters fast enough to keep pace with the applications. Entire lodges of the Railway Carmen and the Switchmen transferred to the A.R.U. Firemen, conductors, even engineers, joined the industrial union. But the great majority of recruits came from previously unorganized men who had been unable to meet the high monthly dues of the Brotherhoods. [Indeed, a large proportion of them were not even eligible for membership in the restricted Brotherhoods.] The unskilled workers had been unprotected, underpaid, exploited; now the dikes snapped and a reservoir of bitterness and hope drove men pell-mell into the American Railway Union. . . The officials did not have to coax or persuade; their main job was to sign cards and issue charters.115
Within a year, the A.R.U. had 150,000 members, more than all the old brotherhoods together and only 25,000 fewer than the entire A.F.L.116 The new spirit of unity that imbued the railroad workers was revealed when the auditing clerks on one Western railroad wanted to organize, but were told by the company that any clerk joining the A.R. U. would be fired on the spot. The switchmen called on the manager and warned him not to threaten the clerks. "During a grave depression, when unemployed men stood on every street corner, such action seemed suicidal, but the switchmen made it stick, and for the first time a railroad office was filled with union men."117 This spirit was what made possible the great Pullman boycott of 1894.
The workers at Pullman sent a grievance committee to visit the manager. When three members of the committee were fired on May 10th, sentiment for a strike reached a fever pitch. At an all night session of the grievance committee, two top A.R.U. officials strongly advised against a strike and Debs wired caution, but "Howard's oratory, Keliher's ebullient charm, and Debs' influence all went for nothing."118 The committee voted unanimously to strike. The strikers held open meetings daily at which reports of committees were given and matters of policy decided; a central strike committee with representatives of each local union directed the strike. Three hundred strikers guarded the Pullman works day and night. The strike was a desperation move. As a strike spokesman put it:
We do not expect the company to concede our demands. We do not know what the outcome will be, and in fact we do not care much. We do know we are working for less wages than will maintain ourselves and our families in the necessaries of life, and on that proposition we absolutely refuse to work any longer.119
A month after the strike began, the American Railway Union held its first regular convention. The workers at Pullman appealed to the convention for aid. For the 400 delegates, many of whom had visited Pullman, the issue became symbolic of everything they hated - the poverty of the workers, the arrogance of George Pullman, and the overwhelming power of the corporation. According to Ginger,
Debs now used every rein of control in the hands of a chairman. His shrewdness, his eloquence, his influence, were all thrown into battle against headstrong action, and, in the end, they all went for nothing. The entire hall was filled with muffled, bitter comments: George Pullman had gone too far. It was time to show the bloodsucker. The A.R.U. should boycott all Pullman cars, not move a single sleeper until Pullman settled with his workers. . . . Finally one man spoke for dozens of men: A boycott against Pullman cars should be declared immediately. Debs, in his calmest voice, refused to entertain the motion. . . . Above everything else, he wanted to avoid a boycott on Pullman cars.120
The leadership of the union did everything possible to avoid a sympathetic strike. But when Pullman refused arbitration, saying there was "nothing to arbitrate,"121 and even to arbitrate whether there was anything to arbitrate, a committee of the A.R.U. convention urged that a boycott of Pullman cars be instituted. When the delegates wired home for instructions they found sentiment overwhelmingly in favor of the plan, and they voted unanimously to apply it.
Of course, it was not solely sympathy for the workers at Pullman that led the railroad workers to such an extraordinary decision. Debs himself put clearly the reasons for this sudden development of solidarity. The railroad employees had lost confidence in the Brotherhoods because they "had failed, in a single instance, to successfully resist" the wage cuts gradually sweeping the country. All of the delegates, therefore, came to the A.R.U. convention expecting to act to -
restore their wages and to protect them in their rights and wages as employees. This is the reason that they were so ripe to espouse the cause of the injured Pullman employees. . . . While the injuries and grievances of the Pullman employees appealed to their sense of justice and to their sense of duty for redress, these further grievances of their own made the matter more binding upon them. . . to do everything in their power to protect the Pullman employees, as well as their constituents. . . .122
The testimony of workers from around the country gives a picture of those grievances. At La Salle, 100 miles west of Chicago, the workers had voted to strike even before the Pullman boycott was called, to protest the firing of A.R.U. members.123 At Des Moines, Iowa, the main grievance was "the radical change in the rules of the company concerning promotion and priority," putting extra workers on the employment rolls and using the surplus to drive down wages and forestall strikes.124 At Rock Island, "some six or seven. . . men were discharged, which caused a very restless feeling among the men . . . and when it was learned that switchmen on the Rock Island had been discharged as members of the A.R.U., for refusing to handle Pullman cars, they took a vote in the local union and decided to take the same stand the members of the union did in Chicago."125 On the Grand Trunk railroad one official "would get so drunk he did not know anything and then go around and dictate to men that did know their business. . . " while another would "pry into the affairs of the men and. . . cut the force down to such an extent that a man was dogged around and chased around as though he was not human in order to get the work done." In addition, the Grand Trunk used inexperienced road officials to do switching while laying off regular switchmen.126 On the B&O, the complaints were "favoritism, pets, and maladministration of some of the petty officers."127 On the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago, engineers and foremen were deprived of paid dinner hours they had won in a previous agreement.128 One fireman summarized:
"there was a feeling among railroad men in general that I had occasion to meet that there was going to be a reduction of wages on nearly every road throughout the country. . . . In a large number of roads there was a feeling among the employees that they were almost in a helpless condition to stand against the oppression of the petty officials, and the petty officials took advantage of that feeling and deviled the men. . . "129
The boycott began on June 26th, 1894, when switchmen on a number of lines out of Chicago refused to switch Pullman cars. They were instantly fired, leading other workers on the lines to walk off in protest. Two days later, four or five Chicago railroads were stopped, with 18,000 men on strike. This was what Debs and the other A.R. U. officials had expected; but they were greatly surprised as committees and groups of railroad workers from all over started appearing at the strike headquarters, announcing that their local unions had decided to strike in support of the Pullman workers.130 Soon virtually all twenty-six roads out of Chicago were paralyzed, and all transcontinental lines except the Great Northern - which carried no Pullman cars - were stopped. The struggle extended to twenty-seven states and territories. An estimated 260,000 railroad workers, nearly half of them not members of the A.R. U., joined the strike; Bradstreet's estimated that 500,000 were out of work because of the strike.
Coming at the same time as the coal strike, the Pullman boycott represented a social crisis of the first order. The New York Times saw in it "the greatest battle between labor and capital that has ever been inaugurated in the United States."131 By July 3rd, the Chicago Tribune declared that the strike had attained the "dignity of an insurrection."132
Direction of the action moved on two levels. The A.R.U. convention had left the conduct of the strike in charge of its President Eugene Debs and its executive board. They rapidly set up a strike headquarters and threw themselves wholeheartedly into the strike in Chicago. These officials articulated the strikers' position, formulated aims, counselled non-violence, held daily mass meetings in Chicago, and sent out hundreds of telegrams a day encouraging the strikers. Operational control, however, rested in the strike committees that sprang up within each body of strikers. As Debs explained it, "The committees came from all yards and from all roads to confer with us. The switchmen, for instance, would send a committee to us, and we would authorize that committee to act for that yard or for that road, and that committee would then go to that yard and take charge of the affairs."133 The A.R.U. officials consulted daily with these committees in shaping strike decisions. The committees also served in part to contain the strike within the limits set by the leadership, although this was by no means always the case; for example, when the Mobile and Ohio Railroad offered not to run Pullman cars, the A.R.U. advised the workers there to call off their strike, but they refused because they felt it would weaken the unity of the strike.134 This informal structure of strike committees allowed the coordination of the strike over a vast area of the country despite the lack of organized preparations.
The conflict rapidly came to be understood as a general struggle between all workers and the corporations as a whole. The General Managers' Association, which represented the twenty-six Chicago railroads, served as a general staff for management, planning strategy, recruiting strikebreakers, and using its enormous power to influence public opinion and the government. As Debs wrote in an appeal to the railroad workers of America to support the strike,
The struggle with the Pullman Company has developed into a contest between the producing classes and the money power of the country. . . . The fight was between the American Railway Union and the Pullman Company. The American Railway Union resolved that its members would refuse to handle Pullman cars and equipment. Then the railway corporations, through the General Managers' Association, came to the rescue, and in a series of whereases declared to the world that they would go into partnership with Pullman, so to speak, and stand by him in his devilish work of starving his employees to death. The American Railway Union accepted the gage of war, and thus the contest is now on between the railway corporations united solidly upon the one hand and the labor forces on the other. . . .135
The strike was effective beyond anyone's expectation. For the week ending June 30th, 1894, ten trunk-line railroads out of Chicago carried 42,892 tons of eastbound freight; for the week ending July 7th they carried only 11,600; the Baltimore and Ohio carried fifty-two tons and the Big Four Railroad carried not one ton.136
As Debs wrote later, the strike was won as far as beating the railroad companies was concerned; "the combined corporations were paralyzed and helpless."137 Even John Egan' of the General Managers' Association admitted by July 2nd that the railroads had been "fought to a standstill."138
But by June 30th the legal committee of the G.M.A. had worked out detailed plans to bring a power against the workers which the A.R.U. had not reckoned on - the United States government. According to Almont Lindsey's careful study, The Pullman Strike:
A vital part of the strategy of the association was to draw the United States government into the struggle and then to make it appear that the battle was no longer between the workers and the railroads but between the workers and the government. . . it was the policy of the roads not to alleviate the inconvenience in transportation but rather to aggravate this condition wherever possible, in order to arouse the anger of the travelling public and thus hasten action by the federal authorities.139
In line with this policy, John Egan of the G.M.A. on July 2nd called for the use of Federal troops, since there was no "other recourse left." With these troops, "the strike would collapse like a punctured balloon. It is the government's duty to take this business in hand, restore law, suppress the riots, and restore to the public the service it is now deprived of by conspirators and lawless men."140
President Cleveland and his Attorney General, Richard Olney, were more than happy to use the force of the U.S. government to crush the strike. Olney, for thirty-five years a railroad lawyer and still a director of several railroads (including one involved in the boycott) considered the strike an attack on railroad property and corporate control. The administration decided to break the strike in Chicago, for, as Olney confided to a trusted agent there, "if the rights of the United States were vigorously asserted in Chicago, the origin and center of the demonstration, the result would be to make it a failure everywhere else and to prevent its spread over the entire country."141 Grover Cleveland concurred in this strategy; as he wrote years later-
It was from the first anticipated that [Chicago] would be the seat of the most serious complications, and the place where the strong arm of the law would be needed. In these circumstances, it would have been criminal neglect of duty if those charged with the protection of governmental agencies and the enforcement of orderly obedience and submission to federal authority, had been remiss in preparations for an emergency in that quarter.142
Olney's first move was to appoint Edwin Walker, a member of the G.M.A.'s legal committee and general counsel for one of the struck railways, a special Federal Attorney in Chicago. His next was to secure a blanket injunction forbidding all strike activities- even attempting by persuasion to induce an employee to abandon his job.143 Soon such blanket injunctions covered the country from Michigan to California, putting all strike supporters in contempt of court. One of the judges issuing the first injunction proudly called it a "Gatling gun on paper."144
As the editor of the Chicago Times observed, "the object of the injunction is not so much to prevent interference with the trains as to lay a foundation for calling out the United States troops."145
On July 2nd, the Federal Marshal in Chicago read the injunction to a jeering crowd outside Chicago; the crowd responded by dragging baggage cars across the tracks to prevent the passage of trains. The next day he wired Olney, warning that a general strike was expected and saying, "1 am unable to disperse the mob, clear the tracks, or arrest the men who were engaged in the acts named, and believe that no force less than the regular troops of the United States can procure the passage of the mail trains or enforce the orders of the court."146 Over the protest of Governor Altgeld of Illinois, Federal troops marched into Chicago. Attorney General Olney told reporters, "We have been brought to the ragged edge of anarchy and it is time to see whether the law is sufficiently strong to prevent this condition of affairs."147
Until Federal troops arrived, the strike in Chicago had been extraordinarily peaceful. Debs and the other A.R.U. officials had told the workers that violence would play into the hands of the companies, and that the strike could be won simply by the refusal of the railroad workers to work. With the U.S. Army on the scene to break the strike, however, such a peaceful victory was no longer possible, and the popular mood shifted rapidly. As an A.R.U. official testified later, "the people of America have been treated so unfairly - I do not speak of myself, but from the experience we had in going through the country - that the very sight of a blue coat arouses their anger; they feel it is another instrument of oppression that has come, and they are liable to do things they would not do if the blue coats were kept away."148 The prevailing atmosphere is suggested by Debs' statement when troops were sent in:
The first shot fired by the regular soldiers at the mobs here will be the signal for a civil war. I believe this as firmly as I believe in the ultimate success of our course. Bloodshed will follow, and 90% of the people of the U.S. will be arrayed against the other 10%. And I would not care to be arrayed against the laboring people in the contest, or find myself out of the ranks of labor when the struggle ended. I do not say this as an alarmist, but calmly and thoughtfully.149
General Nelson Miles, commander of the U.S. troops in Chicago, likewise believed there was danger that the civil government and authority of the United States would be paralyzed, if not overthrown, as a result of the conflict.150
Violent confrontation did in fact follow the arrival on July 4th of U.S. troops in Chicago. That night, crowds began to gather on railroad property, overturning boxcars and resisting authority.
They were not composed of railroad workers, but of the most depressed part of the working class - immigrants, unemployed, unskilled. Next day the crowds grew, throwing switches, changing signal lights, blocking tracks with toppled boxcars. The largest crowd, numbering 10,000, started at the stockyards and moved slowly eastward all day along the Rock Island Line. The general sentiment was caught by a crowd that marched through railroad yards calling out workers, yelling that it was a "fight between labor and capital, and they must come out."151 That night a great fire broke out, destroying seven structures at the World's Columbian Exposition, while at many other points railroad cars were fired.
Next morning, a railroad agent on the Illinois Central shot two members of a crowd. The crowd retaliated by burning the yards. The action spread to other lines, peaking that night when the crowd destroyed 700 cars at the Panhandle yards in South Chicago. In one day, the crowds destroyed railroad property valued at $340,000.
The total armed forces occupying Chicago, including Federal troops, state militia, and deputy marshals hired and paid by the railroads, reached 14,000. In the course of the intermittent warfare, thirteen people were killed and fifty-three seriously wounded. Nonetheless, the strike remained firm. The Associated Press reported on July 6th:
Despite the presence of the United States troops and the mobilization of five regiments of state militia; despite threats of martial law and bullet and bayonet, the great strike inaugurated by the American Railway Union holds three-fourths of the roads running out of Chicago in its strong fetters, and last night traffic was more fully paralyzed than at any time since the inception of the tie up.152
Meanwhile, the conflict spread across the country.
In Trinidad, Colorado, on July 1st, a large crowd captured and disarmed forty-two deputy marshalls coming into town to break the strike on the Santa Fe. Next morning, without even consulting the Populist Governor of the state, the President ordered up five companies of U.S. troops from Fort Logan. The troops cleared the tracks and protected the deputy marshals as they arrested forty-eight "ringleaders" who had made "incendiary speeches" at a meeting of the strikers. The deputy U.S. marshals were instructed to arrest without warrants anyone trying to induce railroad employees to quit, and to ignore opposition from local magistrates and officials, arresting them if they tried to intervene. This, charged Populist Governor David Waite, "allowed the U.S. Marshal to enlist a private army to suppress alleged state troubles. . . waging an active war in Colorado without any declaration thereof by the U.S. . . . and utterly in violation of law."153
The center of resistance on the Santa Fe next shifted to Raton, New Mexico, where 500 members of the A.R.U. lodge were supported by the County Sheriff and 300 striking coal miners, many of them armed. The U.S. Marshal and eighty-five deputies entered Raton with instructions to arrest the Sheriff if he interfered. They were met with such hatred in the town that hotel workers quit rather than serve them, and the hotels were thereafter staffed with deputy marshals. Meanwhile, a crowd at the little mining town of Blassburg, three miles above Raton, launched sixteen cars down the grade, crashing in Raton and blocking the tracks. Even after the Tenth Infantry arrived, the railroads were unable to move trains because of insufficient crews.
In California, public hostility toward the railroad monopolies was so great that the special Federal Attorney at Los Angeles warned Olney that he believed open rebellion an imminent possibility.154 Five companies of California militia assembled at their armory and declared their sympathy for the strike. Troops were ordered into Los Angeles following a coded report from the U.S. Attorney that heavily-armed strike sympathizers were pouring into town, and that in enforcing the injunction the U.S. government might encounter resistance from 5,000 armed men.155 The strike was finally broken in the Los Angeles vicinity by putting a detachment of troops on each train.
Meanwhile, a large number of railroad workers at Sacramento joined the strike, while hundreds more poured in from up and down the lines - including a large, heavily-armed party aboard a train they had seized at Dunsmuir. When the U.S. Marshal and his deputies tried to protect a mail train containing Pullman cars, the strikers manhandled him and disconnected the train. He then called in two regiments of the state militia, some of whom simply deserted from the ranks in open defiance of orders, while the rest were unwilling to charge or fire out of sympathy for the strikers.
Finally 542 Federal soldiers were landed in Sacramento by boat, where they cleared the railroads with fixed bayonets.
Similarly, at Oakland a large crowd occupied the railroad yards, "killing" engines and leaving them to block the tracks. When 370 sailors and marines were landed, the wives and mothers of the strikers organized a Ladies' Relief Organization and turned a local hall into a hospital, in anticipation of a battle that never occurred.
The struggle spread with great popular support throughout the Western states of Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and Montana. In Rawling, Wyoming, the city authorities ordered all deputy marshals combatting the strike out of town. At Ogden, Utah, the strikers completely controlled the western terminal of the Union Pacific, uncoupling Pullman cars by force when necessary. They defied the U.S. Marshal, who was able to raise only a small force of deputies, and was afraid to make arrests lest he provoke a riot.
When word came that Federal troops were soon to arrive, fires were set simultaneously in seven different parts of the city. Railroad bridges were burned at Carlin, Nevada. The Great Northern, which used no Pullman cars, was the only transcontinental railroad not on strike, but when the Army planned to move troops to Helena, Montana, on it, the workers threatened to strike. The order was withdrawn.
At Dubuque and Sioux City, Iowa, switches were spiked and tracks obstructed until the Governor sent six militia companies into the latter. At Hammond, Indiana, the strikers sidetracked all Pullman cars despite the resistance of the Sheriff, the Federal Marshal, and their deputies. Large crowds ranged over the tracks attacking strikebreakers, derailing trains, and seizing a telegraph office to prevent an appeal for the militia. On July 8th, State militia and Federal soldiers both arrived in Hammond and cleared the tracks by firing indiscriminately into the crowd. "I would like to know," demanded the Mayor, "by what authority U.S. troops come in here and shoot our citizens without the slightest warning."156 In Duluth, dock workers struck in sympathy with the Pullman workers.157 At Spring Valley, Illinois, striking miners provided the resistance; when a crowd stoned a train guarded by Federal soldiers, the troops fired on them, killing two and wounding several. By the end of the Pullman strike, an estimated thirty-four people had been killed, and Federal or state troops had been called out in Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, Oklahoma, California, and Illinois.158 General Miles maintained that only Federal troops had saved the country "from a serious rebellion."159
Meanwhile, the U.S. government proceeded systematically with its plan to break the strike in Chicago. On July 10th, Debs was arrested for conspiracy. The A.R.U. office was ransacked by Federal Marshals, who seized all books and papers in a manner even the Department of Justice later admitted was illegal. The blockade out of Chicago was finally broken by sending trains, each escorted by forty deputy marshals and a contingent of U.S. troops, along the various lines. The east-bound freight on the ten trunk lines out of Chicago, which had fallen to 4,142 tons for the week ending July 14th, had risen to 29,146 tons by the following week.160 As the United States Strike Commission which later investigated the conflict wrote,
The action of the courts deprived the A.R.U. of leadership, enabled the General Managers' Association to disintegrate its forces, and to make inroads into its ranks. The mobs had worn out their fury, or had succumbed to the combined forces of the police, the U.S. troops and marshals, and the State militia.161
Besides the government, the General Managers' Association had another powerful ally - the old railroad brotherhoods. When 400 engineers had struck on the Wabash, the head of their union denounced them and announced that unemployed engineers would be permitted to serve as strikebreakers. The union head even went so far as to recommend particular men to replace striking engineers. The chief of the Conductors took the same stand. The Brotherhood of Trainmen instructed its members to "perform their regular duties."162 Its head declared, "The triumph of this railroad strike would be the triumph of anarchy."163 It is no surprise that Everett St. John, Chairman of the General Managers' Association and himself general manager of the Rock Island line, testified
We have always gotten along comfortably well-in fact, in a very satisfactory manner-with the old orders as they exist.164
At the last moment, the strike was almost given a reprieve by the workers of Chicago. They supported the strikers passionately. Newsboys, for example, dropped newspapers which opposed the boycott into the sewers.165 On June 30th, the Trades and Labor Assembly had pledged the strength of its 150,000 members in support of the strike. It sent a committee to tell the A.R.U. that, if necessary, every union member in Chicago would strike in sympathy, but Debs at that point considered the idea too extreme.
Nonetheless, as the conflict deepened, pressures for a general strike continued to build. July 7th, the Building and Trades Council, representing 25,000 members, voted unanimously for a sympathetic strike and called for a nationwide general strike. Next day delegates from 100 Chicago unions met to decide on a strike. While working-class sentiments overwhelmingly supported such a move, many union officials objected because it would violate existing contracts with employers. But when the delegates heard that President Cleveland had issued a proclamation seeming to put Chicago virtually under martial law, and declaring that resistors would be considered "public enemies," all opposition to a general strike dissolved. Pullman was to be given until July 10th, however, to accept arbitration before the strike went into effect. This delay proved fatal, for by July 11th, Debs and the other A.R.U. officials had been arrested, the military was in complete control of the city, and the strike was clearly doomed to defeat. The result was that only about 25,000 non-railroad workers joined the strike in Chicago.166
On the demand of the Chicago unions, A.F.L. head Samuel Gompers came to Chicago, calling in as well twenty-four other national trade union officials for a conference at the Briggs House.
During the first session a committee from the Cigar Makers' Union of Chicago argued that because the struggle of the A.R.U. concerned the well-being of all workers and therefore required the complete solidarity of all labor, the conference should call for a nationwide general strike to force Pullman to arbitrate. Debs likewise suggested that a general strike be called if the railroad strikers were not permitted to return to their jobs. But the A.F.L. leaders were hostile to sympathy strikes on principle, opposed to the industrial unionism of the A. R.U., and allied with the railroad brotherhoods that opposed the strike. They believed that a head-on struggle between labor and capital should be avoided at all costs. Instead of appealing for a general strike, they recommended $1,000 be given for Debs' legal defense and went home.167 When the Chicago Building Trades Council called off its sympathetic strike in the wake of this decision, the Chicago Tribune declared jubilantly:
DEBS' STRIKE DEAD
It is Dealt Two Mortal Blows by Labor
Federation Hits First
Trades Council Follows with a Crusher168
It is little wonder that the United States Strike Commission of 1894 declared that trade unions "have promoted conciliation, arbitration, conservatism, and responsibility in labor contentions and agreements."169
How close at hand was a general strike? A number of locals in Chicago had already struck, and the Trades and Labor Assembly had come out for the idea. The Briggs House Conference statement said, "While we may not have the power to order a strike of the working people of our country, we are fully aware that a recommendation from this conference to them to lay down their tools of labor would largely influence the members of our affiliated organizations."170 This would seem to be borne out by Gompers' testimony that "from St. Louis and various places throughout Missouri, Ohio, and Colorado, I was in receipt of telegrams that they had resolved to await the word that the A.F.L. conference would give as to determining their action."171 Instead of calling for such support, however, the Briggs House statement urged "that all connected with the A.F.L. now out on sympathetic strike should return to work, and those who contemplate going out on sympathetic strike are advised to remain at their usual vocations."172 Gompers agreed that had the executive board of the A.F.L. called a strike even in its advisory capacity, its members would have struck,173 and that the strike thereupon "would have spread to a greater or lesser extent over the whole country."174 Many coal miners were still on strike, and more workers joined strikes in 1894 than any previous year. Given the stormy atmosphere of the time, Gompers' judgment seems sound.
The workers at Pullman held out to the end. On July 6th, the militia was sent in, replacing the strikers' guards at the works - but the strike remained firm. Once the railroad strike was broken, however, all hope was lost, and Pullman began to rehire his workers on his own terms, the militia standing by.
The real issue of the strike of course had not been simply the wages of the workers at Pullman. George Pullman defined the issue as "the principle that a man should have the right to manage his own property."175 The secret minutes of the General Managers' Association suggested that the question was whether the railroads would "determine for themselves" what cars they would or would not handle on their lines.176 Or, as Vice-President George Howard of the A.R.U. put it, "I always contended that the men had a right to handle or not handle anything they pleased," whereas the company announced publicly that "they would haul such cars as they chose regardless of what the delegates to the A.R.U. convention might say, or what their own employees might say."177 The real issue was the issue of power; it was understood that this in turn would determine the other questions of wages, working conditions, and the like.
The Pullman strike showed that merely by making a non-violent strike against an industry - if the strike seriously challenged corporate power - workers would bring down upon themselves the entire organized force of society, including military force. As Debs put it,
We have only got a number, and a limited number, of poorly paid men in our organization, and when their income ceases they are starving. We have no power of the Government behind us. We have no recognized influence in society on our side. . . . On the other side the corporations are in perfect alliance; they have all of the things that money can command, and that means a subsidized press, that they are able to control the newspapers, and means a false or vitiated public opinion. The clergy almost steadily united in thundering their denunciations; then the courts, then the State militia, then the Federal troops; everything and all things on the side of the corporations.178
The lesson of the strike, as one railroad worker put it, was to
"demonstrate to the laboring men that they must get together; that no single organization can win. . . they have seen the united press against them; they have seen the united clergy against them; they have seen the entire judiciary against them; they have seen the entire office holders of this country against them - the United States Government against them, and all the old-time [labor] organizations . . ."179
The full mobilization of state power against the strikers created problems with which even the militant leadership of the American Railway Union was unable to deal. Although the A.R.U's structure allowed great initiative from below, local groups still looked to the national officers for leadership and direction. Consequently, when the leaders were jailed and their office broken up, the locals were unable to continue on their own. Debs gave a vivid picture of just how vulnerable the strike was to the loss of central leadership:
Our men were in a position that never would have been shaken under any circumstances if we had been permitted to remain among them. . . . but once we were taken from the scene of action and restrained from sending telegrams or issuing the orders necessary, or answering questions; when the minions of the corporations would be put to work at such a place, for instance, as Nickerson, Kansas, where they would go and say to the men that the men at Newton had gone back to work, and Nickerson would wire me to ask if that were true; no answer would come to the message because I was under arrest, and we were all under arrest. The headquarters were demoralized and abandoned, and we could not answer any messages. The men went back to work, and the ranks were broken up by the federal courts of the United States."180
Even had the A.R.U. officers remained at liberty, however, they would not have been able to win the strike, against a state power resolved to crush it, without a complete change of approach.
The union was committed to "legal" and "orderly" tactics, even while it was being destroyed by the forces of "law and order." Initially, it made perfect sense for the workers to follow Debs' policy and "do everything in their power to maintain order, because. . . if there was perfect order there would be no pretext upon which they could call out the soldiers or appeal for the intervention of the court, and we would win without a question of a doubt."181 Yet at the point where the courts and army intervened despite the legal and non-violent policy of the strikers, the A.R.U. was unable to change its approach. It was therefore doomed to failure, for as Debs later pointed out, even "if all the railroad men in the country were organized within one brotherhood and acted together it would be impossible for them to succeed."182
When the troops came in, making legal success impossible, workers throughout the country responded with mass direct action. But for the A.R.U. to adopt such a policy would have meant a challenge to the entire social order - a step from which it recoiled. Thus we are presented with the spectacle of Eugene Victor Debs, perhaps the greatest example of a courageous, radical, and uncorruptable trade union official in American history, trying to end the strike in order to prevent it from becoming an insurrection. For, as Debs testified-
We became satisfied that things were assuming too serious a phase, and that a point had been reached when, in the interest of peace and to prevent riot and trouble we must declare the strike off . . . It was in the crisis when everything was at stake, where possibly it might have eventuated in a revolution.183
However much of a defeat the Pullman strike may have been in terms of its immediate objectives, its real significance, as Debs saw, was the unprecedented sense of solidarity it reflected, something not embodied in any particular organization, but in what he called "the spirit of organization." As Debs testified, after the strike:
They might as well try to stop Niagara with a feather as to crush the spirit of organization in this country. . . . It may not come up in the form of the American Railway Union, but this spirit of resistance to wrong is there, it is growing stronger constantly, and it finds its outlet in labor disturbances, in strikes of various kinds. Even if the men know in advance that they are going to meet with defeat they are so impressed with a sense of wrong under which they are suffering that they strike and take the penalty.184
- 1 Frick to Carnegie, Oct. 31, 1892, quoted in David Brody, Steelworkers in America, The Nonunion Era (N.Y.: Harper & Row, Torchbooks ed., 1969), p.53.
- 2 Cited in Leon Wolff, Lockout, The Story of the Homestead Strike of 1892: A Study of Violence, Unionism, and the Carnegie Steel Empire (N.Y.: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 41-2.
- 3 Brody, p. 53.
- 4 U.S. House of Representatives, Employment of Pinkerton Detectives, 52nd Cong., 2d Sess., Report No. 2447 (Wash.: GPO, 1893), p. 23, cited in Samuel Yellin, American Labor Struggles (N.Y.: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1936), p.84.
- 5 Brody, p. 52.
- 6 Ibid., p. 54.
- 7 Carnegie (May 1892) cited in Wolff, p. 80.
- 8 Employment of Pinkerton Detectives, p. 23, cited in Yellin, p. 80.
- 9 "The Fort That Frick Built," quoted in Wolff, p. 85.
- 10 Frick to Pinkerton (June 25, 1892), cited in Wolff, p. 86.
- 11 Wolff, p. 69.
- 12 Ibid., p. 90.
- 13 Ibid., p. 96.
- 14 Ibid., p. 105.
- 15 Ibid., p. 106.
- 16 Ibid., p. 122.
- 17 Ibid., p. 130.
- 18 Ibid., p. 131.
- 19 Ibid.. p. 150.
- 20 Ibid., p. 151.
- 21 Ibid., p. 164.
- 22 AP dispatch, Terre Haute Evening Gazette, July 16, 1892, cited in Yellin, p.93.
- 23 Judge Paxson, cited in Wolff, p. 213.
- 24 Wolff, p. 206.
- 25 Ibid., p. 205.
- 26 Frick to Carnegie, cited in Wolff, p. 209.
- 27 Ibid., Nov. 21, 1892, in Wolff, p. 225.
- 28 Brody, p. 58. 97
- 29 Ibid., p. 28.
- 30 Ibid., pp. 48-9.
- 31 Ibid., p. 42.
- 32 Ibid., pp. 45-6.
- 33 Foster, cited in Henry David, "Upheaval at Homestead," in America in Crisis, Daniel Aaron, ed. (N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952), p. 167.
- 34 M.A. Hutton, The Coeurd'Alenes, or A Tale of Modern Inquisition in Idaho, p. 59, cited in Vernon H. Jensen, Heritage of Conflict, Labor Relations in the Nonferrous Metals Industry up to 1930 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1950), p. 29.
- 35 Jensen, p. 34.
- 36 Roger Wallace Shugg, "The New Orleans General Strike of 1892," in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. 21 (1937), p. 52.
- 37 Ibid.
- 38 Ibid., p. 554.
- 39 Ibid., p. 555.
- 40 House Journal, 1889, Report of special committee to investigate public prisons, pp. 306-9, 322-5; cited in A.C. Hutson, Jr., "The Coal Miners' Insurrection of 1891 in Anderson County, Tennessee," East Tennessee Historical Society's Proceedings, No.7 (1935), p. lO5.
- 41 Birmingham Age-Herald, Aug. 8, 1889, cited in Woodward, p. 232.
- 42 Nashville Daily American, Aug. 25, 1892, cited in Woodward, p. 233.
- 43 Special Report of the Commissioner of Labor, 1891, pp. 19-21, cited in Hutson, p. 108.
- 44 A. C. Hutson, Jr., "The Overthrow of the Convict Lease System," in The East Tennessee Historical Society's Proceedings, No.8 (1936), p. 89.
- 45 Hon. Andrew Roy, A History of the Coal Miners of the United States, from the Development of the Mines to the Close of the Anthracite Strike of 1902, 3d Ed. (Columbus, Ohio: J.L. Trauger Printing Co., 1907), p. 302.
- 46 New York Times, April 22, 1894.
- 47 New York Times, April 13, 1894.
- 48 Roy, p. 303.
- 49 Commons, Vol. II, p. 502.
- 50 Roy, p. 304.
- 51 New York Times, May 1, 1894.
- 52 New York Times, May 10, 1894.
- 53 New York Times, April 24, 1894.
- 54 New York Times, May 29, 1894.
- 55 W.T. Stead, "Incidents of Labour War in America," in The Contemporary Review (July 1894), p. 67.
- 56 New York Times, May 1, 1894.
- 57 New York Times, April 30, 1894.
- 58 New York Times, May 5, 1894.
- 59 New York Times, May 10, 1894.
- 60 New York Times, June 2, 1894.
- 61 New York Times, May 26, 1894.
- 62 New York Times, May 25, 1894.
- 63 Ibid.
- 64 New York Times, May 26, 1894.
- 65 New York Times, May 25, 1894.
- 66 New York Times, May 24, 1894.
- 67 Ibid.
- 68 New York Times, May 25, 1894.
- 69 W.W. Taylor to John P. Altgeld, May 24,1894, in Biennial Report of the Adjustant General of Illinois to the Governor and Commander-in-Chief, 1893 and 1894 (Springfield, lll.: Ed. F. Hartman, 1895), p. vii. (Hereafter cited as "Report.")
- 70 Report, p. viii.
- 71 New York Times, May 25, 1894.
- 72 New York Times, May 1, 1894.
- 73 New York Times, May 25, 1894.
- 74 New York Times, May 27, 1894.
- 75 New York Times, May 28, 1894.
- 76 Ibid.
- 77 Ibid.
- 78 Ibid.
- 79 New York Times, June 4, 1894.
- 80 New York Times, June 5, 1894.
- 81 Ibid.
- 82 Ibid.
- 83 Ibid.
- 84 New York Times, June 10, 1894.
- 85 New York Times, June 5, 1894.
- 86 New York Times, May 29, 1894.
- 87 New York Times, June 5, 1894.
- 88 New York Times, June 7, 1894.
- 89 New York Times, May 29, 1894.
- 90 New York Times, June 5, 1894.
- 91 New York Times, April 29, 1894.
- 92 New York Times, May 1, 1894.
- 93 New York Times, May 6, 1894.
- 94 New York Times, May 11, 1894.
- 95 New York Times, May 13, 1894.
- 96 New York Times, May 24, 1894.
- 97 New York Times, May 25, 1894.
- 98 New York Times, May 28, 1894.
- 99 Ibid.
- 100 Ibid.
- 101 New York Times, May 30, 1894.
- 102 Ibid.
- 103 Ibid.
- 104 New York Times, June 14, 1894.
- 105 Roy, p. 307.
- 106 New York Times, May 13, 1894.
- 107 New York Times, May 3, 1894.
- 108 New York Times, May 5, 1894.
- 109 Jensen, p. 45.
- 110 W.H. Carwardine, The Pullman Strike (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co., 1894), p. 69, cited in Yellin, p. 104.
- 111 Chicago Times, June 13, 1894, p. 2, cited in Almont Lindsey, The Pullman Strike (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Phoenix Books Ed., 1964). p. 127..
- 112 U.S. Strike Commission Report, Senate Exec. Doc. No.7 53d Cong., 3d Sess. (Wash.: GPO, 1895), submitted to Pres. Cleveland on Nov. 14, 1894, p.62.
- 113Gerald G. Eggert, Railroad Labor Disputes, The Beginnings of Federal Strike Policy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967), p. 147.
- 114 Ray Ginger, The Vending Cross, A Biography of Eugene Victor Debs (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1949p, p. 97.
- 115 Ibid. Pp. 97-8.
- 116 Ibid., p. 107.
- 117 Ibid., p. 101.
- 118 Ibid.
- 119 Chicago Times, May 13, 1894, p. 20, cited in Lindsey, p. 126.
- 120 Ginger, pp. 117-8.
- 121 Ibid., p. 118.
- 122 U.S. Strike Commission Report, p. 135.
- 123 Ibid., p. 72.
- 124 Ibid., p. 59.
- 125 Ibid., p. 96.
- 126 Ibid., p. 106.
- 127 Ibid., p. 110.
- 128 Ibid., p. 112.
- 129 Ibid.
- 130 Lindsey, pp. 134-5.
- 131 New York Times, June 29, 1894, cited in Lindsey, p. 203.
- 132 Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1894.
- 133 U.S. Strike Commission Report, p. 140.
- 134 Ibid.. p. 28; Lindsey, p. 240.
- 135 Eugene Debs, in Public Opinion, July 5, 1894, cited in Yellin, pp. 115-6.
- 136 Yellin, p. 118.
- 137 Eugene V. Debs, Writings and Speeches of Eugene Victor Debs, (N.Y.: Hermitage Press, 1948), p. 45.
- 138 John Egan, in Inter Ocean, July 3, 1894, p. 3, cited in Lindsey, p. 144.
- 139 Lindsey, p. 142.
- 140 John Egan, in Inter Ocpan, . July 1894, p. 3, cited in Lindsey, p. 144.
- 141 Olney to E. Walker, June 30, 1894, Appendix to the. . . Report of the Attorney General. . . 1896, p. 60, cited in Lindsey, p. 150.
- 142 Grover Cleveland, The Government in the Chicago Strike of 1894 (Princeton' Princeton University Press, 1913), p. 232.
- 143 Lindsay, p. 162.
- 144 John Swinton, Striking for Life (N.Y.: Western W. Wilson, 1894), p. 92.
- 145 Chicago Times, July 3, 1894, v. 1, cited in Lindsey, p. 164.
- 146 Arnold to Olney, July 3, 1894, in Chicago Strike Correspondénce, p. 66, cited in Eggert, pp. 170-1.
- 147 Olney, quoted in Eggert, p. 172.
- 148 Strike Commission Report, p. 39.
- 149 New York Times, July 5, 1894, cited in Lindsey, p. 175.
- 150 Eggert, p. 171.
- 151 U.S. Strike Commission Report, p. 214-5.
- 152 New York Times, Aug. 16, 1902, cited in Yellin, p. 122.
- 153 Waite, in Inter Ocean, July 7, 1894, cited in Lindsey, p. 168.
- 154 Lindsey, p. 250.
- 155 Ibid.
- 156 Ibid., p. 260.
- 157 Eggert, p. 18.
- 158 Hugh D. Graham and Ted R. Gurr, The History of Violence in America (N.Y.:Bantam Books, 1969), p. 298.
- 159 Annual Report of the Secretary of War for the Year 1894, Vol. I (Wash.: GPO, 1894), p. 109, cited in Lindsey, p. 214.
- 160 Bradstreet's, July 28,1894, p. 467, cited in Yellin, p. 130.
- 161 Strike Commission Report, p. xlii.
- 162 Ginger, p. 122.
- 163 Terre Haute Evening Gadzette, July 19,1894, cited in Yellin, p.123.
- 164 St.John, testimony in U.S. Strike Commission Report, p.117.
- 165 Ginger, p. 143.
- 166 New York Times, July 12, 1894, cited in Lindsey, p. 225.
- 167 "Proceedings of Briggs Conference," p. 133, cited in Lindsey, p. 228.
- 168 Chicago Tribune, July 14, 1894, cited in Ginger, p. 150.
- 169 U.S. Strike Commission Report, p. xxviii.
- 170 "Proceedings of Briggs Conference," p.
- 171 U. S. Strike Commission Report, p. 190.
- 172 Ibid., p. 192.
- 173 Ibid., p. 194.
- 174 Ibid., p. 199.
- 175 Ibid., p. 556.
- 176 General Managers Association, Minutes of Meetings (Chicago, 1894), p. 94, cited in Eggert, p. 156.
- 177 U.S. Strike Commission Report, pp. 9, 11.
- 178 Ibid., p. 169.
- 179 Ibid., p. 76.
- 180 Ibid., p. 146.
- 181 Ibid., p. 50.
- 182 Ibid., p. 161.
- 183 Ibid., pp. 145-6.
- 184 Ibid., p. 163.