The following article was one of several that were published the day after the death of George M. Pullman.
Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1897
The Pullman strike, which developed into one of the most serious labor disturbances in history, began on May 11, 1894. The trouble resulting spread through the length and breadth of the country, and ultimately necessitated calling into active service one of the largest bodies of troops that had taken field in the United States since the civil war. The depression of 1893 had affected the Pullman company and the Detroit works were closed. A threatened reduction in wages, together with a list of grievances cherished by the employés of shops at Pullman, resulted in a strike being ordered. The Pullman company closed its shops and awaited developments.
For six weeks the strike was conducted quietly, and the mass of the people were hardly aware a strike was in progress. On June 22, however, a committee of the American Railway union served notice on the Pullman company that unless the company submitted to arbitration the questions involved in the strike a general boycott be ordered against all roads using Pullman cars. The company refused to arbitrate and on June 28 every member of the American Railway union was ordered not to handle a Pullman car or any train hauling a Pullman car.
Burning of Six Hundred Freight-Cars on the Panhandle Railroad, South of Fiftieth Street, on the Evening of July 6th.
Harper’s Weekly, July 21, 1894
Railroads in Confusion.
The result was three-fourths of the railroads of the country were thrown into confusion within ten days. Eugene V. Debs assumed leadership of the strike, and established offices in Chicago.
June 30 several small riots took place in the vicinity of Kensington and Pullman, and several Illinois Central trains were stoned. For the next few days rioting continued, and several cars were destroyed by strike sympathizers on the Illnois Central tracks south of the Grand Crossing. The local police and 1,000 special deputies found it impossible to maintain order.
July 2 Judges Grosscup and Woods of the federal courts issued restraining injunctions against Leader Debs, prohibiting interference with mail trains or interstate commerce. Disorder increased, not only in Chicago, but throughout Illinois, and in other Western States. Governor Altgeld took no steps to order out the National Guard, and the local authorities confessed themselves unable to maintain the public peace.
Troops Ordered Out.
President Cleveland saw the necessity for prompt action and directed General Miles to order the United States troops from Fort Sheridan to Chicago. Eight companies, heavily armed, arrived during the night of July 3, and were immediately detailed to points where rioting has been most pronounced. Three days later troops arrived from Fort Riley, Fort Niobrara, and Sackett’s Harbor, and there were in all nearly 4,000 regulars, including artillery, cavalry, and infantry, in the city. Governor Altgeld, in the meantime, after protesting the “invasion” of the State by the United States soldiers, had called out every available regiment and independent company in the State service, and Chicago assumed the aspect of an armed camp.
The strike continued, meetings were held all over the city, and each day different trades evinced their their sympathy with the Pullman strikers by “going out.” Disorder soon ceased, however, and Debs and the other orators railed at the presence of federal troops in the city. July 11 was the date set for a “sympathetic” strike, but on that day only a few men went out.
The Great Chicago Strike: Militiamen on a Wrecking Train Firing into the Mob at 49th Street.
Harper’s Weekly, July 14, 1894
Strikers’ Ranks Dwindle.
From that time on the ranks of the strikers began to dwindle, and men who had gone out at Debs’ call again sought their old employment. The railroad men remained obedient to orders, and the strike became confined almost entirely to that class of labor. The railroads in the meantime had been able to resume their old schedules and by degrees everything became settled down. though many men still remained on strike.
As soon as the trouble quieted down the troops were withdrawn slowly, one or two regiments at a time, and after being out six weeks the last soldiers returned to their quarters, and the great Pullman strike to all intents and purposes was over. It had failed in its objects, and had cost both laboring men and industries untold millions.
Mr. Pullman’s Attitude.
During the strike Mr. Pullman published several statement setting forth the attitude of the company with regard to the strike, and offered to expose his books to inspection of an authorized committee in order to show that the Pullman company had been run at a loss for several months, and that it had kept its works open merely to afford employment to its workmen.
The Pullman works reopened early in the fall, taking back many of the men that had been on strike.
Eugene V. Debs and other officers of the A.C.U. were arrested and sentenced for violating Judge Woods’ injunction. The arrest, trial, and conviction caused considerable excitement at the time.
Mr. Pullman was severely criticized by certain newspapers for the stand he took during the strike, and it said since that time his disposition saddened.
Chicago Herald, June 26, 1894
For the Further Benefit of Our People
In the first week of May last there were employed in the car manufacturing department at Pullman, Ill., about 3,100 persons. On May 7, a committee of the workmen had an interview by arrangement with Mr. Wickes, vice-president, at which the principal subject of discussion related to wages, but minor grievances as to shop were also presented, and it was agreed that another meeting should be held on the 9th of May, at which all the grievances should be presented in writing. The second meeting was held. As to the complaints on all matters except wages, it was arranged that a formal and thorough investigation should be made by Mr. Wickes, to be begun the next day, and full redress was assured to the committee as to all complaints proved to be well founded.
The absolute necessity of the last reduction in wages, under the existing condition of the business of car manufacturing, had been explained to the committee, and they were insisting,, upon a restoration of the wage scale of the first half of 1893, when Mr. Pullman entered the room and addressed the committee, speaking, in substance as follows:
“At the commencement of the very serious depression last year, we were employing at Pullman 5,816 men, and paying out in wages there $305,000 a month. Negotiations with intending purchasers of railway equipment that were then pending for new work were stopped by them, orders already given by others were canceled, and we were obliged to lay off, as you are aware, a large number of men in every department, so that by November 1, 1893, there were only about 2,000 men in all departments, or about one third of the normal number. I realized the necessity for the most strenuous exertions to procure work immediately, without which there would be great embarrassment, not only to the employees and their families at Pullman, but also to those living in the immediate vicinity, including between 700 and 800 employees who had purchased homes and to whom employment was actually necessary to enable them to complete their payments.
“I canvassed the matter thoroughly with the manager of the works and instructed him to cause the men to be assured that the company would do everything in its power to meet the competition which was sure to occur because of the great number of large car manufacturers that were in the same condition, and that were exceedingly anxious to keep their men employed. I knew that if there was any work to be let, bids for it would be made upon a much lower basis than ever before. (NOTE.—The selling prices of passenger, baggage, box, refrigerator and street cars in the last two years have fallen by percentages, varying in the separate classes, from 17 to 28, the average reduction, taking the five classes together, being 24 percent.)
“The result of this discussion was a revision in piecework prices, which, in the absence of any information to the contrary, I supposed to be acceptable to the men under the circumstances. Under these conditions, and with lower prices upon all materials, I personally undertook the work of the lettings of cars, and by making lower bids than other manufacturers I secured work enough to gradually increase our force from 2,000 up to about 4,200, the number employed, according to the April pay rolls, in all capacities at Pullman.
“This result has not been accomplished merely by reduction in wages, but the company has borne its full share by eliminating from its estimates the use of capital and machinery, and in many cases going even below that and taking work at considerable loss, notably the 55 Long Island cars, which was the first large order of passenger cars let since the great depression and which was sought for by practically all the leading car builders in the country. My anxiety to secure that order, so as to put as many men at work as possible, was such that I put in a bid at more than $300 per car less than the actual cost to the company. The 300 stock cars built for the Northwestern road and the 250 refrigerator cars now under construction for the same company will result in a loss of at least $12 per car, and the 25 cars just built for the Lake Street elevated road show a loss of $79 per car. I mention these particulars so that you may understand what the company has done for the mutual interests and to secure for the people at Pullman and vicinity the benefit of the disbursement of the large sums of money involved in these and similar contracts, which can be kept up only by the procurement of new orders for cars, as you know, about three fourths of the men must depend upon contract work for employment.
“I can only assure you that if this company now restores the wages of the first half of 1893, as you have asked, it would be a most unfortunate thing for the men, because there is less than sixty days of contract work in sight in the shops under all orders and there is absolutely no possibility, in the present condition of affairs throughout the country, of getting any more orders for work at prices measured by the wages of May 1893. Under such a scale the works would necessarily close down and the great majority of the employees be put in idleness, a contingency I am using my best efforts to avoid.
“To further benefit the people of Pullman and vicinity we concentrated all the work that we could command at that point, by closing our Detroit shops entirely and laying off a large number of men at our other repair shops, and gave to Pullman the repair of all cars that could be taken care of there.
“Also, for the further benefit of our people at Pullman we have carried on a large system of internal improvements, have expended nearly $160,000 since August last in work which, under normal conditions, would have been spread over one or two years. The policy would be to continue this class of work to as great an extent as possible, provided, of course, the Pullman men show a proper appreciation of the situation by doing whatever they can to help themselves to tide over the hard times which are so seriously felt in every part of the country.
“There has been some complaint made about rents. As to this I would say that the return to this company on the capital invested in the Pullman tenements for the last year and the year before was 3.82 percent. There are hundreds of tenements in Pullman renting for from $6 to $9 per month, and the tenants are relieved from the usual expenses of exterior cleaning and the removal of garbage, which is done by the company. . . .”
On the question of rents, while, as stated above, they make a manifestly inadequate return upon the investment, so that it is clear they are not, in fact, at an arbitrarily high figure, it may be added that it would not be possible in a business sense so to deal with them.
The renting of the dwellings and the employment of workmen at Pullman are in no way tied together. The dwellings and apartments are offered for rent in competition with those of the immediately adjacent towns of Kensington, Roseland, and Gano. They are let alike to Pullman employees and to very many others in no way connected with the company, and, on the other hand, many Pullman employees rent or own their homes in those adjacent towns. The average rental at Pullman is at the rate of $3 per room per month. There are 1,200 tenements, of varying numbers or rooms, the average monthly rental of which is $10; of these there are 600 the average monthly rental of which is $8. In very many cases men with families pay a rent seemingly large for a workman, but which is in fact reduced in part, and often wholly repaid, by the subrents paid by single men as lodgers.
On May 10, the day after the second conference above mentioned, work went on at Pullman as usual, and the only incident of note was the beginning by Mr. Wickes, assisted by Mr. Brown, the general manager of the company, of the promised formal investigation at Pullman of the shop complaints.
A large meeting of employees had been held the night before at Kensington, which, as was understood by the company, accepted the necessity of the situation preventing an increase of wages; but at a meeting of the local committee held during the night of May 10 a strike was decided upon, and accordingly the next day about 2,500 of the employees quit their work, leaving about 600 at work, of whom very few were skilled workmen. As it was found impracticable to keep the shops in operation with a force thus diminished and disorganized, the next day those remaining were necessarily laid off, and no work has since been done in the shops.
The pay rolls at the time amounted to about $7,000 a day, and were reduced $5,500 by the strike, so that during the period of a little more than six weeks which has elapsed the employees who quit their work have deprived themselves and their comrades of earnings of more than $200,000.
Chicago Tribune, June 29, 1894
Labor Day Now a National Holiday
The bill creating a “Labor day” a national holiday has become a law, for Mr. Cummings of New York, who first introduced the bill, took it to the President today and had it signed.
Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1894
Organized labor of Chicago yesterday observed in an appropriate manner the first Labor day which Congress has declared shall hereafter be a holiday for the entire Nation. The unions turned out with full ranks, parading the streets of the city, and in the afternoon listened to the speeches by Comgressman Lawrence E. McGann, John F. Waters, and other men interested in the prosperity of labor.
Showers of rain and muddy streets were no drawbacks for the men who toil. They forgot the discomforts and fatigue attending a march of four miles and fell into the ranks with a proper spirit of pride and good will. Sixty-five hundred men marched to the merry music of bands to Ogden’s Grove.
The wage earners who assembled there took the first step which, in opinion of their leaders, will lead to the emancipation of labor. A resolution which was passed amidst deafening cheers proposes that at each recurring Labor day a national convention of trades unionists shall be held at which such measures shall be framed as will prove most beneficial to the toiling masses. These propositions are then to be presented to the House of Representatives and the Senate with the request to make them laws.
Rain Makes No Difference.
For the first time in many weeks when the day dawned a heavy rain was pouring down and all day long with only short intervals it kept pattering on the muddy streets. The various labor bodies assembled as early as 7:30 a.m. at their headquarters and at 10 o’clock, according to arrangements, the word to march was given in front of the Bricklayers’ Hall, which was the place of rendezvous. With a platoon of twenty-seven police under command of Lieut. Bowler the procession started the in the following order:
Cheered by Thousands iof Spectators.
All along the line of march from Bricklayers’ Hall to Ogden’s Grove crowds of interested spectators stood on the sidewalks. Women whose husbands were in line, as well as children who knew their fathers would be there, watched the marchers with the same interest displayed by the young women whose sweethearts tramped the streets with almost military precision. At Lincoln Park and at the Lincoln Monument where the Mayor was to review the parade thousands of people waited for the procession to arrive. It was nearly 12 o’clock before the bright banners became visible at the northern end of Dearborn avenue, and a few minutes later the first strains of music from the bands were heard.
Around the monument were placed benches and chairs, but the rain made these so uncomfortable that most people preferred to stand up under the sheltering covers of umbrellas. The Reception committee of the organized trades was early on the grounds to make necessary preparations.
The carpenters had the greatest number in line and were awarded the first prize. The painters in white jackets and caps with a blue ribbon made an excellent showing, and as they passed in double file presented their walking sticks. Everybody expected that they would receive the third prize for the best uniformed body in line, but the horseshoers had not made their appearance. The bridge and structural iron workers came next. They wore blue sweaters with initials P. and S. I. W. across the chest. Strong, brawny fellows they were, and were received with cheers.
The float of the Omaha bridge, in course of construction, was a novelty. Then came the plumbers with their banner:
By a singular chance the Mayor arrived at the time when Ryan’s own union, the gas-fitters, came along, and then followed the shoemakers, gravel roofers, clothing cutters, horseshoers, bricklayers, and miscellaneous organizations.
Labor Day Parade March
Composer: H. C. Verner
Published By S. Brainard’s Sons Co.