The Pullman Strike of 1894
Jerry Marzullo, a partner in the firm of Puchalski Goodloe Marzullo in Berwyn, Illinois, has practiced labor and employment law for nearly a decade. Also president of the City of Berwyn Firefighters’ Pension Fund, Jerry Marzullo takes an interest in the history of the labor movement.
In the late 19th century, strikes were becoming increasingly prevalent in the American labor force. Workers walked out to protest low pay, long hours, and other allegedly unfair working conditions, and to assert their right to organize. One of the most impactful of these strikes was the Pullman Strike of 1894, in which the employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company protested their treatment at the hands of the company and its owner, George Pullman.
Pullman required his workers to live in the 3,000-acre Pullman City. Frequently affected by pay cuts and powerless to speak out against them, they received no easement in their rents or fees associated with the town, which included use of the library. If any worker owed more than he had, Pullman would take the money out of the worker’s paycheck.
After the company cut wages by 25 percent and eliminated more than 2,000 jobs, approximately 3,000 Pullman employees went on strike. These workers gained the support of the American Railroad Union, which requested that its members refuse to operate trains that included Pullman sleeping cars, and passenger transit stalled around Chicago.
When the refusal to operate began to affect mail cars attached to the passenger trains, the United States Army became involved. Pullman and the rail carriers claimed that violence was taking place, and the anti-union attorney general sent troops.
Union leader Eugene Debs went to jail and many railroad workers were blacklisted, but publicity surrounding the conflict brought the struggle of the American workers into the public consciousness. As a result, reformers began seeking a way to legally protect the rights of workers in conflicts against powerful companies.