JUNE 12

JUNE 12

This cartoon shows how Pullman workers, and much of the public, viewed George Pullman.

ON THIS DATE in 1894, eighteen-year-old Jennie Curtis persuaded the American Railway Union to support striking Pullman car workers. The president of the Girls Union at the Pullman Place Car Company, Curtis addressed the 150,000-member ARU six weeks after 3,000 Pullman workers had walked off their jobs in protest of wage cuts. “The merry war — the dance of skeletons bathed in human tears — goes on; and it will go on, brothers, forever unless you, the American Railway Union, stop it; end it; crush it out,” Curtis said. Moved by her words, the ARU voted for a national boycott of Pullman cars.

Like other Pullman employees, Curtis had reason to resent the railroad car company. George Pullman’s workers were forced to live in an Illinois company town in which he owned the houses, the schoolhouse, and even the churches. He charged a higher rent than many could afford and refused to lower housing costs after slashing wages by about 25 percent in 1893.

The New York Times would call the Pullman Strike a “struggle between the greatest and most important labor organization and the entire railroad capital.” Unfortunately for the strikers, President Cleveland threw his muscle behind Pullman and the railroad interests. The president sent thousands of federal troops to Chicago, with clashes between troopers and strikers resulting in 34 deaths. Union leaders, including ARU chief Eugene Debs, went to jail on charges of conspiracy to obstruct interstate commerce, violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, and obstruction of the U.S. mails.

The strike ended with one of the most severe defeats ever inflicted on the American labor movement. Curtis, who had argued so vehemently for the strike, disappeared from public view.

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