What happened to railroad workers whose jobs became redundant?

What happened to railroad workers whose jobs became redundant?

In the early 20th century, the steam locomotive was the king of land transportation. The railroad industry was one of the largest employers in the US, employing massive numbers of workers to build and maintain rails, operate and repair trains, and so on. Huge businesses and entire towns sprang up to meet the needs of the railroads and their workers and passengers.

But since then, American railroads have lost almost all of their passenger business and a significant portion of their freight business to highways or airlines. Technologies have also reduced the amount of labor needed to keep the trains running. Steam locomotives were replaced by diesel locomotives that required smaller crews, didn't have to stop for water, were more operationally flexible, and required much less maintenance (this documentary says 1,000,000 miles between major overhauls for diesels compared to 75,000 for steam). Instead of large crews of gandy dancers maintaining tracks with hand tools, heavy machinery allowed fewer workers to maintain much more track. Passenger services were severely cut back, especially luxuries like sleeping cars and dining cars which were also labor-intensive.

Overall, we can say that railroads shifted from employing large numbers of unskilled manual laborers to smaller numbers of more skilled workers (and at the same time as the demand for rail transport went down). It seems like we may see something similar in the near future with technologies like self-driving vehicles. What I'm wondering is, what happened to those railroad workers whose jobs became redundant? Did the railroad companies or unions give them other jobs? Did they receive pensions? Or were they simply fired and left to find whatever work they could? If so, did most of them find jobs (and what kind of jobs), or did many fall into poverty? What happened to towns that depended on railroads for their economy? Were there protests or strikes or other conflicts caused by these changes?

Edit to add some statistics: Page 15 of this document lists railroad employment statistics 1890-1957 and this page has 1947-2014. There are fewer people employed by railroads today (only 212,000) than there were even during the Great Depression (991,000 in 1933). Between 1951 and 1972, railroads lost an average of 40,000 jobs a year.


American Experience

Courtesy: National Archives

1769
Scottish mechanical engineer James Watt patents his design for the first practical steam engine, paving the way for the mechanized production of the Industrial Revolution.

1825
In England, George Stephenson engineers the world's first railway locomotive. Based on Stephenson's years of experimentation with steam-driven vehicles (the first of which he built in 1814), the Locomotion pulls coal on a nine-mile track.

1830
Peter Cooper finishes America's first steam locomotive. The Tom Thumb carries passengers and goods along 13 miles of track between Baltimore and Ellicott's Mills, Maryland. By year's end, similar locomotive routes exist in New York and South Carolina.

1841
The first settlers move westward across the Northern Great Plains on what will come to be known as the Oregon Trail, soon a conduit for emigration.

1845
Asa Whitney presents a resolution in Congress endorsing the funding of a railroad to the Pacific. Despite six years of campaigning, the issue dies as increased sectionalism and self-interest distract the legislature. The railroad remains a potent symbol in the public consciousness.

1848
December: Outgoing president James K. Polk stirs a new fervor for westward expansion by announcing the discovery of gold in Oregon Territory.

1850
September 9: Gold-rich California becomes the 31st state admitted into the Union.

1859
June: Discovery of the massive Comstock Lode lures miners to Virginia City, Nevada, in search of gold and silver ore. The news revitalizes the California mining economy, and urges exploration of a road east across the Sierra Nevada.

1860
July: Engineer and enthusiast Theodore Judah solves the great riddle of the Pacific Railroad when he reaches Donner Pass (named for the ill-fated emigrantof 1846). Judah immediately recognizes the location as ideal for constructing a line through the Sierra Nevada.

November: Judah meets Sacramento merchant Collis P. Huntington, who agrees to invest in his railroad project. Huntington brings in four other investors: Mark Hopkins, James Bailey, Charles Crocker, and Leland Stanford. The six men organize themselves as the first Board of Directors of the Central Pacific Railroad Company.

1861
October: Having completed his survey of the Sierra Nevada, Judah returns to Washington armed with maps and profiles to lobby for appropriations for the Central Pacific Railroad Company.

1862
July 1: Congress passes and Lincoln signs the Pacific Railroad Bill. The document endorses Central Pacific efforts to build the California line while simultaneously chartering a Union Pacific Railroad Company to build west from the Missouri River. The bill grants each enterprise 6,400 acres of land and $48,000 in government bonds per mile built. It does not designate a meeting point for the lines.

1863
January 8: Newly-elected California governor Leland Stanford shovels the first load of dirt at the Central Pacific groundbreaking ceremony in Sacramento.

Summer: Tensions build among the Central Pacific board around financial and contractual issues. Judah sails East to look for new investors.

October 26: The Central Pacific spikes its first rails to ties.

October 30: Thomas C. Durant, who has illegally manipulated a controlling interest in the Union Pacific Railroad Company, gets himself appointed the railroad's vice president and general manager.

November 2: Taken ill on his journey, Theodore Judah dies in New York City.

December 2: In a gala ceremony, the Union Pacific breaks ground in Omaha, Nebraska, although it is some time before the railroad will go anywhere.

1864
July 1: As lobbyists -- among them Durant, who hands out upwards of $400,000 -- distribute cash and bonds among legislators, Congress passes a revised Pacific Railroad Bill. It doubles the land grant, cedes all natural resources on the line to the railroads, and removes limitations on individual stock ownership.

October: Union Pacific crony Herbert M. Hoxie wins the Union Pacific construction bid, then signs the contract over to Durant's new company, Crédit Mobilier. The move allows Durant to pay himself for construction, generating giant profits without congressional oversight.

November 29: The Sand Creek Massacre. Cavalrymen led by Colonel John Chivington slaughter 150 unarmed Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans, most of whom are women and children.

1865
January 7: Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux raiders ravage the would-be railroad town of Julesburg, Colorado, in retaliation for Sand Creek. They destroy telegraph wire in Platte Valley, then return and raze Julesburg to the ground.

January 20: President Abraham Lincoln asks Massachusetts senator Oakes Ames to help manage the Union Pacific Railroad. Ames soon invests in Crédit Mobilier and promotes its interests in Washington, D.C.

Late January: Contractor Charles Crocker convinces Central Pacific foreman James Harvey Strobridge to try Chinese workers as a means of expanding their labor force, which at this time numbers just a few hundred Irishmen.

April 9: Robert E. Lee surrenders to Ulysses S. Grant. The Civil War ends. Masses of soldiers demobilize, many of whom will soon move west. The Union Pacific has yet to spike a rail.

April 14: President Lincoln is assassinated. His body will be carried back to Illinois by rail, on a special Pullman car.

July 10: With Durant's activities facing increased scrutiny in D.C., the first rails of the Union Pacific line are spiked in Omaha.

Late Summer: Central Pacific crews begin the slow job of hand-drilling 12 tunnels through the Sierra Nevada, averaging a few inches through the rock a day. By year's end approximately 6,000 Chinese men will work in and around the tunnels. They will constitute up to 80% of the workforce throughout the project.

1866
February: Realizing the importance of increasing production, Durant hires General Jack Casement as the Union Pacific's construction boss. Casement spends the winter at Omaha, preparing the rolling dormitories his crews will use in the coming year.

April 16: A nitroglycerin explosion destroys the Wells Fargo Office in downtown San Francisco.

May: Durant hires General Grenville Dodge to be chief engineer of the Union Pacific.

July: Casement crews add 60 miles of track to bring the Union Pacific line to the 100 mile mark.

October 6: Casement and his crews pass the 100th Meridian line on the prairies of Nebraska, thus guaranteeing the Union Pacific the irrevocable right to continue westward, as stipulated in the Pacific Railroad Act. Durant throws a grand "100th Meridian Excursion" for dignified guests, featuring a mock Pawnee ambush.

November: North Platte, Nebraska, sits at the end of the Union Pacific line, and soon features a potent combination of saloons, prostitutes, and criminals. This assemblage and the others like it that follow the westward press of empire are named "Hell on Wheels" towns.

December 21: Upset by increased military presence in the Powder River Valley, the most sacred and fertile hunting ground remaining in their possession, a group of Sioux warriors draws cocky Captain William J. Fetterman and his troops into a deadly ambush on the Bozeman trail.

Courtesy: The Denver Public Library, Western History Collection F18110

1867
Winter: British chemist James Howden begins manufacturing nitroglycerin on-site in the mountains for the Central Pacific, eliminating the dangers of transporting the compound.

May: Led by the Ames brothers, officers of the Crédit Mobilier remove Durant from the Union Pacific presidency. Thus begins a flurry of legal action initiated by Durant against both Crédit Mobilier and the Union Pacific, even though he continues to exert nominal leadership over both companies.

June 25: Summit work in the Sierras grinds to a halt as Chinese workers strike for better wages and shorter hours. Crocker and Strobridge cut off food, supplies, and communication to the Chinese camps. One week later, the men will go back to work at the same wage.

July 4: Dodge founds the town of Cheyenne in Wyoming Territory. Intended as a transfer point on the Union Pacific line, it will contain the company roundhouse and a military station. The company divides and sells lots to encourage emigrant settlement. By year's end, the settlement's population will exceed 4,000.

August 27: A group of Cheyenne warriors bends rails and pulls up track at Plum Creek, Nebraska. The resulting destruction derails a work train, which the Cheyenne party loots and burns after killing its crew. The only survivor escapes with scalp in hand.

August 28: Central Pacific workers blast through the rock of the Summit Tunnel, completing the most arduous of their tasks in the mountains.

November 30: As the Chinese lay track, Central Pacific directors lead a ceremonial train excursion to the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.

December 12: Despite continued infighting among its directors, Crédit Mobilier declares a substantial stock dividend. Oakes Ames becomes popular among legislators eager to get in on the profits. Ames distributes 190 shares of stock in Washington, 163 of which go to 11 members of Congress.

1868
April 16: Union Pacific construction surmounts the highest point on both lines: Sherman Summit, at an elevation of 8,200 feet in the Rockies. The race for completion -- and territorial holdings -- is on.

May 9: The Central Pacific sells its first lots in Reno, Nevada.

June 18: The first passenger train rumbles across the Sierras into Reno.

August: Mormon leader Brigham Young provides Stanford with Mormon laborers for Central Pacific grading work through the Utah desert.

October 29: The fed-up citizens of Laramie, Wyoming, form a Vigilance Committee to combat the town's lawless element. Following a feverish gun battle, the vigilantes succeed in forcing gamblers and outlaws from their settlement, hanging those who remain from telegraph poles and log cabin rafters.

November 6: After months of skirmishes known as "Red Cloud's War," the government suggests a treaty, but Native American leader Red Cloud will not condescend to meet until the military have removed themselves from the Bozeman Trail. They agree, and Red Cloud signs the Powder River Treaty, which guarantees the Sioux their massive hunting ground in perpetuity. Red Cloud is thus considered the only native leader to have won a war with the United States.

1869
January: Corinne, Utah is founded. It is the first non-Mormon settlement in the Territory it will prove to be the last true Hell on Wheels town.

April 8: After months of increased tension, closed-door Washington lobbying, Congressional pressure, and aborted meetings between the two companies, Dodge and Huntington settle upon a meeting place for their two lines. It takes two days' worth of tempestuous argument, but the men negotiate convergence at Promontory Summit, Utah.

April 28: Victory Day. Charles Crocker decides he has one last thing to show the Union Pacific and the world. In a remarkable feat of strength and organization, his Central Pacific crews lay an unheard-of 10 miles of rail between sunrise and sunset.

May 6: As Pullman cars move westward toward Promontory Summit, unpaid tie workers block the line and a bridge washes out at Devil's Gate. These developments delay the arrival of Durant and Union Pacific dignitaries by two days.

May 8: Despite the delay, jubilees proceed as planned in cities throughout California. At the Central Pacific ceremony in Sacramento, toasts are raised to the pioneering visions of Asa Whitney and Theodore Judah.

May 10: Amidst a crowd of dignitaries and workers, with the engines No. 119 and Jupiter practically touching noses, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads join together. Telegraph operators transmitting to both coasts transmit the blows of the hammer as they fall on a golden spike. The nation listens as west and east come together in undivided union.

1872
September 4: During a heated presidential campaign, the Crédit Mobilier scandal erupts in the press, smearing the name of many established government figures who purportedly sold their influence for Crédit Mobilier stock. Among them is Speaker of the House James G. Blaine of Maine, who suggests an investigating committee will find the allegations worthless.

1873
February: A Congressional committee investigates the Crédit Mobilier. The scandal creates public disillusionment with elected leaders, but the committee hands out very little punishment. All major players escape unscathed, save scapegoat Oakes Ames, who is voted out of Congress and leaves Washington in shame. He will die just months later.

1880
By 1880, the Pacific railroad carries $50 million worth of freight annually. It has served as artery for 200 million acres of settlement between the Mississippi and the Pacific. The Plains Indians have been scattered to reservations, and little over 1,000 buffalo remain of the millions that once populated the grasslands. A trip between San Francisco and New York, which once might have occupied six grueling months, now takes a few days.

1882
Ignoring the crucial role Chinese immigrants played in constructing the California infrastructure, Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, banning further immigration of Chinese laborers into the United States for a period of ten years. Congress will extend this Act in 1892, and again indefinitely in 1904.

1884
Bursting with the profit of the railroad enterprise and bereft over the death of their teenage son, Leland and Jane Stanford endow the Leland Stanford Junior University on family land in Palo Alto, California.

1889
An agreement with the U.S. government divides up Sioux territory in the Powder River Valley, once promised to Native Americans in perpetuity by the Treaty of 1868. The Sioux disperse to six smaller disconnected reservations, and the last great holding of an indigenous people is thrown open to white settlement.


20 Professions From the 20th Century That No Longer Exist

While technology has added countless jobs to the workforce over the past century, from network administrators to the Insta-famous, it's also made a host of professions obsolete along the way. According to a recent report from McKinsey & Company, by 2030, more than 800 million people will lose their jobs to automation. However, long before cashiers and toll collectors went the way of the dinosaur, these professions were on the chopping block.

From dangerous careers you won't believe ever existed to those we miss already, these jobs from the 20th century that don't exist anymore might just have you feeling a bit nostalgic. And when you want more proof of just how far we've come, just check out these 20 Home Appliances That Didn't Exist When You Were Young!

In the early to mid-20th century, if you wanted to get in touch with someone on the phone, a switchboard operator was the person to help you do it. Switchboard operators were essential whenever you wanted to make a call, connecting one caller through the central office to the party they were trying to reach via a network of manual plugs. While this profession may seem antiquated, switchboard operators were actually in use well into the 1960s. And when you want to advance your career, start by removing these 20 Subtly Sexist Things People Say at Work from your vocabulary.

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Think your alarm clock waking you up in the morning is annoying? Now imagine it was an actual guy knocking on your window, telling you to get out of bed. Knocker-uppers, or knocker-ups, served the sole purpose of getting people out of bed in the morning, and did so well into the 1950s. And when you want to take your career to the next level, check out The 25 Best Ways to Score a Promotion!

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Back in the 19th and 20th centuries, you could earn an honest day's pay with only a little bit of blood loss as a leech collector. Leech collectors would go out into bodies of water inhabited by leeches and gather them, selling them to doctors and hospitals for bloodletting treatments. Unfortunately, the use of their body as bait often led to infections and other bodily harm, and the profession has since died out.

However, leeches are still used in some medical practices today—we just don't send people out into swamps to gather them anymore. Ready for a change of pace? Make sure you're armed with these 6 Secret Weapons for Turning the Job You Have Into the One You Want.

If you grew up in the latter part of the 20th century, you probably remember the pain of getting your favorite videotape stuck in your VCR. Enter: the VCR repairman, who could save that Fraggle Rock video and your VCR in the process. But with the rise of DVDs and streaming services, you'd be hard-pressed to find a VCR tech today. Think VCRs are frustrating? They've got nothing on the 30 Worst Home Appliances Ever Created.

Ice cutters used to risk their lives by going out on bodies of water and removing blocks of ice with handsaws or power saws, which would later be sold to keep food cold. And when you're ready to move up to a more fulfilling position, This Is the Fastest Way to Get Promoted!

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Netflix is undeniably great, but we often forget the jobs it all but eliminated: those of video store clerks. While a few Blockbusters remain—one in Oregon and a few in Alaska—what used to be an industry is little more than a nostalgic novelty today. Is your job on the verge of obsolescence? Find out The Single Best Way to Survive a Layoff.


Before electric street lights were common, it was the job of a lamplighter to keep the streets illuminated in the evenings. Using a long pole with a wick at one end, lamplighters would light the oil or candles used in street lamps, returning to snuff them again in the morning. Today, it's virtually impossible to find a lamplighter working full-time in any major city, particularly in the United States. And when you want to turn your work life around for good, start with the 40 Best Ways to Jumpstart Your Career!

Today, there are 12 different kinds of milk available at virtually any grocery store you walk into. Fifty years ago, there was just the one type, delivered to your door by a milkman. Considering that Americans are drinking, on average, a gallon of milk less per month than they did 50 years ago, it's no wonder milk delivery has lost some of its appeal. And if you think your job is bad? Just wait until you see the 30 Craziest Corporate Policies Employees Must Follow.

Before the advent of modern rodenticide, you could find reliable work catching rats. Rat catchers were popular throughout Europe during the time of the Black Plague and were still employed around the world through the early part of the 20th century. And when you're ready for a more fulfilling career, make sure you know The Secret Trick for Getting Your Résumé Noticed.

Today, we have tiny devices in our homes that can write our grocery lists for us if we do no more than ask them to. However, from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century, dictation was handled by Dictaphone operators. Ready to make a career leap of your own? Check out these 25 Work from Home Jobs with High Salaries!

While navigating around an 18-wheeler carrying timber on the highway may be a pain, those trucks are a major improvement over the logging industry's previous practices. Case in point: until the 1970s, log driving was one of the preferred methods of moving lumber from place to place, with men riding logs down river as a means of getting them to mills. Unfortunately, the practice was extremely dangerous, with countless log drivers losing their lives on the job.

Today, we listen to podcasts. Throughout the 20th century, however, millions tuned into radio dramas, catching their favorite actors play out the serials that were so popular at the time. And while some radio enthusiasts are trying to bring the format back, the number of actors who can make a living in this line of work today is likely zero.

Before the printing industry was digitized, all those stories had to be hand-set by a typesetter before going to print. Considering that print newspaper subscriptions have fallen to their lowest levels since the 1940s, according to the Pew Research Center, it looks as though print papers may not be long for this world, either.

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The good news: rates of cigarette smoking have dropped to all-time lows around the world. The bad news? That means the cigarette girl, a woman who sold cigarettes from a box around her neck, once a regular part of the nightlife experience in the early- to mid-20th century, is a thing of the past.

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With the rise of push-button elevators, we've seen the inevitable decline of the elevator operator, whose sole job was manually operating elevators and letting passengers on and off at their desired floors. While you may still occasionally see them as a novelty in some buildings, elevator operators have all but disappeared.

Today, whether you bowled a gutter ball or a strike, those pins will be inevitably swept away by an automated machine. However, throughout the 20th century, before the advent of automation, it was a pinsetter's job to manually clear and replace bowling pins and make sure bowling balls got back to their rightful owner after a frame.

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Your workplace may allow you to listen to your favorite podcast or audiobook, but throughout the 20th century there were people whose sole job it was to read to workers. Lectors were often employed by factories to read either newspapers to workers as they toiled away in an attempt to educate them and provide them a diversion during the workday.

Before the invention of electric clock winders, the job was frequently done manually by a dedicated clock winder. While this job has all but been eliminated, there's one notable exception: just five years ago, Big Ben was hiring a clock winder. The going rate? Just north of $50,000 per year.

As most movie theaters switch to digital projectors, the role of the film projectionist is largely obsolete. While some projectionists' roles within the movie theater have changed to include programming and management, you'd likely have trouble finding anyone who's still professionally projecting 35mm film today.

Today, a laptop computer can weigh as little as a hardback book. However, throughout the 20th century, it took an entire human being—or sometimes a team of them—to generate the power in one of these tiny machines many of us take for granted today.

During World War II, so-called human computers were used to perform complex mathematical equations. Human computers were also used by NASA in the mid-1900s, as depicted in the book Hidden Figures and the movie of the same name. Think that's a wild career? Wait until you see these 15 Ridiculous Jobs So Useless You Won't Believe They Exist!

To discover more amazing secrets about living your best life, click here to sign up for our FREE daily newsletter!


Troubled Family Life

On December 19, 1813, much to the dismay of his parents, Vanderbilt married his first cousin, Sophia Johnson. The couple would eventually have 13 children, with 11 surviving to adulthood. As successful as he would be in business, he was a terrible father and husband. A lifelong misogynist who had wanted more than three sons, Vanderbilt paid little attention to his daughters and is believed to have cheated on his wife with prostitutes. Vanderbilt reportedly had his son਌ornelius Jeremiah twice਌ommitted to a lunatic asylum. He undertook the same course of action for Sophia at one point as well, after Vanderbilt showed amorous interest in the family&aposs young governess.


Labor Day’s violent roots: How a worker revolt on the B&O Railroad left 100 people dead

In the summer of 1877, the United States endured an outbreak of labor unrest so widespread and violent that some thought a new American revolution was in the offing, this time tinged with the communist ideals that had just burned through France.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 began in Martinsburg, W.Va., on July 16 when railroad workers responded to yet another pay cut by shutting down the yard. Violent clashes broke out, and from there the trouble raced along the great railroad lines into Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago and St. Louis, building in ferocity as it went.

Nearly two square miles of Pittsburgh went up in flames. Mobs of police and mobs of rioters hunted each other down in Chicago. The strike disrupted the B&O, the Erie and the Pennsylvania railroads, swept up miners, iron workers, longshoremen and canal boatmen, and touched places as far apart as Worcester, Mass., and San Francisco, as far south as Nashville and Galveston, Tex. In some places, the strike erased the color line between white and black workers, at least for a while.

By the time the strike was put down, an estimated 100,000 workers had taken part and about 100 people had died. It was the closest the young nation had come to a nationwide general strike and pointed to the need for a more progressive future.

“[M]any Americans would look back to the summer of 1877 as a turning point,” writes Philip Dray, whose book “There Is Power in a Union” documents U.S. labor history.

The spark came when John W. Garrett, president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, signed off on a 10 percent wage cut. It knocked a brakeman’s daily wage to $1.35 and was the second such cut in a year. It also came as Americans were still struggling after the Panic of 1873, one of the worst economic skids ever seen.

B&O workers in Baltimore tried to stage a protest but were thwarted by police. So the action moved down the line to Martinsburg, the terminus of a B&O section.

On July 16, a cattle train’s crew walked off the job, leaving the beef to roast in the heat. Then a brakeman led workers in decoupling trains so they couldn’t leave the yard. Police moved in but were driven off. West Virginia Gov. Henry M. Mathews called up the local militia.

The militia took command of the cattle train the next day and got it moving, but they were met by strikers, one of whom threw a switch to divert the train. Shots were exchanged: one striker was killed, and a militia member was wounded. Mathews called on President Rutherford B. Hayes to send federal troops. Hayes complied.

Maj. Gen. W.H. French arrived in Martinsburg with 200 soldiers of the 4th U.S. Artillery and the hope, Dray writes, that a show of bayonets would be enough to restore order. The soldiers, without help from B&O workers, got the trains running.

But the strikers began a low-grade guerrilla conflict. Railroad workers — joined now by miners, iron workers and boatmen from the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal — hid under bridges or behind blind curves, emerging to ambush trains with stones or block the tracks with debris.

Maryland Gov. John Lee Carroll, seeing a neighboring state in turmoil, called out the Maryland National Guard in Baltimore and dispatched them to Cumberland, a key B&O junction not far from Martinsburg. As 5th Regiment guardsmen marched from the city’s armory to Camden Station, Baltimore factory workers came into the street to cheer — until word got out about why the soldiers were mobilized. Soon the cheering crowd became a stone-throwing mob.

More troops were summoned, only to make things worse. As the Maryland National Guard’s 6th Regiment followed the same path, thousands of protesters, perhaps tens of thousands — “a mob, composed of the worst elements in the city,” as the New York Times put it — let loose with bricks. Some soldiers ran. Others fired into the air. Some fired into the mob, killing 10 people.

By now the rage had traveled the rails to Pittsburgh, the country’s industrial heart. Trouble began after the Pennsylvania Railroad ordered that all trains go in “double-headers” — a configuration using two locomotives that forced one crew to do the work of two.

Not in Pittsburgh, the strikers said. Once again, police were powerless to intervene, and local militia stacked arms in sympathy with the strike. Pennsylvania Gov. John F. Hartranft summoned the National Guard from Philadelphia, the Iron City’s cross-state rival.

The Philadelphia troops — many Civil War veterans — arrived in a train gouged by stones and chunks of coal dumped on them during the journey. They were heavily armed, with artillery and a Gatling gun. On Saturday, July 21, at the corner of Liberty Avenue and 28th Street, the soldiers clashed with a mob of about 6,000 people. Shots were fired, killing at least 20 people.

“Shot in Cold Blood by the Roughs of Philadelphia,” a local newspaper blared. “The Lexington of Labor Conflict Is at Hand.”

The crazed mob looted gun shops and weaponized freight cars loaded with coal, setting them on fire and rolling them downhill toward the roundhouse where the soldiers had sheltered. By the next morning, the soldiers had no choice but to flee under fire, and their Gatling gun was put to use. A chunk of the city had been put to the torch.

Chicago was next. Leaders of the Workingmen’s Party — which was heavily influenced by Marxism and was a forerunner of the Socialist Party — addressed a crowd of 30,000 people in downtown Chicago to form a “Grand Army of Labor,” Dray writes. “Pittsburgh! Pittsburgh! Pittsburgh!” the cry went up. Then violence broke out, and 30 people died.

In St. Louis, a relatively peaceful general strike shut down everything — and for that reason most frightened the leaders of industry, Dray writes. Talk spread of an “American Commune,” and the Workingmen’s Party led 10,000 in a parade singing “La Marseillaise.” But martial law was declared, arrests were made, and the Great Strike was on its way to becoming memory.

Afterward, the railroad barons were unrepentant. The B&O’s Garrett thought the soldiers should have killed more strikers. Others dismissed the unrest as the doings of foreign subversives. Politicians instead focused on strengthening the National Guard, often by building armories. But despite losing the strike, laborers had changed perceptions: In growing numbers, Americans came to believe that government should do more for social justice.

“What labor won was a new appreciation of its own strength,” Dray writes, “and of the power of the strike.”


The automated workplace

Robotic machines can perform certain unpleasant and dangerous jobs such as welding or painting. They can handle loads of up to a ton or more and work efficiently in temperatures ranging from near freezing to uncomfortably hot. In many cases automation has eliminated physical and mental drudgery from human labour and has allowed the worker to change from a machine operator to a machine supervisor.

Automation also boosts productivity (as measured in output per man-hour), even as it reduces the number of workers required for certain tasks. In the 1950s and ’60s, for example, productivity increased while employment decreased in the chemical, steel, meatpacking, and other industries in developed countries. Except in the rust belt regions (older industrial areas in Britain and the United States), no mass unemployment has ever materialized. Instead, as certain jobs and skills became obsolete, automation and other new technologies created new jobs that call for different skills.

Automation has brought about changes in the worker’s relationship to the job. Here the differences between labour practices in different countries prove instructive. The scientific management principle of breaking work down into small, repetitive tasks was based perhaps upon the notion that the worker does not think on the job. For example, when American factories became mechanized, the workers were not permitted to stop the assembly line if anything went amiss that was the task of supervisory personnel. This led to low productivity and poor quality control. By comparison, workers in Japanese factories were allowed to stop the process when something went wrong. Workers were assigned to “quality circles,” groups that could give workers a say in the performance of their tasks and in the process of problem solving. This approach represents an application of Mayo’s Hawthorne effect—something Japanese managers had learned from American management consultants such as W. Edwards Deming. By encouraging workers to participate in the quality control efforts, the management approach improved both productivity and quality.

A similar way of enhancing quality and work performance is what is known as group assembly, which started in Swedish automobile plants and was also adopted by the Japanese and then by the Americans. With this system a group of workers is responsible for the entire product (as opposed to individual workers who perform only one small task). If something goes wrong on an assembly line, any worker can push a button and hold things in place until the problem is resolved.

As this approach is increasingly employed throughout the world, it brings major changes to the labour force and to labour-management relations. First, it allows smaller numbers of more highly skilled workers, operating sophisticated computer-controlled equipment, to replace thousands of unskilled workers in assembly-line plants. As a consequence, the highly skilled worker, whose talents had been lost on the old-fashioned assembly line, has again become indispensable. The proliferation of automated machinery and control systems has increased the demand for skilled labourers and knowledgeable technicians who can operate the newer devices. As a result, automation may be seen as improving efficiency and expanding production while relieving drudgery and increasing earnings—precisely the aims of Frederick W. Taylor at the turn of the 20th century.


East St. Louis Massacre

The name refers to a race riot that occurred in the industrial city of East St. Louis, Illinois, over July 2-3, 1917. It is also referred to as the “East St. Louis Riot.” As historians have looked at its various causes, they have labeled it in different ways, depending on what aspect of it they have focused their attention on. Some recent historians have called it a “pogrom” against African Americans in that civil authorities in the city and the state appear to have been at least complicit in—if not explicitly responsible for—the outbreak of violence. Even in 1917, some commentators already made the comparison between the East St. Louis disturbance and pogroms against Jews that were occurring at the time in Russia. Roving mobs rampaged through the city for a day and a night, burning the homes and businesses of African Americans, stopping street cars to pull their victims into the street, and assaulting and murdering men, women, and children who they happened to encounter. A memorial petition to the U.S. Congress, sent by a citizen committee from East St. Louis described it as “a very orgy of inhuman butchery during which more than fifty colored men, women and children were beaten with bludgeons, stoned, shot, drowned, hanged or burned to death—all without any effective interference on the part of the police, sheriff or military authorities.” In fact, estimates of the number of people killed ranged from 40 to more than 150. Six thousand people fled from their homes in the city, either out of fear for their lives or because mobs had burned their houses.

In the early years of the 20th century, many industrial cities in the North and the Midwest became destinations for African Americans migrating from the South, looking for employment. East St. Louis was one of these cities, where blacks found opportunities to work for meatpacking, metalworking, and railroad companies. The demand for workers in these companies increased dramatically in the run-up to World War I. Some of the workmen left for service in the military, creating a need for replacements, and the demand for war materiel increased industrial orders. The workforce had been highly unionized and a series of labor strikes had increased pressure on companies to find non-unionized workers to do the work. Some companies in East St. Louis actively recruited rural Southern blacks, offering them transportation and jobs, as well as the promise of settling in a community of neighborhoods where African Americans were building new lives strengthened by emerging political and cultural power. By the spring of 1917, about 2,000 African Americans arrived in East St. Louis every week.

Racial competition and conflict emerged from this. The established unions in East St. Louis resented the African American workers as “scabs” and strike breakers. On May 28-29, a union meeting whose 3,000 attendees marched on the mayor’s office to make demands about “unfair” competition devolved into a mob that rioted through the streets, destroyed buildings, and assaulted African Americans at random. The Illinois governor sent in the National Guard to stop the riot, but over the next few weeks, black neighborhood associations, fearful of their safety, organized for their own protection and determined that they would fight back if attacked again. On July 1, white men driving a car through a black neighborhood began shooting into houses, stores, and a church. A group of black men organized themselves to defend against the attackers. As they gathered together, they mistook an approaching car for the same one that had earlier driven through the neighborhood and they shot and killed both men in the car, who were, in fact, police detectives sent to calm the situation. The shooting of the detectives incensed a growing crowd of white spectators who came the next day to gawk at the car. The crowd grew and turned into a mob that spent the day and the following night on a spree of violence that extended into the black neighborhoods of East St. Louis. Again, the National Guard was sent in, but neither the guardsmen nor police officers were at all effective in protecting the African American residents. They were instead more disposed to construe their job as putting down a black revolt. As a result, some of the white mobs were virtually unrestrained.

A national outcry immediately arose to oust the East St. Louis police chief and other city officials, who were not just ineffective during the riots, but were suspected of aiding and abetting the rioters, partly out of a preconceived plan, suggested Marcus Garvey, to discourage African American migration to the city. The recently formed NAACP suddenly grew and mobilized—with a silent march of 10,000 people in New York City to protest the riots. They and others demanded a Congressional investigation into the riots. The report of the investigation, however, pointed to the migration of African Americans to the East St. Louis region as a “cause” of the riot, wording that sounded like blaming the victims. As Marcus Garvey had said of an earlier report of the riot, “An investigation of the affair resulted in the finding that labor agents had induced Negroes to come from the South. I can hardly see the relevance of such a report with the dragging of men from cars and shooting them.” A similar point about simple justice for the victims and where to place the blame for the riots nearly caused ex-President Theodore Roosevelt to come to blows with AFL leader Samuel Gompers during a public appearance shortly after the riot. Roosevelt demanded that those who had perpetrated the violence and murders in East St. Louis be brought to justice. Gompers then rose to address the crowd and, as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, wrote, “He read a telegram which he said he had received tonight from the president of the Federation of Labor of Illinois. This message purported to explain the origin of the East St. Louis riots. It asserted that instead of labor unions being responsible for them they resulted from employers enticing Negroes from the south to the city ‘to break the back of labor.’” This enraged Roosevelt, who jumped up, approached Gompers, brought his hand down onto his shoulder and roared that, “There should be no apology for the infamous brutalities committed on the colored people of East St. Louis.” Roosevelt, like many other Americans of all races, was particularly appalled by the irony that such an event could occur in the United States at the same time that the country, by entering World War I, was declaring its intentions to export abroad its vision of freedom and justice. This theme was picked up by many editorial cartoonists in newspapers across the U.S. East St. Louis was by no means the only northern industrial city to experience race riots during this period. A conviction grew among some African Americans that they could not depend on an enlightened white community or government, either in the South or in the North, to insure their rights and their safety, but that they would have to fight for their own rights. In an editorial entitled "Let Us Reason Together," in his magazine, The Crisis, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote, “Today we raise the terrible weapon of self-defense. When the murderer comes, he shall no longer strike us in the back. When the armed lynchers gather, we too must gather armed. When the mob moves, we propose to meet it with bricks and clubs and guns.”

For more information

Harper Barnes, Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Walker & Company, 2008. Elliott M. Ruckwick, Race Riot at East St. Louis, July 2, 1917. Carbondale: University of Illinois Press, 1982. Charles L. Lumpkins, American Pogrom: The East St. Louis Race Riot and Black Politics. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008. U. S. House of Representatives, Special Committee on East St. Louis Riots, East St. Louis Riots. Washington: GPO, 1918.


Labor Day’s violent roots: How a worker revolt on the B&O Railroad left 100 people dead

In the summer of 1877, the United States endured an outbreak of labor unrest so widespread and violent that some thought a new American revolution was in the offing, this time tinged with the communist ideals that had just burned through France.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 began in Martinsburg, W.Va., on July 16 when railroad workers responded to yet another pay cut by shutting down the yard. Violent clashes broke out, and from there the trouble raced along the great railroad lines into Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago and St. Louis, building in ferocity as it went.

Nearly two square miles of Pittsburgh went up in flames. Mobs of police and mobs of rioters hunted each other down in Chicago. The strike disrupted the B&O, the Erie and the Pennsylvania railroads, swept up miners, iron workers, longshoremen and canal boatmen, and touched places as far apart as Worcester, Mass., and San Francisco, as far south as Nashville and Galveston, Tex. In some places, the strike erased the color line between white and black workers, at least for a while.

By the time the strike was put down, an estimated 100,000 workers had taken part and about 100 people had died. It was the closest the young nation had come to a nationwide general strike and pointed to the need for a more progressive future.

“[M]any Americans would look back to the summer of 1877 as a turning point,” writes Philip Dray, whose book “There Is Power in a Union” documents U.S. labor history.

The spark came when John W. Garrett, president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, signed off on a 10 percent wage cut. It knocked a brakeman’s daily wage to $1.35 and was the second such cut in a year. It also came as Americans were still struggling after the Panic of 1873, one of the worst economic skids ever seen.

B&O workers in Baltimore tried to stage a protest but were thwarted by police. So the action moved down the line to Martinsburg, the terminus of a B&O section.

On July 16, a cattle train’s crew walked off the job, leaving the beef to roast in the heat. Then a brakeman led workers in decoupling trains so they couldn’t leave the yard. Police moved in but were driven off. West Virginia Gov. Henry M. Mathews called up the local militia.

The militia took command of the cattle train the next day and got it moving, but they were met by strikers, one of whom threw a switch to divert the train. Shots were exchanged: one striker was killed, and a militia member was wounded. Mathews called on President Rutherford B. Hayes to send federal troops. Hayes complied.

Maj. Gen. W.H. French arrived in Martinsburg with 200 soldiers of the 4th U.S. Artillery and the hope, Dray writes, that a show of bayonets would be enough to restore order. The soldiers, without help from B&O workers, got the trains running.

But the strikers began a low-grade guerrilla conflict. Railroad workers — joined now by miners, iron workers and boatmen from the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal — hid under bridges or behind blind curves, emerging to ambush trains with stones or block the tracks with debris.

Maryland Gov. John Lee Carroll, seeing a neighboring state in turmoil, called out the Maryland National Guard in Baltimore and dispatched them to Cumberland, a key B&O junction not far from Martinsburg. As 5th Regiment guardsmen marched from the city’s armory to Camden Station, Baltimore factory workers came into the street to cheer — until word got out about why the soldiers were mobilized. Soon the cheering crowd became a stone-throwing mob.

More troops were summoned, only to make things worse. As the Maryland National Guard’s 6th Regiment followed the same path, thousands of protesters, perhaps tens of thousands — “a mob, composed of the worst elements in the city,” as the New York Times put it — let loose with bricks. Some soldiers ran. Others fired into the air. Some fired into the mob, killing 10 people.

By now the rage had traveled the rails to Pittsburgh, the country’s industrial heart. Trouble began after the Pennsylvania Railroad ordered that all trains go in “double-headers” — a configuration using two locomotives that forced one crew to do the work of two.

Not in Pittsburgh, the strikers said. Once again, police were powerless to intervene, and local militia stacked arms in sympathy with the strike. Pennsylvania Gov. John F. Hartranft summoned the National Guard from Philadelphia, the Iron City’s cross-state rival.

The Philadelphia troops — many Civil War veterans — arrived in a train gouged by stones and chunks of coal dumped on them during the journey. They were heavily armed, with artillery and a Gatling gun. On Saturday, July 21, at the corner of Liberty Avenue and 28th Street, the soldiers clashed with a mob of about 6,000 people. Shots were fired, killing at least 20 people.

“Shot in Cold Blood by the Roughs of Philadelphia,” a local newspaper blared. “The Lexington of Labor Conflict Is at Hand.”

The crazed mob looted gun shops and weaponized freight cars loaded with coal, setting them on fire and rolling them downhill toward the roundhouse where the soldiers had sheltered. By the next morning, the soldiers had no choice but to flee under fire, and their Gatling gun was put to use. A chunk of the city had been put to the torch.

Chicago was next. Leaders of the Workingmen’s Party — which was heavily influenced by Marxism and was a forerunner of the Socialist Party — addressed a crowd of 30,000 people in downtown Chicago to form a “Grand Army of Labor,” Dray writes. “Pittsburgh! Pittsburgh! Pittsburgh!” the cry went up. Then violence broke out, and 30 people died.

In St. Louis, a relatively peaceful general strike shut down everything — and for that reason most frightened the leaders of industry, Dray writes. Talk spread of an “American Commune,” and the Workingmen’s Party led 10,000 in a parade singing “La Marseillaise.” But martial law was declared, arrests were made, and the Great Strike was on its way to becoming memory.

Afterward, the railroad barons were unrepentant. The B&O’s Garrett thought the soldiers should have killed more strikers. Others dismissed the unrest as the doings of foreign subversives. Politicians instead focused on strengthening the National Guard, often by building armories. But despite losing the strike, laborers had changed perceptions: In growing numbers, Americans came to believe that government should do more for social justice.

“What labor won was a new appreciation of its own strength,” Dray writes, “and of the power of the strike.”


The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 Historical Background

Summer, eighteen hundred seventy-seven. The United States officially ended the twelve-year period spent "reconstructing" the nation after a divisive war. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was four months into his hard-won presidency, having lost the popular vote to New York's Governor Samuel Tilden but winning the office thanks to the partisan electoral college. Industrial growth, evident in the North prior to the war, was widespread, changing the economic foundation of the nation and the relationship of the individual to his work for the next century.

As devastating as the War Between the States was for soldiers and civilians, it was remarkably lucrative for entrepreneurs and financiers. The economy boomed with necessary production of goods for both the battlefield and the home front technological advancements bred further innovation. The steel industry had already benefited from a new manufacturing technique known as the Bessemer process, developed in the 1850s, that used less than one-seventh the amount of coal previously needed. Shipping speed and profits increased due to advancements in water power and steam engines. New York City, a hub of national mercantilism and commerce, became a center for the buying and selling of money itself by the Civil War, housing the notable Stock Exchange of the City of New York. Venerable businessmen Cornelius Vanderbilt and Daniel Drew became even more prosperous, but the future of the country belonged to a younger generation. The robber barons and captains of industry of the last quarter of the nineteenth century were all under forty in 1861: Jay Gould, Jim Fisk, J.P. Morgan, Philip Armour, Andrew Carnegie, James Hill and John Rockefeller were in their early twenties Collis Huntington and Leland Stanford were over thirty, and Jay Cooke, not yet forty. Their business acumen, willingness to take risks, and downright arrogance resulted in exorbitant, some would say obscene, wealth, much of which was, at this point, plowed back into the businesses to create even more capital. Their power is evident in the panic of Black Friday (September 24, 1869), caused by the efforts of Jim Fisk and Jay Gould to corner the gold market.

Money, technology, greed and a profound lack of government regulation gave rise to new forms of companies and corporations. The first businesses to become really big were the railroads, and regional lines frequently had monopolies over freight transportation and charges. In 1869, freight accounted for $300 million in railroad earnings. By 1890, the amount more than doubled, to $734 million. The Albany Argus published the train schedules in its daily newspaper. So tied to the vagaries of railroad charges were farmers in the mid-West that they took their concerns to the Supreme Court (Munn v. Illinois, 1876).

At the beginning of Ulysses Grant's second term, several Eastern financial institutions ran out of funds as a result of bad loans. The subsequent Panic of 1873 ravaged the nation banks closed, the stock market temporarily collapsed, and an economic depression affected Americans for approximately five years. Within the first year, 89 railroads (of the 364 then existing) went out of business their failure left farmers with no means of transporting products, and they too became casualties. The new industrialized economy was so intertwined that a vicious downward cycle began: by 1875, more than 18,000 companies collapsed. With no money and no visible relief on the horizon, Americans took out their frustrations on the available targets: government, corporations, banks, immigrants. Businesses turned to workers.

The change from an agrarian to industrial economy transformed the value of labor. Workers became just another cog in the machinery of business. When profits declined beyond those acceptable to stockholders, it was the worker who received lower wages, or was dismissed. The steady movement of rural dwellers to urban industrial areas and ever-increasing numbers of immigrants provided business owners a constant source of cheap labor, willing to work under the most deplorable of conditions. In the 1870s, workers did not yet organize when they finally did, their unions were not sanctioned or protected by the federal government until decades later, in the 1930s.

Such was the United States in July, 1877. The Railroad Strike began simply enough, in Martinsburg, West Virginia, on July 16. It became the first massive strike of American workers, and was viewed at the time as rebellion and insurrection. So great was the fear of corporate America that huge, stone armories were constructed around the country to protect the citizenry from a working people's revolt. They remain in many cities today as a reminder of a perceived war on capitalism and "the American way of life." Such is the legacy of The Great Strike of 1877, otherwise referred to as The Great Upheaval.

The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad cut wages for its workers by 10 per cent on Monday, July 16 it was the second such action in eight months. Confused and angry, the trainmen milled around the yard throughout the day. A crew abandoned work on a cattle train at day's end, and workers refused to replace them. Crowds gathered, uncoupled engines, and refused to continue operation until wages were reinstated. When the mayor arrived to quell the crowds and order the arrest of the leaders, he was jeered and ridiculed. Police were powerless to convince workers to operate the trains, and quickly withdrew.

B&O officials sought help from Governor Henry Matthews, who wired Col. Charles Faulkner, Jr., commander of the Berkeley Light Guard, to gather his troops in support of the rail officials. On Tuesday morning, Faulkner's militiamen, many of whom were railroad workers arrived in Martinsburg. As the cattle train moved out of the station with the militia on board, a striker, William Vandergriff, pulled a switch to derail the train. He shot a soldier who tried to restart the train, and was then shot himself. The engineer and fireman left the train volunteers refused to answer Faulkner's call to run the train. Faulkner wired the governor that he was unable to control the situation the crowds and militia were full of strike sympathizers.

What followed was spontaneous combustion. Firemen and rail workers stopped freight traffic along the entire line of the B&O passenger and mail service went uninterrupted. Seventy engines and six hundred freight cars quickly piled up in the Martinsburg yard. Governor Matthews, determined to break the strike, sent in Light Guards from Wheeling they too sided with the strikers, and they were moved from the rail yard to the courthouse. The people of Martinsburg were resolute in their support of the workers. The strikers, it would seem, were successful order was restored.

However, B&O officials wired Washington, D.C. to request the employment of the U.S. Army, even suggesting that the Secretary of War be apprised of the situation. Faulkner wired Governor Matthews that a "bloody conflict" incited by railroad workers would prove too much for his small militia the governor in turn, backed by an appeal from B&O president, wired President Hayes for help.

As the strike spread along the web of rail lines, the pattern remained the same: workers react to the pay cuts with a work stoppage officials attempt to run the trains with militia and volunteers attempts are abandoned due to popular support of the rail workers.

Wage cuts began earlier, June first, on the Pennsylvania Railroad the Brotherhood of Engineers, Conductors and Firemen did nothing to protect its members, and workers took matters into their own hands. But wages were not the only working conditions at issue on railroads. Workers disapproved of the "first crew in, first crew out" system, which left workers no rest or family time. The length of the work day was calculated by miles rather than hours, and that mileage more than doubled. Runs were irregular, thereby making wages and work schedules erratic. No overtime pay was granted reduction in crews meant longer hours, harder work handling extra cars.

Railroad brotherhoods, organized to assist workers in reaching their goals, were ineffectual delegates were intimidated by rail officials and frequently capitulated to owners' demands without consulting the rank-and-file. And unions were full of spies, spreading word of work stoppages to company officials, who would in turn fire potential strike committee members. This panic would lead committee leaders to deny reports of impending strikes or work actions, leaving locals devoid of union leadership and direction. The Great Upheaval was the result of independent initiatives up and down the rails.

Three hundred federal troops entered Martinsburg on July 19 the workers in Martinsburg were supplanted in their efforts by strikebreakers from Baltimore, who began running the trains under military control. Just when it appeared as though the strike was indeed broken, railroad workers received support from wide-ranging sources: striking boatmen on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal miners from Piedmont, West Virginia boatmen, migrant workers, and young boys at Cumberland, Maryland. The president of the B&O, recognizing the possible extent of the strike, urged Maryland Governor John Carroll to call up the National Guard. Again, met by large numbers of labor sympathizers, the militia was driven back Governor Carroll wired President Hayes for the U.S. Army.

During the same week, the Pennsylvania Railroad ordered a change in the operation of all freights running eastward from Pittsburgh, resulting in more work and increased danger of accidents and layoffs. Again, crew members independently refused to obey orders. Word of the strike spread quickly, and so did the arrival of militia.

On Sunday, July 22, militia dispersed an angry crowd with threats of gunfire in Buffalo, New York on Monday, the crowd returned armed, pushed aside the militia, and forced the closing of the Erie roundhouse. By that evening, all major railroads abandoned attempts at moving anything but local passenger trains out of Buffalo.

Strike actions took place in sympathy around the nation: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - shops closed Zanesville, Ohio - hotel construction halted, factories and foundries shut down Toledo, Ohio - general strike, calling for a minimum wage of $1.50 per day Texas and Pacific Railroad workers in Marshall, Texas, strike against the ten per cent cut. African-American workers in the South struck for equal pay to white workers in Galveston, Texas black sewer workers in Louisville, Kentucky, initiated a strike that within three days involved coopers, textile workers, brick makers, cabinet workers and factory workers. Within a week after it began in Martinsburg, the railroad strike reached East St. Louis, where 500 members of the St. Louis Workingmen's Party joined 1,000 railroad workers and residents. Strikers in St. Louis continued operation of non-freight trains themselves, collecting fares rail officials would have preferred to have all service extinguished, so that passengers would discredit the strikers and side with the companies.

For all of its fervor and support, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 ended by August 1, unsuccessful, its workers no better off at the end than when it began. Workers did not receive pay raises legislation strengthened anti-union attitudes, and state militias were increased. What went wrong? In many ways, the very spontaneity of the strike was its own undoing the workers were, after all, unorganized. The strike evolved, or erupted, because of a collective dissatisfaction with workers' loss of control to company bosses, and an almost subliminal idea that their power lay in mutual support. The workers overthrew established authority and control, but were unable to sustain the momentum or unity as the strike grew. After initially being ousted, forces of law and order regrouped in short order and were able to marshal their forces swiftly and confidently. In cities such as Chicago, Civil War veterans were organized ward by ward civilians were sworn in as special police, freeing regular police for strike-related duty. The general public feared the violence of the workers many editorials and pundits aligned their actions with those of the 1871 Paris Commune uprising. Whispers and headlines included the words "socialists," "anarchists," and "communists." Behind all local and state efforts to break the strike was the federal government, with its military and legislative muscle.

Ultimately the strike involved more than 100,000 railroad workers in fourteen states they walked off their jobs, smashed cars and pulled up tracks in Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Toledo, Louisville, Buffalo, and San Francisco. Before service was restored, more than 100 were dead, hundreds injured, thousands jailed, $5 million of property destroyed.

The Great Strike of 1877 is memorable for being the first of many to follow. Its dramatic display of cooperative power virtually ceased the movements of society and commerce. This lesson was not lost on business owners, many of whom thought twice about cutting wages in the near future. Some companies in the 1880s initiated labor reforms, providing death benefits, limited medical services, and pension plans for their workers. The Workingmen's Party gained a national presence. And, in 1878, the opponents of workers' revolts began constructing the protective armories.


Pullman Strike

The Pullman Strike of 1894 was one of the most influential events in the history of U.S. labor. What began as a walkout by railroad workers in the company town of Pullman, Illinois, escalated into the country's first national strike. The events surrounding the strike catapulted several leaders to prominence and brought national focus to issues concerning labor unrest, SOCIALISM, and the need for new efforts to balance the economic interests of labor and capitalism.

In 1859, 28-year-old George M. Pullman, an ambitious entrepreneur who had moved from New York to Chicago, found success as a building contractor. When a new sewage system was installed that necessitated the raising of downtown buildings by ten feet, he ran a business where he oversaw large teams of men working with huge jacks to raise the buildings. Pullman quickly became wealthy.

Continuing his penchant for innovation, Pullman turned in 1867 to the subject of railroad travel and created a new line of luxury railroad cars featuring comfortable seating, restaurants, and improved sleeping accommodations. As demand for the "Pullman coaches" grew, Pullman further demonstrated his financial acumen. He did not sell his sleeping cars instead he leased them to railroad companies. By 1893, the Pullman Company operated over 2,000 cars on almost every major U.S. railroad, and the company was valued at $62 million.

A firm believer in capitalism and moral uplift, Pullman gathered a group of investors and began to build the nation's first model industrial town near Lake Calumet on the southwest edge of Chicago. Between 1880 and 1884, the village of Pullman was built on 4,000 acres. In addition to the company's manufacturing plants, the town contained a hotel, a school, a library, a church, and office buildings as well as parks and recreational facilities. Houses were well-built brick structures that featured cutting-edge conveniences of the era such as indoor plumbing and gas heat. Other innovations included regular garbage pick-up, a modern sewer system, and landscaped streets. An equally firm believer in the necessity of making a profit, Pullman operated his town as he operated his company, leasing the housing to his workers and selling them food, gas, and water at a 10 percent markup.

A significant drop in the country's gold reserves, prodigious spending of U.S. Treasury surpluses, and the passage in 1890 of the Sherman Silver Act led to the financial panic of 1893. The ensuing corporate failures, mass layoffs of workers, and bank closings plunged the country into a major depression. In response, the Pullman Company fired more than a third of the workforce and instituted reduced hours and wage cuts of more than 25 percent for the remaining hourly employees. Because Pullman had promised the town's investors a 6 percent return, there was no corresponding reduction in the rents and other charges paid by the workers. Rent was deducted directly from their paychecks, leaving many workers with no money to feed and clothe their families.

In desperation, many workers joined the newly established American Railway Union (ARU) that claimed a membership of 465 local unions and 150,000 workers. ARU organizer and president EUGENE V. DEBS had become nationally prominent when he led a short but successful strike against the Great Northern Railway in early 1894. In May 1894, the workers struck the Pullman Company. Debs directed the strike and widened its scope, asking other train workers outside Chicago to refuse to work on trains that included Pullman cars. While the workers did agree to permit trains carrying the U.S. mail to operate as long as they did not contain Pullman cars, the railroads refused to compromise. Instead, they added Pullman cars to all their trains, including the ones that only transported freight.

Despite repeated attempts by the union to discuss the situation with Pullman, he refused to negotiate. As the strike spread, entire rail lines were shut down. The railroads quickly formed the General Managers Association (GMA) and announced that switchmen who did not move rail cars would be fired immediately. The ARU responded with a union-wide walkout. By the end of June, 50,000 railroad workers had walked off their jobs.

The economic threat and sporadic violence led the GMA to call for federal troops to be brought in. Illinois governor John P. Altgeld, who was sympathetic to the cause of the striking workers, refused the request for troops. In July, U.S. attorney general RICHARD OLNEY, who supported the GMA, issued a broad INJUNCTION called the Omnibus Indictment that prohibited strikers and union representatives from attempting to persuade workers to abandon their jobs.

When striking workers were read the indictment and refused to disperse, Olney obtained a federal court injunction holding the workers in CONTEMPT and, in effect, declaring the strike illegal. When the workers still refused to end the strike, Debs and other leaders were arrested and Olney requested the federal troops saying they were needed to move the mail. President GROVER CLEVELAND sent more than 2,000 troops to Chicago, and fighting soon broke out between the rioting strikers and soldiers. Soldiers killed more than a dozen workers and wounded many more.

With strike leaders in prison and a growing public backlash over the looting and ARSON committed by some striking workers, the strike was effectively broken. Most of the workers returned to their jobs in August, although some were blacklisted and never again worked for the railroads. Debs was charged with contempt of court for disobeying the court injunction and conspiracy to obstruct the U.S. mail. CLARENCE DARROW, an attorney who had quit his job as general counsel of the Chicago and North Western Railway, defended Debs and the other ARU leaders, but they were convicted and spent six months in prison. They were released in November 1895.

Darrow went on to become a prominent defense attorney as well as a well-known public orator. Debs, whose contempt of court conviction was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in In re Debs, 158 U.S. 564, 15 S.Ct. 900, 39 L.Ed. 1092 (1895), was further radicalized by his experiences. In high demand as a popular speaker particularly in the industrial states of the North, Debs became the influential leader of the Socialist Party, running for president several times between 1900 and 1920.

Pullman, who continued to regard himself as a morally upright man despite the critical findings of a presidential commission appointed to investigate the strike, died in 1897. Fearful that his body might be degraded or stolen by former strikers, Pullman's family had his body buried in a concrete and steel casket in a tomb covered with steel-reinforced concrete. In 1971, the former "company" town of Pullman was designated as a national landmark district.

The Pullman Strike of 1894 and its aftermath had an indelible effect on the course of the labor movement in the United States. The use of federal troops and the labor injunction sent a message to U.S. workers that would not change until the NEW DEAL of the 1930s. The polarization of management and labor would continue for decades.


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