Early Strikes Of The American Labor Movement

.. tried and succeeded in dominating every aspect of its workers’ lives. The company owned land, plants, houses, tenements, hotel, stores, bank, school, library, church, water and gas systems. “As employer, George Pullman determined wages, as landlord he fixed rents, as banker he collected savings,” (Meltzer 150). George Pullman knew how to make a profit. He made his business highly profitable, and was running his town the same way. The town obtained its water from Chicago for four cents, but Pullman charged his workers ten.

As for the gas he paid 33 cents for, he charged his workers $2.55. One worker said, “We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shop, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman church, and when we die we shall be buried in the Pullman cemetery and go to Pullman hell,” (Meltzer 151). Pullman managed to keep business good, even in the depression of 1893. In that year, he managed to earn a surplus of $4 million. He managed that by cutting wages 25 to 40 per cent while keeping rents and prices the same.

In the first winter of the depression, every single Pullman worker was in debt. They felt they had taken all they could. The new American Railway Union, recently organized by Eugene V. Debs, was encouraging the workers to join them. The fact that Pullman ran a small railroad made the eligible.

They managed to have secret meeting in adjacent town to avoid company spies. A year and a half after the start of the depression a committee was organized and sent to the company to ask that their wages be restored. The company claimed that they had lost a lot of money and were only keeping the plant going to give the men work. The men reluctantly returned to work assured by the company that that no member of the committee would be fired. The next day, three members of the committee were laid off.

Turning to Debs for help, the of the American Railway Union in the company declared a strike. Pullman shut down the whole plant. His plan was to wait until the workers and their families starved, driving them back to work. In a few short weeks the workers’ families were starving. Debs tried repeatedly to settle the dispute. The company remained was not interested. The American Railway Union decided to boycott Pullman cars, refusing to handle them anywhere.

On the first day of the boycott, switchmen detached all Pullman cars from the trains. They were all fired immediately. That act provoked other members of the American Railway Union to walk off the job in protest. The boycott evolved into a strike. By the second day 40,000 people refused to work.

By the forth, 125,000. “Soon, nearly every train in the country was dead on its tracks,” (Meltzer 155). It was already deemed the most effective strike on this scale the country had ever seen. The union had grown in importance so that a strike against one company, the Pullman Company for example, escalated into an industry-wide strike. The General Managers Association, a semi-secret organization representing twenty-four of the nation’s biggest railroads, came to Pullman’s aid. Though the Association knew the strike was aimed at Pullman, they saw in the strike, a chance to destroy a new industrial union movement before it could dramatically influence American labor. From his years of experience with strikes, Debs knew that if the union were to win, they would need to keep it peaceful. He sent out numerous telegrams advising members of the union to stop no train by force.

They would only refuse to handle Pullman cars. The Association was moving fast to end this one. Due to the depression and joblessness, the search for scabs was easy. The Association wanted to get federal troops involved making the problem was a labor-government problem instead of a labor-management problem. For help they turned to Attorney General Richard Olney, who was a former railroad lawyer and a member of the board of several lines.

In order to use federal troops, President Cleveland needed to be enforcing a federal court order. To help him to get the court order, Richard Olney called on Edwin Walker. Walker claimed that the strike was in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. He said the union was meddling with the mail, interstate commerce, or the operation of twenty-three railroads now involved in the strike. When the injunction was read by the court marshal in front of a crowd of unionists, they went wild. They started hooting and rough-housing his deputies.

Walker immediately wired Washington for troops. Federal troops were dispatched immediately by President Cleveland’s order on July 4th. The wild gang crowded into open streets and railway yards and fighting broke out. There were 14,000 armed men, and the militia was shooting into crowds killing about 20 people trying to keep them from moving the trains. By that night the city was fiery with burning freight cars lighting up the night sky. The union claimed that the riot was not cause by strikers, but with the presence of so many soldiers, the strikers soon became discouraged.

Their boycott was near defeat. Knowing that by obeying the injunction would mean losing the strike, Debs wouldn’t and was indicted by a grand jury for conspiracy. The workers felt they couldn’t give up the strike. Striking was the only way for them to defend their interests as long as Pullman wouldn’t settle. The press blew the situation out of proportion getting 700 union leaders arrested. And Debs himself was thrown in jail for six months for violating the injunction.

The strike was now broken, and the American Railway Union was no more. The use of the injunction against the workers in the Pullman strike became a powerful weapon against labor unions. The ruling of the Supreme Court meant that management no longer had to rely on violence to break a strike. All they had to do was claim that the striking, picketing, or boycotting was hurting profits. Ever since the Pullman strike, as soon as an industry-wide strike was called, it was followed by, in most cases, a state or federal court order.

“One judge prohibited a craft federation from promoting or endorsing a strike ‘in any manner by letters, printed or other circulars, telegrams or telephones, word of mouth, oral persuasion, or suggestion, or through interviews to be published in the newspapers,” (Meltzer 158). This took away a worker’s first amendment right to free speech. This strike made clear that the forces of the government could be used by the side of the management. Lawrence Textile Strike: 1912, Lawrence, Massachusetts, Textile Industry “Upon that day [first day of the strike], in the Washington mill of the so-called Woolen Trust, a handful of Italian operatives had gone to draw their pay envelopes. Of all the mingled peoples of Lawrence, none are so humble as the Italians, none so eager for work at any price, and none so ill paid.

They are the last and poorest of the successive wave of people from Europe which have been surging upon our shores during the last thirty years. When these people opened their envelopes, they found that there was a reduction of pay corresponding to two hours of work in a week – the price perhaps of three or four loaves of bread,” (Lens 102). After receiving their pay, the enraged men went parading down the halls getting hundreds to join them. They broke a few windows in the factory and paraded down the main streets of the town, beginning the strike. The cause of this strike was wage cuts. The state had just passed a law reducing the hours of women and children from 56 a week to 54.

The employers decided to cut wages proportionately. The difference to the factory owners was negligible, but the workers were already at the starving point. Their motto was, “Better to starve fighting, than to starve working.” One thing that was very unique to the Lawrence Textile strike was all of the different people involved. There were at least 30 different nationalities speaking 45 different languages. Only eight per cent of the mill was native-born.

Each textile mill was trying to dominate the industry. They had first made the weavers attend to two looms instead of one. Then they gradually increased the speed of the machines. But most importantly, each man was being forced to work harder and do more per day. For the workers, it became and exhausting battle.

Wages did advance slowly over the years, but not as much as the cost of living. The Lawrence Textile workers had never been organized. They had a few skilled workers in the American Federation of Labor, but not enough to strike. A different union came in to help them. It was the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

The IWW had been trying to organize Lawrence for almost ten years. As the strike continued, the workers’ families started to go hungry. Supporters of the strike donated some food, but it was not enough for everyone to eat. In order to feed the children, the workers sent them to live with families in New York and Philadelphia. As one group of children was leaving Lawrence, the police arrested and beat them and their mothers. The nation was outraged.

A congressional investigation was begun. Fearing all of the negative publicity, the mill owners settled the strike and met all the union demands. Soon every mill in New England raised wages from five to twenty per cent. The efforts of labor unions to get better wages and working conditions has been bloody. Fearing the unions’ power, management in several industries has used many devices to defeat strikers.

They have locked workers out, hired scabs and security guards, and relied on the government to provide troops. Despite many defeats, unions continued to organize. As they saw the success of the strike in Lawrence, their power crossed many ethnic lines, and involved workers of many different backgrounds. History Essays.