1894 was the second of four years of depression. The pinch
was felt even by the Pullman Palace Car Company, which manufactured
the sleeping cars used by most of the nation's railroads. George
Pullman responded by laying off several thousand of his 5,800
employees and cutting pay 25 to 50 percent, while refusing to
reduce rents charged employees, who lived in the company town
of Pullman, near Chicago. Then he fired three members of a workers'
On May 11, 1894, 90 percent of his workers went on strike.
The strike spread nationwide when the American Railway Union refused
to move trains with Pullman cars. Within a month, more than a
quarter million other railroad employees had joined the strike.
The government, under President Grover Cleveland, swiftly won
a court injunction ordering strikers back to work. When they refused
to comply, he dispatched more than 14,000 federal troops and marshals.
In Chicago, when soldiers fired into a crowd of 10,000, 25 persons
were killed, 60 badly injured. Hundreds were jailed, including
union leader Eugene Debs, who subsequently founded the Socialist
party. Railroad attorney Clarence Darrow switched sides and defended
Debs, launching his career as a defender of underdogs. Social
Worker Jane Addams led an investigation of the strike.
Samuel Gompers and his fellow craft unionists at the helm of
the American Federation of Labor spurned Debs' plea for a general
strike to protest enlistment of the White House and the courts
on the side of management.
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