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Why You Should Know About the 1894 Pullman Strike

In the final episode of our miniseries on Jack Kelly's The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America, we learn how George Pullman's laborers fought back against his working conditions and wages with The Pullman Strike. 

By
Jack Kelly,
Episode #69
political cartoon of the pullman strike

This aggressive response succeeded. The military fired on rioters. Debs and other union officers were arrested. Crowds were pushed back at bayonet point. Scabs began running trains, and the strike was broken.

But the upheaval had been revealing. The strike illuminated the cracks in American society that threatened to become chasms. It raised questions about what the great social theorist Jane Addams called the “code of social ethics under which we live.”

Pullman’s employees were simply calling for an independent arbitrator to decide what was fair.

If the Pullman strike had succeeded, there was a chance that labor and management could have achieved the cooperative arrangement that Eugene Debs envisioned. Government-sponsored arbitration could have replaced strikes and conflict. Working people could have achieved the democracy and dignity in the workplace that they thought was their birthright as Americans.

Instead, the great divide between individual rights and communal responsibility, between freedom and solidarity, remains unresolved even in our own day.

And that concludes this special Unknown History miniseries on American labor. My name’s Jack Kelly and I’m the author of The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America. You can find my book online or at a bookstore near you. Thanks for listening!

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