The American Railway Union (ARU) had formed in June 1893 in Chicago, with membership open to all white railroad employees of any profession. While other unions, such as the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, focused on specific professions, the ARU embraced all related professions, even coal miners, longshoremen, and car-builders, if they were in the employ of a railroad. Pullman Company employees were eligible since the company owned and operated a few miles of railroad to access its factories. The structure of the union was one that encouraged democracy and settlement of grievances by mediation, recognizing that strikes were best avoided as they were destructive for both employers and employees. Under the leadership of President Eugene V. Debs, the union won some early victories and ranks swelled to 150,000 members.
AFTER THE STRIKE
Though public sentiment had been against the boycott, George Pullman was roundly criticized for the policies that led to the strike and his refusal to enter into arbitration with his workers. The situation for those in Pullman remained dire, and while little effort was made to evict residents or collect rent in arrears, destitution was widespread. In his testimony before the investigative commission, however, George Pullman defended his model town and his decisions, though they had led to a strike which ultimately damaged the company and the strikers, and tarnished his image irreparably.
If George Pullman entertained any doubts about the wisdom of continuing the company town experiment, they were not reflected in his actions. Company ownership and concern with the town's appearance continued under Pullman's direction until his death in 1897. He was buried at Graceland Cemetery and legends today persist that his casket was buried under tons of steel and concrete to prevent anyone from desecrating his grave.
The impacts of the Pullman Strike were national in scope. As a massive and truly national strike, it demonstrated the power of national labor and forced consideration about labor action and corporate paternalism. Legally, the injunction against the strike affirmed a broad power of the federal government to ensure the free flow of interstate commerce, essentially making national strikes illegal.
In October 1898, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered the Pullman Company to sell all non-industrial land holdings. Some holdings, such as the brickyard, sold quickly. The Illinois Central railroad had owned the right of way past the front of the factory; Lake Vista was filled and new tracks and a road installed. The company was granted a deferment on its deadline to sell most of the town, which mostly changed hands in 1907, with residents given the first option to buy.
The Pullman Company, no longer in the landlord business, returned to success under the leadership of its second president, Robert Todd Lincoln. Union activity returned to Pullman, and just ten years after the explosive strike, in 1904 the company locked out union workers, defeating them easily and without larger incident. In 1900, the company began using metal frames for its cars, and by 1908 the company had converted to all steel construction.
Last updated: December 29, 2022