THE PULLMAN RAILROAD STRIKE and Socialism

"...The American Railway Union responded. It asked its members all over the country not to handle Pullman cars. Since virtually all passenger trains had Pullman cars, this amounted to a boycott of all trains-a nationwide strike. Soon all traffic on the twenty-four railroad lines leading out of Chicago had come to a halt. Workers derailed freight cars, blocked tracks, pulled engineers off trains if they refused to cooperate."

"The General Managers Association, representing the railroad owners, agreed to pay two thousand deputies, sent in to break the strike. But the strike went on. The Attorney General of the United States, Richard Olney, a former railroad lawyer, now got a court injunction against blocking trains, on the legal ground that the federal mails were being interfered with. When the strikers ignored the injunction, President Cleveland ordered federal troops to Chicago. On July 6, hundreds of cars were burned by strikers."

"The following day, the state militia moved in, and the Chicago Times reported on what followed:

Company C. Second Regiment . . . disciplined a mob of rioters yesterday afternoon at Forty-ninth and Loomis Streets. The police assisted and . . . finished the job. There is no means of knowing how many rioters were killed or wounded. The mob carried off many of its dying and injured. A crowd of five thousand gathered. Rocks were thrown at the militia, and the command was given to fire.

... To say that the mob went wild is but a weak expression.. . . The command to charge was given. . .. From that moment only bayonets were used. ... A dozen men in the front line of rioters received bayonet wounds. . .. Tearing up cobble stones, the mob made a determined charge.... the word was passed along the line for each officer to take care of himself. One by one, as occasion demanded, they fired point blank into the crowd.. .. The police followed with their clubs. A wire fence enclosed the track. The rioters had forgotten it; when they turned to fly they were caught in a trap.

The police were not inclined to be merciful, and driving the mob against the barbed wires clubbed it unmercifully. .. . The crowd outside the fence rallied to the assistance of the rioters.... The shower of stones was incessant. . ..

The ground over which the fight had occurred was like a battlefield. The men shot by the troops and police lay about like logs.. .. ""

"In Chicago that day, thirteen people were killed, fifty-three seriously wounded, seven hundred arrested. Before the strike was over, perhaps thirty-four were dead. With fourteen thousand police, militia, troops in Chicago, the strike was crushed. Debs was arrested for contempt of court, for violating the injunction that said he could not do or say anything to carry on the strike. He told the court: "It seems to me that if it were not for resistance to degrading conditions, the tendency of our whole civilization would be downward; after a while we would reach the point where there would be no resistance, and slavery would come." "

"Debs, in court, denied he was a socialist. But during his six months in prison, he studied socialism and talked to fellow prisoners who were socialists. Later he wrote: "I was to be baptized in Socialism in the roar of conflict... in the gleam of every bayonet and the flash of every rifle the class struggle was revealed. ... This was my first practical struggle in Socialism." "

"Two years after he came out of prison, Debs wrote in the Railway Times:

The issue is Socialism versus Capitalism. I am for Socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough. Money constitutes no proper basis of civilization. The time has come to regenerate society-we are on the eve of a universal change. Thus, the eighties and nineties saw bursts of labor insurrection, more organized than the spontaneous strikes of 1877. There were now revolutionary movements influencing labor struggles, the ideas of socialism affecting labor leaders. Radical literature was appearing, speaking of fundamental changes, of new possibilities for living. ""
(from pages 280 and 281)




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