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Stead, William Thomas. Chicago To-day; or, The Labour War in America . London: Review of Reviews Office, 1894. [format: book], [genre: history]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
WHEN Mr. Debs organised the American Railway Union, it was with the avowed object of preventing strikes. Accidents will occur, however, even in the best regulated families, and Mr. Debs's union found itself involved in a round dozen of disputes one after the other, in all of which, notwithstanding the intense depression of trade, he succeeded, if not in pulling off the victory, at least in securing sufficiently good terms so as to increase his prestige and establish his hold over the union. His most notable victory was gained in May, when after an eighteen days' strike on the Great Northern Railway the dispute was ended by an arbitration, which recognised the justice of 75 per cent of the claims of the Union.
The Great Northern employees, some 5000 in number, demanded a return to the wage scale which had prevailed up to August 1st of last year. This the Railway Company refused. The men went out on strike, and for eighteen days there were thousands of miles of the Great Northern Railway upon which not a wheel turned. The American Railway Union co-operated with the Knights of Labour in order to secure this tie-up. The Knights were even prepared to go further, and were threatening to call out all the men who handled freight for the Great Northern from the Pacific Coast to St. Paul. Alarmed at the threatened extension, the business men of Minneapolis and St. Paul persuaded the disputants to consent to arbitration. The arbitrators
decided that 75 per cent. of the reduction made since last August must be restored. Such a victory naturally elated the Union and tended to increase the support on which Mr. Debs could count.
This strike had hardly been settled when the Pullman strike commenced, and there is no doubt but that the one struggle had a considerable effect upon the other. The movement at Pullman was on the same lines as that on the Great Northern, namely an attempt to secure the restoration of the wage scale which prevailed before the reductions of last year. So far from the American Railway Union pressing on the strike, the action of its officers was in the opposite direction. The dispute, which is destined to have so far-reaching an effect upon the labour questions of America, began in a quarrel between some painters and the Pullman managers. It is interesting to notice this, because it illustrates forcibly how great a matter a little fire kindleth. At the beginning of May the freight car builders in one shop at Pullman were ordered to make some change in the way in which they worked the paper into the sides of the freight cars. I do not profess to understand the nature of the change, but the men protested that it was equivalent to a reduction of $5 a week on their average wage. No reason was given, and they refused to work at the reduction. They waited upon the superintendent and asked for redress. He said he could do nothing. They then appealed to the General Superintendent. He said he did not care to talk with them. That was the beginning of the whole quarrel. The men, feeling that they had been arbitrarily cut in their wages and resenting the refusal to make any explanation, or even to listen to their grievances, decided
to demand a return to last year's pay. Thereupon all question as to the paper and the freight cars disappeared. Mr. Pullman gave way on that point too late. The fire was in the heather.
Five local unions, and the Railway Union, composed of painters, upholsterers, tinners, car builders and others, held a conference, and unanimously decided to demand a restoration of their old pay. The Vice-President of the Union, Mr. Howard, who had just arrived from the victory over the Great Northern addressed the conference and strongly opposed any precipitate action. He admitted that he could not but blame Pullman's superintendents, who had denied to their men the right to meet them and discuss their grievances, but he hoped there would be no need for either a strike or a boycott. It was in vain, however, that Mr. Howard endeavoured to avert the inevitable conflict. The upholsterers brought forward as a special grievance the fact that the President of their Union had been dismissed immediately after his election to that office, although he was a skilled and temperate workman. On the 7th May, Vice-President Wicks was waited upon by forty-three employees, representing every department of work at Pullman, complaining of an immense number of grievances. They complained of tyranny and abuse on the part of the forewomen, dishonesty of managers, favouritism, and arbitrary black-listing. They further alleged that they wanted their old wages back again, and double pay for Sunday work. Mr. Wicks at once said that he would investigate the complaints, but that any return to the old wages was impossible. They were losing $20,000 on one contract alone, which had been entered into solely for the purpose of keeping the works going. So far as the Company
was concerned, it would have suited them better to have shut down the works all winter. He said further that the Company had four million dollars worth of cars standing idle in their yards, which were depreciating every day. The men owed the Company $70,000 for rent, for which they were not being pressed. Some of the deputies wished to bolt the union and to go on strike there and then, but Vice-President Howard induced them to listen to reason and to wait for Mr. Wicks' promised investigation into their complaints. Mr. Wicks made his investigations and reported that there was no ground for the alleged grievance of the employees. Thereupon fifty specific grievances were brought forward in writing, while many others were stated to the stenographer. Further investigation was promised, and the question as to wages was resumed.
Mr. Pullman himself then entered the conference and addressed his workmen. He said that he would most carefully investigate all the complaints and mete out strict justice to the offenders. He did not think that his men could look him in the face and ask him for more pay in view of the facts. He had been informed only the other day that at no time in the history of the company had there been less friction at the works. He said he felt a fatherly affection for his employees, and had a lively interest in the town. He had been selling cars below cost price in order to keep his people employed. Mr. Pullman said further that he claimed to be a truthful man, but that the books of the Corporation were open to the men to substantiate his statements. He was about to take a contract for 800 cars, but he could only do so if his men would stand by him at the existing rate of wages. If he had to return to
the old wages, he could only go on for four weeks longer until the present contracts were finished, as the old rate would make competition impossible for his Company. Mr. Pullman then retired, and Vice-President Howard was left to plead for peace with the workmen. He spoke very strongly against a strike, thinking that a strike at that moment would be a fatal error. The men thereupon agreed to defer the strike, and to take immediate advantage of Mr. Pullman's offer to permit an investigation with regard to the contracts taken by him at a loss. Mr. Howard assured them that he had the personal assurance of Mr. Pullman and Mr. Wicks that none of the committee or any of the complainants should suffer in any way on account of what they had said. At the close of the meeting late at night the freight-car builders declared that they would not go to work next day, but Mr. Howard, after half an hour's strenuous arguing, was able to avert a rupture. Mr. Howard believed at that time it was possible to settle matters without a strike.
Unfortunately, everything was spoiled by what the men loudly asserted to be an act of bad faith on the part of Mr. Pullman. When they asked to see the books, they were shown a statement which had been drawn up in the office, which they were allowed to read, but which they were not allowed to verify by any reference to the books. Further, they asserted that two members of the Grievance Committee had been dismissed, and in no cases had any of the abuses been admitted or remedied. Thereupon on May 11th they unanimously decided to strike. Mr. Howard having done everything he could for peace, told them that as the general officer of the American Railway Union he
was merely the servant of the local unions, and that as they had commanded a strike it had become his duty to see that they won. He warned them that there must be no disorder, no gathering in knots or lounging about the streets, and no drinking. Subcommittees of three were appointed from each of the twenty-five departments of the Pullman Works to preserve good order, to prevent intimidation of other workers who wished to work, and to see that no pledges were violated. Mr. Howard, who much deplored the strike, said that if the Pullman Company had shown as much interest in their own affairs as the officials of the American Railway Union, there would have been no trouble. The company seemed to regard the complaints of their workmen as if they were of no account, and Mr. Howard went on to say:
"I tell you that a harsh word from a superior in a shop may be a little thing to the man who says it, but it may make the man who hears it miserable for months. The letting out of any of the committeemen at just this time was particularly unfortunate and strengthens the men in their determination to make trouble. I advised strongly against the policy of striking, but is too late now to do anything but win if we can."
When the die was cast, Mr. Wicks said that in the case of one foreman they had found the grievances well founded, and that if the strike had not been declared that foreman would probably have been discharged for tyranny and abuse. In nearly all of the other instances, so far as the investigation had proceeded, the complaints were so frivolous and trivial that they could not be noticed. As to the alleged dismissal of complainants, only one was paid off, and that was due to the fact that there was no more work in his shop for him to do. Two more workmen who had taken no part in the complaints had shared his fate.
Vice-President Howard intimated that, unless the strike were soon settled, the members of the American Railway Union would refuse to handle any of the Pullman rolling stock. It may be noted that Mr. Pullman emphatically denied that there was the least desire to close the works before the strike was declared. "Why should we close down?" he asked; "everything was going satisfactorily." Thus, on the 11th May, the great strike began. Mr. Howard stated that the men believed that a lock-out was contemplated, and this left them no option but to take matters into their own hands. The chairman of the strike committee said that nothing but despair induced by the reduction of wages below the standard which makes the life of an American workman endurable has actuated us to strike. Mr. Pullman took the matter very philosophically. He said that he did not know how long the strike would last, but that it would be a good thing financially for the stock holders of the company. His assistant manager ridiculed the idea that the Union could possibly tie up the 2000 cars which were running in various parts of the country.
For a time all went quietly. The shopkeepers, however, refused to sell goods excepting for cash. So far from showing any desire to resort to violence, one of the strike committees declared that they would swear in 2000 men to protect the works, in case they were re-opened with fresh workmen. There was no need for acting upon this heroic resolve, for the works were not re-opened for months.
On May 14, President Debs for the first time addressed the strikers. He was preceded by Vice-President Howard, who closed an earnest speech by
an appeal to the men to avoid all violence and disorder, by saying, "We want the working people of this country to learn to act for themselves, and we want you to comply with the spirit which Christ our Saviour expounded while on earth, to do your duty to your fellow-men." Mr. Debs made a more militant speech, in which he sounded a key-note which has subsequently been taken up all round.
I am with you heart and soul in this fight. As a general thing I am against a strike, but when the only alternative to a strike is the sacrifice of manhood, then I prefer to strike. There are times when it becomes necessary for a man to assert his manhood. I am free to confess that I do not like the paternalism of Pullman. He is everlastingly saying: "What can we do for our poor workingmen." The interrogation is an insult to the men. The question is not, What can Mr. Pullman do for us; it is, What can we do for ourselves.
Under this system of paternalism in vogue it is only a question of time until they own your bodies and have your souls mortgaged. It is a question that can be demonstrated to a mathematical nicety. In ten years more of this system he will own your bodies and have your souls mortgaged. Pullman's pretended philanthropy makes this a question of emancipation. His specious interest in the welfare of the "poor workingman" is in no way different from that of the slaveowner of fifty years ago. Remember that no power that can be devised will be neglected to divide you. But if you will follow Mr. Howard's advice there is no power on earth to make this strike a failure. Division means defeat and disaster.
Remember that the American Railway Union would rather be defeated honourably than triumph in disgrace. We believe in evolutionary revolution. We prefer agitation to stagnation. The same process that makes a Pullman, makes a thousand paupers. And the remedy is all in your own hands. We must change the conditions of affairs not by force, but by the right and intelligent votes of the toiling thousands.
Two days later he spoke even more strongly:
I believe a rich plunderer, like Pullman, is a greater felon than a poor thief, and it has become no small part of the duty of this organisation to strip the mask of hypocrisy from this pretended philanthropist and show him to the world as an oppressor of labour. One of the general officers of the company said to-day that you could not hold out against the Pullman Company more than ten days longer. If it is a fact that after working for George St. Pullman for years you appear two weeks after your work stops, ragged and hungry, it only emphasises the charge I make before this community, and Pullman stands before you a self-confessed robber. A rich man can afford to be honest; a poor man is compelled to be.
I do not believe in violent methods, but I do believe in telling the truth. The paternalism of Pullman is the same as the interest of a slaveholder in his human chattels. You are striking to avert inevitable slavery and degradation. Here is your father-in-law anxious about all his children. "You only owe me $70,000 for rent now, and I am not pressing you for payment!" Was there ever a greater public sham? All the time worried about your
welfare and piling up millions in of the great monopolies of the age, by putting his hands into your pockets. I differ from the gentleman who contends that Pullman's gift of $100,000 for a monument is a matter to be considered it is too easy to be generous with other people's money.
Do you know what this man does with his conductors and porters? Do you know that they are forced to live upon the charity of the traveling public? Mr. Debs continued: Charging exorbitant prices for his accommodations, lost to all sense of shame, he not only expects but depends upon the generosity of the people, who pay him the revenue upon which he waxes fat, to give his employees enough to live on. Only last month I went in a Pullman car over part of the western country. The conductor told me he was paid $30 a month, and had from this to board himself and support his family. The porter had $10 a month. Both were away from home two weeks at a time. That conductor asked me for money to buy him something to eat. This is the work of a great philanthropist.
"When the officials of the Pullman Company believe they are going to reduce you to subjection in a week or ten days they are making the mistake of their lives. This strike is going to be won, if it takes months, and it will be won because we are right."
Meanwhile Mr. Pullman departed for the east. Everything went on quietly at Pullman, but credit being stopped and no wages coming in, the pinch of hunger began to be felt, and they appealed to the Trade and Labour Assembly to support them. This they unanimously decided to do, and on May 28th the following appeal was issued, in which the keynote was sounded even more strongly than before:
TO THE PUBLIC OF CHICAGO: The people of Pullman are destitute and starving. Over 5000 human beings are in dire necessity and appeal to the liberal-minded people of Chicago for help. Their unfortunate condition is not due to any fault of theirs. They have been noted for their thrift, sobriety, and industry. The fault lies in the hard times and a hard taskmaster. Forced for years to work on starvation wages, so that dividends could be paid on watered stock, they have at last struck against the soulless corporation which sought to fatten on the very marrow of their bones.
They struck against a slavery worse than that of the negroes of the south. These, at least, were well fed and well cared for, while the white slaves of Pullman, worked they ever so willingly, could not earn enough to clothe and feed themselves decently hardly enough to keep body and soul together.
Now that they have struck for living wages, for a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, they find themselves penniless, with gaunt famine and despair staring them in the face.
Big-hearted, open-handed citizens of this big-hearted City of Chicago, these unfortunates turn to you appealing for aid. Help them as you would wish to be helped in the hour of affliction. Their cause is the cause of humanity. Their struggle is the struggle of honest industry against corporate greed.
At the beginning of June the first convention of
the American Railway Union was held in Chicago; 415 delegates, representing 120,000 railway men who had joined the union since August, 1893, were present; 15,000 of these men lived in and about Chicago; 15 of the local unions were in Pullman, and 36 in Chicago and the neighbourhood. The convention was notable as having been the first Railway Convention at which a woman was present. The assembly was held with closed doors, but from the brief notices in the papers we gather that Mr. Debs in his presidential speech expressed the hope that no member of the order would haul a pound of coal mined by non-union labour. He referred to the Pullman strike with great bitterness, declaring that it was a terrible illustration of corporate greed and pharisaical fraud which has now for years prevailed in this country, which has created conditions, striking to the stoutest heart terror and alarm. The convention then going into session passed a resolution that compulsory arbitration would be "undemocratic and un-American, leading to despotism and the consolidation of government which means the enslavement of the labouring masses of America." For some time it seemed doubtful whether or not the convention would recommend taking any action with regard to the Pullman strike. Vice-President Howard said that he thought it would be unwise, as the union had not the membership which it ought to have before taking so strong a step. Besides, he said it would be doubtful whether it would be effective, and it would certainly embroil the union with the railroad companies and the travelling public, and cause a revulsion of sentiment against the position which they had taken up towards Pullman. At present the universal opinion was favourable to them.
Meanwhile the company rejected the sixth proposal of arbitration which had been made since the strike began. One such proposal was made by the Civic Federation, but it met with the scantiest courtesy from the hands of the company. At last, on June 15th, an open meeting of the convention was held, in which the whole question of Pullman was taken into consideration. Before this discussion came on, however, it was reported that Mr. Wicks was willing to see a deputation of the men; but he refused to recognise any labour union. Thereupon it was determined to make a last effort to settle the question. The following conversation took place:
"We come, Mr. Wicks," he said, "as a committee from the general convention of the American Railway Union to ask for a restoration of the pay of your employees to that received in 1893.
"It cannot be granted, gentlemen," Mr. Wicks replied.
"Will you recognise the American Railway Union in this matter?
"Do you speak for Mr. Pullman?
"I speak for Mr. Wicks, the second vice-president of the company.
"If the general officers of the union come to see you will you receive them?
"I shall always be glad to talk with the gentlemen," Mr. Wicks replied.
"Will you arbitrate the differences with the men?" Mr. Lynch asked.
"We have nothing whatever to arbitrate," was the reply.
The subject as to whether the boycott should be declared was still regarded as an open question. Mr. Wicks stated his view of the case:
"Our contracts with the railway companies should be better understood," Mr. Wicks said, "before any action is taken. Closing our shops is no injury to us. We made our position clear at the outset. It is to our pecuniary advantage not to take losing contracts at the present time as a matter of course. As for necessary repairs, our agreements with the railway companies, the terms of which are no secret, leave it optional with us whether we do the work ourselves or have it done by the railroads at our expense and under our inspection. We are not suffering in any way, and the reserve of 430 cars lying in the yards at Pullman have not been drawn on in any way.
"Railway companies pay us three cents a mile for the privilege of hauling our palace cars," the vice-president continued. "They are under no obligation to haul them, but they may not substitute those of any other company. If a strike be declared, we do not expect them to be used, and if any one cuts them off of course they will not be. But this question of boycotting cars is a very serious matter for the American Railway Union, and for the railroad companies. Really, the Pullman Company is not as deeply concerned as they."
The Convention then received the report from the Pullman Committee, and as this document is the only authentic statement of the men's case, I give it here in full.
F. E. Pollans, chairman of the Pullman delegation, after a brief preliminary survey of the causes leading up to the strike, read the following statement:
Mr. President and Brothers of the American Railway Union, We struck at Pullman because we were without hope. We joined the American Railway Union because it gave us a glimmer of hope. Twenty thousand souls men, women, little ones have their eyes turned toward this convention to-day, straining eagerly through dark despondency for a glimmer of the heaven-sent message you alone can give us on this earth.
In stating to this body our grievances, it is hard to tell where to begin. You all must know that the proximate cause of our strike was the discharge of two members of our grievance committee the day after George M. Pullman himself and Thomas H. Wicks, his second vice-president, had guaranteed them absolute immunity. The more remote causes are still imminent. Five reductions in wages, in work, and in conditions of employment, swept through the shops at Pullman between May and December in 1893. The last was the most severe, amounting to nearly 30 per cent. But our rents have not fallen. We owed Pullman $70,000 when we struck May 11; we owe him twice as much to-day. He does not evict us for two reasons one, the force of popular sentiment and public opinion; the other because he hopes to starve us out, to break through in the back of the American Railway Union, and to deduct from our miserable wages when we are forced to return to him the last dollar we owe him for the occupancy of his houses. Rents all over the city, in every quarter of its vast extent, have fallen in some cases to one-half. Residences, compared with which ours are hovels, can be had a few miles away at the price we have been contributing to make a millionaire a billionaire. What we pay $15 for in Pullman is leased for $8 in Roseland. And remember, that just as no man or woman of our 4000 toilers has ever felt the friendly pressure of George M. Pullman's hand, so no man or woman of us all has ever owned or can ever hope to own one inch of George M. Pullman's land. Why, even the very streets are his his ground has never been platted of record, and to-day he may debar any man who has acquiring rights as his tenant from walking in his highways. And those streets! Do you know what he has named them? He says after the four great inventors in methods of transportation. And do you know what their names are? Why, "Fulton," "Stephenson," "Watt" and "Pullman."
Water which Pullman buys from the city at 8 cents a thousand gallons he retails to us at 500 per cent. advance, and claims he is losing $400 a month on it. Gas, which sells for 75 cents per 1,000 feet in Hyde Park, just north of us, he sells for $2.25. When we went to tell him our grievances he said we were all his "children."
Pullman, both the man and the town, is an ulcer on the body politic. He owns the houses, the schoolhouses and churches of God in the town he gave his once humble name. The revenue he derives from these, the wages he pays out with one hand, the Pullman Palace Car Company, he takes back with the other, the Pullman Land Association. He is able by this to bid under any contract car shop in this country. His competitors in business, to meet this, must reduce the wages of their men. This gives him the
excuse to reduce ours to conform to the market. His business rivals must in turn scale down. So must he. And thus the merry war, the dance of skeletons bathed in human tears, goes on. And it will go on, brothers, for ever, unless you, the American Railway Union, stop it, end it, crush it out.
Our town is beautiful. In all its thirteen years no word of scandal has arisen against one of our women, young or old. What city of 20,000 persons can show the like? Since our strike the arrests which used to average four or five a day, have dwindled down to less than one a week. We are peaceable, we are orderly, and but for the beneficence of kindly-hearted people in and about Chicago we would be starving. We are not desperate to-day because we are not hungry and our wives and children are not begging for bread. But George M. Pullman, who ran away from the public opinion that has arisen against him like the genius from the battle in the "Arabian Nights," is not feeding us. He is patiently seated beside his millions waiting for what? To see us starve. We have grown better acquainted with the American Railway Union theses convention days, and as we have heard sentiments of the noblest philanthropy fall from the lips of our general officers your officers and ours we have learned that there is a balm for all our troubles and that the box containing it is in your hands to-day only awaiting opening to disseminate its sweet savour of hope.
George M. Pullman, you know, has cut our wages from 30 to 70 per cent. George M. Pullman, you know, has caused to be paid in the last year the regular quarterly dividend of 2 per cent. on his stock, and an extra slice of 1 and a half per cent., making 9 and a half per cent. on $30,000,000 of capital. George M. Pullman, you know, took three contracts on which he lost less than $5,000. Because he loved us? No. Because it was cheaper to lose a little money in his freight car and his coach shops, than to let his workmen go. But that petty loss, more than made up by us from money we needed to clothe our wives and little ones, was his excuse for effecting a gigantic reduction of wages in every department of his great works, of cutting men and boys and girls with equal zeal, including everyone in the repair shops of the Pullman palace cars, on which such preposterous profits have been made.
George M. Pullman will tell you if you could go to him to-day that he was paying better wages than any other car shop in the land. George M. Pullman might better save his breath. We have worked too often beside graduates from other establishments not to know that work for work and skill for skill no one can compete with us at wages paid for work well done. If his wage list showed a trifle higher, our efficiency still left us heavily the loser. He does not figure on our brain and muscle. He makes his paltry computation in dollars and cents. We will make you proud of us, brothers, if you will give us the hand we need. Help us to make our country better and more wholesome. Pull us out of our slough of despond. Teach arrogant grinders of the faces of the poor that there is still a God in Israel, and, if need be, a Jehovah a God of battles. Do this, and on that last great day you will stand, as we hope to stand, before the great white throne "like gentlemen unafraid.
Turning to more specific grievances, and giving place aux dames, local union No. 269, our first girls' union, is made up of young women working in the carpet department, the new linen-room, the linen-repair room, the glass-embossing department, and the laundry. Before May, 1893, the various departments were all paid at the rate of twenty-two and a half cents an hour. The cut reduced this to ten cents an hour, a scaling down of 68 per cent. Many girls providing for invalid mothers or small sisters or brothers have been able to make but six cents an hour. The Illinois statutes compel an
eight-hour day for women. Listen to the reasons given by the girls themselves for their action:
The working girls of the Pullman car shops organised recently to be protected against the abuse and tyranny of forewomen, whose delight it has been to make the girls' life one of discontent, humbling and crushing them in spirit, forcing many of them to become pliant tools and debased informers, degrading the loveliness of their sex, all of them the dupes of a merciless, soulless, grasping corporation, at once devoid of all sense of shame and humanity, and defying the laws and the presence of the Creator, and encroaching upon the rights of those who toil, weave, and spin. Our work is tedious and laborious, requiring skill, endurance, and persistency to accomplish the severally allotted tasks. In the name of justice and eternal right we appeal to this convention to exercise its power and relieve those wrongs that gnaw at the hearts of the working girls of Pullman.
The freight car shops, whose workmen were organised as No.143 last November, present for inspection the following table of prices, showing the strides corporate selfishness can take in successive years:
These cuts are of 49, 57 and a half, and 47 per cent. respectively, and it should be borne in mind that the first two are before the worst reduction of all, that of December, 1893. The figures are from the official books of the company.
The upholsterers of No. 190 present a similar table for your inspection:
This union had its president, George Fingerhute, a sober, industrious and capable workman, discharged for joining the organisation just before the strike.
Local union No. 191 is made up of different elements. The labourers in it who have been cut from $1.50 to $1.30 for a ten-hour day cannot support their families, and asking a restoration of the 20 cents., which is the limit between life and starvation. The teamsters ask for $50 dollars a month, with a sixty-hour week and time and one-half for overtime. They ask the discharge of their foreman for gross abuse of his official position.
The painters of No. 196 ask for the wages of 1893, time and one-half for overtime, and double time for Sundays. The reductions are:
Piece work prices have been so reduced that the men can with the utmost difficulty make their day rate. The ornamentation of a Pullman sleeper was reduced from $40 to $25.30, rubbing rough stuff from $22 to $15, and all other work in the same proportion. It must be borne in mind that the painters in Chicago have by their recent strike secured, for themselves 35 cents., an hour for eight hours' work until June 15 and 32 and a half cents, an hour thereafter. The men in Pullman have extraordinary skill, but are paid at the rate of 23 cents, an hour, a difference to-day of 12 cents. In other words, the Chicago brotherhood men are getting nearly 52 per cent. more than the members of the American Railway Union. If it be asked why the men do not leave Pullman it can only be answered that many of them have already, and that more will follow. But they demand justice where they are.
The tin and sheet ironworkers, who compose local union No. 207, were earning $2.75, $2.50, and $2.25 for ten hours' work a day before December, 1893. The two former men of the most skill were working before the strike for $1.90, and the average workmen in the last class for $1.60.
The chairman and vice-chairman of the strike committee at Pullman are both drawn from local No. 208, which, taking in as it does all the coach-builders, is the strongest union in the works. Its grievances are so many and various that they must be left to the delegate to present to the convention.
It was in the machinists' and woodworkers' departments, organised as local No. 240, that Brothers Petersen and Hasty, the latter the secretary of the union, were discharged, both of them being members of the grievance committee. They ask the wages paid by the Chicago Forge and Bolt Company for precisely the same work. The differences are startling, the Pullman men since the cut getting, for example, only 6 and a fourth cents a hundred for three-quarter bolts, while the Chicago concern is paying 11and three-fourths cents. The reduction in this department amounts to nearly 50 per cent. The threaders, millwrights, punch handlers, drill hands, and toolmakers ask for the wages of 1893. These last, men who make tools, are cut in some cases to $1.75 a day from $2.75 paid last December. In addition, the superintendent of this department is a bookkeeper merely and has frequently admitted that he knows nothing whatever about machinery, or the requirements of the work.
The steamfitters of No. 249, who have suffered several reductions, ask 27 and a half cents an hour for skilled mechanics and 17 and a half cents an hour for helpers. In Chicago first-class men are paid $3.50 for eight hours' work, and men of
inferior ability $2.75. The best workmen in Pullman therefore ask the same for ten hours that is given the Chicago steamfitters of the second class for eight hours.
Foundrymen make up No. 251. The brass moulders have been cut from 20 to 25 cents a day, and the labourers and furnace men 20 cents. The brass finishers lost from 25 to 50 cents a day. The moulders in the wheel shop were cut 5 cents a wheel, amounting to $1 and $1.20 a day, while the helpers have 50 cents a day less and the labourers 10 to 35 cents. In the last year the men in this department have only been given twenty-eight days', actual employment. The machine department men were reduced 25 cents a day. The iron foundrymen who do piecework were reduced from 40 to 75 cents for ten hours' work, the day workmen 40 cents, core makers from 20 to 80 cents, men in the chipping room 20 to 75 cents, and the yardmen 20 cents.
Local union, No. 257, the blacksmiths, suffered a cut between 30 and 50 per cent. Smiths making from $3.50 to $4 a day were scaled down to between $1.50 and $2.50, the helpers suffering accordingly.
Truck and platform men, organised as No. 262, have suffered so much from the piecework system that they demand the fairer plan of day wages. Their foreman has proved himself a petty tyrant, and his discharge is asked.
The cabinet-makers of No. 278 make broad charges of mismanagement. With but 158 men at work, the foremen and clerks remain the same as when 400 were employed. Sub-foremen, "straw bosses," showing favouritism when they are not displaying incompetency, make life in this department as difficult as the reduction in wages.
No.279, the wood machine hands, are also opposed to piecework. They have suffered in some instances a cut of 40 per cent., and in no case has it fallen below 33 and 1/3 per cent. Some reductions are appalling. Work on parlour cars, formerly worth $35 went down to $5, and on day coaches from $6 to $1.75.
In the street car department in No. 290 the iron machinists were cut it is almost incredible from 70 to 85 per cent., stripers and letterers from 40 to 70 per cent., and surface painters and finishers about 30 per cent. When complaint was made to a foreman in this shop, he told the men to quit if they didn't like it, and he would send over for some of his countrymen, who could do as much work as any six Americans. This is a sample of prices for a standard closed car:
Hoods were cut 40 to 50 per cent., cab work 40 to 60 per cent., and wood machinists, whose foreman was so incompetent that he could not fix a price on work until it approached completion, were scaled down 70 cents a day.
The brickmakers of No. 321 submit the following comparison of wages paid in Cook County:
The silver platers and brass polishers are united in local union No. 323. They, like all the rest, have suffered severe reductions and have other grievances.
Natives of Holland employed in the works in various capacities are in No. 356. Owing to their imperfect comprehension of the needs of the occasion they were the last organised of the eighteen Pullman unions. They did not go out with the others for the same reason and were locked out. Some of them are machinists, some wood carvers, and some labourers. All unite in saying that since the last reduction they could make more and live better in their own country. Piece workmen, skilled artists, some of them, were only able to make from 80 to 90 cents a day.
Now this, brother delegates, is what the Pullman system will bring us all to if this situation is not faced fairly and squarely in the American way for Americans by the American Railway Union. It is victory or death.
And so to you we confide our cause. Do not desert us as you hope not to be deserted. Be brothers in deed as well as in name, even as we are brothers in need. Teach us anew that thrilling verse and bring into use once more that
Every man of you, every honest heart among you, every willing hand stands ready.
You know you can.
FRANK E. POLLANS, No. 207, Chairman.
The reading of this report was followed by a statement by the vice-chairman of the strike committee. He dwelt upon the grievances of the men in the coach shops and gave in detail the reductions in wages made during his seven years' employment. The excitement was gradually getting hotter and hotter, but it was not until Jennie Curtis spoke that it boiled over. She said that the men might have been cut 30 per cent., but the girls had been cut 50 and 60 per cent. No sooner had she regained her
seat than twenty delegates sprang to the floor, yelling for an immediate boycott of all the Pullman cars. Then President Debs rose. He was intensely excited and spoke as follows:
We have won every fight, and we have had eleven. Pullman is our twelfth, and we shall win that. There is no doubt about it. I am in favour of the American Railway Union expending its last dollar and its last man in a cause so righteous. (Cheers.)
We must first appoint a committee to wait on the Pullman officials. If they refuse to settle, if they will not arbitrate, we will not move a Pullman car one inch. And after everyone is side-tracked, if the railroad companies want to go into partnership with Pullman in this fight we will inaugurate the greatest railway strike the world has ever seen. (Loud cheers.)
The crisis is approaching, and we must invite and not evade it. We have declared war on Pullman, and it is a fight to a finish. The Knights of Labour and the American Railway Union are united in a holy strife, and when we begin our battle we will never rest. The result is certain, for it means the unification of labour. (Cheering.)
Pullman is the continental monster of the times. I have some respect for a man bold enough to boast of his enslavement of labour and frank enough to admit his oppression. But Pullman posed for twenty years as the friend of the labouring man. He gave $100,000 to the Columbian Museum (a Pullman delegate exclaimed, "and cut us the next morning"), and took every penny of it out of the lives of his working men.
He must pay his people living wages. All we ask for is an honest living. Pullman for the past year has been robbing every man, woman and child in his employ.
He is a pirate on the high seas of labour, but the American Railway Union has a long arm, and it will reach in its might up to his black flag and wreck him altogether. It is our duty. (Wild cheering.)
We will brand him as infamous. What must be the logical outcome of his policy? His men will be made slaves, and his women driven to lives of shame. Do your duty. (Cries of "We will" and cheering.)
The American Railway Union is organised for business. We have had enough patent leather organisations parading through America, fattening and feasting on labour. I would rather see us all go down in an honest fight than to live on in uselessness. (Cry of "No dry rot.") If we go down now, we go down with the most honourable record a labour organisation has ever made. But we are not going down, (Cheers and shouts of "Never.")
We will confront monopoly in its strongest fortress, and we all know what the outcome must be. We will side-track Pullman and his cars together! We must not talk, but act, and no man who has not the courage to go to the bitterest end has a right to enlist.
You know what this man has been doing in the weeks since the strike. He has been sitting on his burrow, like a hyena, waiting for these people to lie down exhausted with starvation that he may fatten on their bones.
This is the greatest and most powerful monopoly of our time the monumental octopus of all unscrupulous combinations.
And now I wait the bugle-call to duty.
That bugle-call was not long in coming. A weekly
assessment of 10 cents per member was ordered while the strike lasted. Every delegate present was then asked to telegraph to his local union for instructions regarding the proposed boycott. Nearly one-half of them had already been ordered to take immediate action. A committee of five was appointed to wait upon the Pullman Company to give them a last chance of averting the boycott.
The interview was brief and decisive. A committee, appointed by the general convention, waited upon the company to inform them that a boycott had been declared against the Pullman cars, which was to go into effect at noon on Tuesday, June 26, unless the Pullman Company consented to arbitrate with its men. After keeping the committee waiting for fifteen minutes in an ante-chamber, they were received by the vice-president of the company. All that he said was this: "Do you understand the position of the Pullman Company in this matter?" "Thoroughly, sir," was the reply. "Then you know that the Pullman Company refuse to recognise the American Railway Union in this matter." "Good-bye, sir," was the only reply, and the committee filed out of the room.
Nothing more remained to be done.
Orders were issued to the General Executive Boards of the American Railway Union on the various railway systems stating that henceforth the members of the Union must have nothing whatever to do with the transportation of Pullman cars.
Mr. Pullman then issued the following manifesto in defence of the position which he had taken up:
In the first week of May last there were employed in the car manufacturing department at Pullman, Ill., about 3,100 persons. On 7th May a committee of the workmen had an interview by arrangement with Mr Wicks, vice-president, at which the principal subject of discussion related
to wages, but minor grievances as to shop administration were also presented, and it was agreed that another meeting should be held on the 9th of May, at which all the grievances should be presented in writing. The second meeting was held. As to the complaints on all matters except wages, it was arranged that a formal and thorough investigation should be made by Mr. Wicks, to be begun the next day, and full redress was assured to the committee as to all complaints proved to be well founded.
The absolute necessity of the last reduction in wages, under the existing condition of the business of car manufacturing, had been explained to the committee, and they were insisting upon a restoration of the wage scale of the first half of 1893, when Mr. Pullman entered the room and addressed the committee, speaking in substance as follows:
At the commencement of the very serious depression last year we were employing at Pullman 5,816 men, and paying out in wages there $305,000 a month. Negotiations with intending purchasers of railway equipment that were then pending for new work were stopped by them, orders already given by others were cancelled, and we were obliged to lay off, as you are aware, a large number of men in every department, so that by 1st November, 1893, there were only about 2,000 men in all departments, or about one-third of the normal number. I realised the necessity for the most strenuous exertions to procure work immediately, without which there would be great embarrassment, not only to the employees and their families at Pullman, but also to those living in the immediate vicinity, including between 700 and 800 employees who had purchased homes and to whom employment was actually necessary to enable them to complete their payments.
I canvassed the matter thoroughly with the manager of the works, and instructed him to cause the men to be assured that the company would do everything in its power to meet the competition which was sure to occur because of the great number of large car manufacturers that were in the same condition, and that were exceedingly anxious to keep their men employed. I knew that if there was any work to be let, bids for it would be made upon a much lower basis than ever before. (Note that the selling prices of passenger, baggage, box, refrigerator, and street cars in the last two years have fallen by percentages, varying in the separate classes from 17 to 28, the average reduction, taking the five classes together, being 24 per cent.) The result of this discussion was a revision in piecework prices, which, in the absence of any information to the contrary, I supposed to be acceptable to the men under the circumstances. Under these conditions, and with lower prices upon all materials, I personally undertook the work of the lettings of cars, and by making lower bids than other manufacturers, I secured work enough to gradually increase our force from 2,200 up to about 4,200, the number employed, according to the April pay rolls, in all capacities at Pullman.
This result has not been accomplished merely by reduction in wages, but the company has borne its full share by eliminating from its estimates the use of capital and machinery, and in many cases going even below that and taking work at considerable loss, notably the fifty-five Long Island cars, which was the first large order of passenger cars let since the great depression, and which was sought for by practically all the leading car builders in the country. My anxiety to secure that order, so as to put as many men at work as possible, was such that I put in a bid at more than $300 per car less than the actual cost to the company. The 300 stock cars built for the North Western Road, and the 250 refrigerator cars now under construction for the same company, will result in a loss of at least $12 per car, and the
twenty-five cars just built for the Lake Street Elevated Road show a loss of $79 per car. I mention these particulars so that you may understand what the company has done for the mutual interest, and to secure for the people at Pullman and vicinity the benefit of the disbursement of the large sums of money involved in these and similar contracts, which can be kept up only by the procurement of new orders for cars, for, as you know, about three-fourths of the men must depend upon contract work for employment. I can only assure you that if this company now restores the wages of the first half of 1893, as you have asked, it would be a most unfortunate thing for the men, because there is less than sixty days of contract work in sight in the shops under all orders and there is absolutely no possibility, in the present condition of affairs throughout the country, of getting any more orders for work at prices measured by the wages of May, 1893. Under such a scale the works would necessarily close down and the great majority of the employees be put in idleness, a contingency I am using my best efforts to avoid.
To further benefit the people of Pullman and vicinity we concentrated all the work that we could command at that point, by closing our Detroit shops entirely and laying off a large number of men at other repair shops, and gave to Pullman the repair of all cars that could be taken care of there.
Also, for the further benefit of our people at Pullman, we have carried on a large system of internal improvements, having expended nearly $160,000 since August last in work which, under normal conditions, would have been spread over one or two years. The policy would be to continue this class of work to as great an extent as possible, provided, of course, the Pullman men allow a proper appreciation of the situation by doing whatever they can to help themselves to tide over the hard times, which are so seriously felt in every part of the country.
There has been some complaint made about rents. As to this I would say that the return to this company on the capital invested in the Pullman tenements for the last year and the year before was 3 82-100 per cent. There are hundreds of tenements in Pullman renting for from $6 to $9 per month, and the tenants are relieved from the usual expenses of exterior cleaning and the removal of garbage which is done by the company. The average amount collected from employees for gas consumed is about $2 a month. To ascertain the exact amount of water used by tenants, separate from the amount consumed by the works, we have recently put in meters by which we find that the water consumed by the tenants, if paid for at the rate of 4 cents. per 1,000 gallons, in accordance with our original contract with the village of Hyde Park, would amount to about $1,000 a month, almost exactly the rate which we have charged the tenants, this company assuming the expense of pumping. At the increased rate the city is now charging us for water we are paying about $500 a month in excess of the amount charged to the tenants. The present pay rolls at Pullman amount to about $7,000 a day.
On the question of rents, while, as stated above, they make a manifestly inadequate return upon the investment, so that it is clear they are not, in fact, at an arbitrary high figure, it may be added that it would not be possible in a business sense so to deal with them. The renting of the dwellings and employment of workmen at Pullman are in no way tied together. The dwellings and apartments are offered for rent in competition with those of the immediate adjacent towns of Kensington, Boseland, and Gano. They are let alike to Pullman employees and to others in no way connected with the company, and, on the other hand, many Pullman employees rent or own their homes in those adjacent towns.
The average rental at Pullman is at the rate of $3 per room per month. There are 1,200 tenements of varying numbers of rooms, the average monthly rental of which is $10; of those there are 600 the average monthly rental of which is $8. In very many cases men with families pay a rent seemingly large for a workman, but which is in fact reduced, in part and often wholly repaid by the sub-rents paid by single men as lodgers.
On 10th May, the day after the second conference above mentioned, work went on at Pullman as usual, and the only incident of note was the beginning by Mr. Wicks, assisted by Mr. Brown, the general manager of the company, of the promised formal investigation at Pullman of the shop complaints. A large meeting of employees had been held the night before at Kensington, which, as was understood by the company, accepted the necessity of the situation preventing an increase of wages, but at a meeting of the local committee held during the night of May 10, a strike was decided upon, and accordingly the next day about 2,500 of the employees quit, leaving about 600 at work, of whom very few were skilled workmen. As it was found impracticable to keep the shops in operation with a force thus diminished and disorganised, the next day those remaining were necessarily laid off, and no work has since been done in the shops.
The pay-rolls at the time amounted to about $7,000 a day, and were reduced $5,500 by the strike, so that during the period of a little more than six weeks which has elapsed the employees who quit their work have deprived themselves and their comrades of earnings of more than $200,000.
It is an element of the whole situation worthy of note, that at the beginning of the strike the Pullman Savings Bank had on deposit in its savings departments $488,000, of which about nine-tenths belonged to employees at Pullman, and that this amount has since been reduced by the sum of $32,000.
While deploring the possibility of annoyance to the public by the threats of irresponsible organisations to interrupt the orderly ministration to the comfort of travellers on railway lines aggregating 125,000 miles in length, the Pullman Company can do no more than explain its situation to the public. It has two separate branches of business, essentially distinct from each other. One is to provide sleeping cars, which are delivered by it under contract to the various railway companies, to be run by them on their lines as a part of their trains for the carriage of their passengers over the movements of which this company has no control. Contract arrangements provide for the making of all repairs to such cars by the railway companies using them as to certain repairs absolutely, and as to all others upon the request of the Pullman Company, which ordinarily finds it most convenient to use its own manufacturing facilities to make such repairs. The other, and a distinct branch of the business of the Pullman Company, is the manufacture of sleeping cars for the above-mentioned use of railway companies and the manufacture for sale to railway companies of freight cars and ordinary passenger cars, and of street cars, and this business is almost at a standstill throughout the United States. The business of manufacturing cars for sale gives employment to about 70 per cent. of the shop employees. The manufacture of sleeping cars for use by railway companies under contract, and which, under normal conditions, gives employment to about 15 per cent. of the shop employees, cannot be resumed by the company to an important extent for a very long time, for out of the provision made for the abnormal travel last year the company now has about 400 sleeping cars in store ready for use, but for which there is no need in the existing conditions of public travel.
It is now threatened by the American Railway Union officials that railway
companies using Pullman sleeping cars shall be compelled to deprive their passengers of sleeping car accommodations unless the Pullman Company will agree to submit to arbitration the question as to whether or not it shall open its manufacturing shops at Pullman and operate them under a scale of wages which would cause a daily loss to it of one-fourth the wages paid.
And thus began the great struggle, the end of which is not yet. Up to this point the strike had been conducted without the slightest disorder. The number of arrests in the town of Pullman had indeed gone down, and not a finger had been laid upon the property either of the Pullman Company or of any of the railroads using the Pullman cars. The storm, however, was about to burst.
The strike, which began with a miserable difference of opinion as to the paper used on the sides of freight cars, widened out to dimensions so vast as to throw even Mr. Pullman and the Pullman monopoly into the shade. Henceforth we hear little of Mr. Pullman beyond the fact that repeated appeals were made to him by the mayor of Chicago, supported by telegrams from no fewer than fifty other American mayors, urging him to submit the dispute to arbitration. Mr. Pullman, however, remained obdurate to the last. There was nothing to arbitrate about, he said, and he was equally resolute in his refusal to allow a question as to whether or not sufficient basis could be found for arbitration to be referred to a committee. No arbitration, no mediation, no recognition of trades unions; Mr. Pullman must be free to do as he pleases to do with his own, and that is all that there is to it. Now, dismissing Mr. Pullman and his monopoly, let us turn to a much wider drama to which the Pullman dispute but served as the prologue.
Stead, William Thomas. Chicago To-day; or, The Labour War in America . London: Review of Reviews Office, 1894. [format: book], [genre: history]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=stead.html