In a House Divided, 1850-1890

United States Strike Commission: THE AMERICAN RAILWAY UNION

This is an association of about 150,000 railroad employees, as alleged, organized at Chicago on the 20th of June, 1893, for the purpose of including railway employees born of white parents in one great brotherhood.

The theory underlying this movement is that the organization of different classes of railroad employees (to the number of about 140,000) upon the trade-union idea has ceased to be useful or adequate; that pride of organization, petty jealousies, and the conflict of views into which men are trained in separate organizations under different leaders, tend to defeat the common object of all, and enable railroads to use such organizations against each other in contentions over wages, etc.; that the rapid concentration of railroad capital and management demands a like union of their employees for the purpose of mutual protection; that the interests of each of the 850,000 railroad employees of the United States as to wages, treatment, hours of labour, legislation, insurance, mutual aid, etc., are common to all, and hence all ought to belong to one organization that shall assert its united strength in the protection of the rights of every member.

In March, 1894, the employees of Pullman's Palace Car Company, being dissatisfied with their wages, rents, and shop treatment for the first time in the history of the town, sought organization, and joined the American Railway Union in large numbers...

The Pullman company is hostile to the idea of conferring with organized labor in the settlement of differences arising between it and its employees....

Since the strike, withdrawal from the American Railway Union is required from those seeking work. The company does not recognize that labor organizations have any place or necessity in Pullman, where the company fixes wages and rents... The laborer can work or quit on the terms offered; that is the limit of his rights... This position secures all the advantage of the concentration of capital, ability, power, and control for the company in its labor dealings, and deprives the employees of any such advantage or protection as a labor union might afford. In this respect the Pullman company is behind the age.

To admit the Pullman shop employees, however, into the American Railway Union as "Persons employed in railway service" was not wise or expedient. The constitution can not fairly be construed to include as eligible members those who build cars and run them in and out over private switches... To reach out and take in those so alien to its natural membership as the Pullman employees, was, in the inception of the organization at least, a mistake. This mistake led the union into a strike purely sympathetic and aided to bring upon it a crushing and demoralizing defeat.

It is undoubtedly true that the officers and directors of the American Railway Union did not want a strike at Pullman, and that they advised against it, but the exaggerated idea of the power of the union, which induced the workmen at Pullman to join the order, led to their striking against this advice. Having struck, the union could do nothing less, upon the theory at its base, than support them...

Excerpted from U. S. Strike Commission Report, Senate Executive Document No. 7, 53d Congress, 3d session, pp. xxiii-xxvii.

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