horizontal rule

Statement from the Pullman Strikers,

in the

Report on the Chicago Strike

of  June-July 1894

Excerpts from a Digitized Text  at Google Books.

Workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company lived in a "company town," owned by George Pullman, and their rent was deducted from their wages.  During the depression following the Panic of 1893, Pullman instituted deep wage cuts but did not reduce the rent on the workers' homes. 

The Pullman workers went on strike to protest their exploitation and to force the company to treat them more fairly.  At the national convention of the newly formed American Railway Union (ARU), they asked for the assistance from members working for other companies. The union voted that their members would refuse to work on any trains pulling Pullman sleeping cars.  The result was a major disruption of the national transportation system. The strike failed, however, because railroad managers were able to enlist the aid of state and federal governments, who sent troops to break the strike.

horizontal rule

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, and little ones, have their eyes turned toward this convention today, 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. Wickes, 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, 1893 The last was the most severe, amounting to nearly 30 percent, and our rents had not fallen. . . .

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 prices 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 4,000 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. . . .

Water which Pullman buys from the city at 8 cents a thousand gallons he retails to us at 500 per cent advance. . . . Gas which sells at 75 cents per thousand 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, forever, unless you, the American Railway Union, stop it; end it; crush it out.

Our town is beautiful. In all these 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? . . .

George M. Pullman, you know, has cut our wages from 30 to 70 percent. George M. Pullman has caused to be paid in the last year the regular quarterly dividend of 2 percent on his stock and an extra slice of 1 1/2 percent, making 9 1/2 percent on $30,000,000 of capital. . . . [Pullman took a small loss on three contracts, which]  was his excuse for effecting a gigantic reduction of wages in every department of his great works, of cutting men and boys and girls, . . .  including everyone in the repair shops of the Pullman Palace cars on which such preposterous profits have been made [so that the losses were "more than made up by us from money we needed to clothe our wives and little ones."]

George M. Pullman will tell you, if you could go to him to-day, that he was paying better wages than any other car shops 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 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."

Now this [deep wage cuts for all types of Pullman workers], 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.  . . . Every man of you, every honest heart among you, every wiling hand stands ready.  You know you can; will you?

horizontal rule

Hanover Historical Texts Project
Hanover College Department of History
Hanover College Visitor's Page

Please send comments to: historians@hanover.edu

horizontal rule