Primary Sources

Report on the Chicago Strike of June–July 1894

Testimony of Thomas W. Heathcoate

The disparity between the interests of management and labor has always been a source of conflict in the industrial world. One of the most famous instances of what happens when conflict between labor and management reaches a boiling point is the Pullman Strike of 1894. Since the strike affected the railroad system and consequently the mail service, it affected the entire nation and eventually required federal intervention to return the nation to a sense of normalcy. The excerpt below is from the congressional investigation conducted to review the events leading up to and during the strike.

In May 1893, we were getting good wages. Along about September 1893, our wages began to be reduced because work was slack, and they kept reducing our pay each month. They kept reducing the price of piecework until it was almost impossible for us to live; in January 1894, the men wanted to strike, but we were not organized at that time; and in order to succeed in securing a higher rate of pay it became necessary for us to organize in some way; we could not see any more feasible plan than to organize in the American Railway Union, for the reason, we believed, that union was stronger than any other organization in the country.

Along about the first of April 1894, we began to organize, and in order to do so we had to go to Grand Crossing, as the Pullman company would not tolerate any union in their shops. If a man belonged to a union, if the company knew it, he was discharged. Then we held meetings over in Kensington. At about the first meeting that was held I think about two hundred signed their names as members of the American Railway Union. The conditions became worse; in April there was another cut, which made it impossible for us to maintain our families and pay our rent; we had to do something; times were hard and men could not get money enough to move away from Pullman; we did not know really what to do. I used my utmost endeavors to keep the men from striking. I knew the condition of the times. We then held meetings until we had about 35 percent of the men organized; and on the tenth of May, after this committee had been down to see the Pullman officials, after they had used every effort with the Pullman company to make some concessions toward the raising of wages or reduction of them, the mediation board, which was a committee composed of three members for each local union, then organized, met in Turner Hall, and were in session all night discussing what to do, and that night a strike was ordered.

The strike occurred on May 11, 1894, and we then met and appointed what is called a central strike committee for the purpose of conducting the strike. We then appointed committees to watch the Pullman property, so as to protect it. We kept them there night and day, changing the men, until the United States Government sent troops there.