Why Did the Pullman Strike Happen?

The Pullman Strike of 1894 occurred because negotiations between the Pullman Palace Car Company and the American Railway Union, which represented the railroad and factory workers who worked at Pullman, failed, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. The Pullman factory workers were unhappy with pay cuts and other acts that company president George Pullman employed, including heavy workloads and having to pay to use the library.

George Pullman had built housing quarters known as Pullman City where he required all his workers to live. He made the workers pay to use the library he provided, as well as the church. Pullman regularly instituted pay cuts and expected his workers not to argue with increases in workloads. The workers, many who were members of the American Railway Union, sought the union's help to negotiate better treatment and pay. Pullman refused, and on May 11, 1894, the workers walked out without the approval of the union.

However, on June 26, the American Railway Union formally joined the boycott. The boycott crippled the railroad economy, and George Pullman sought the help of the federal government. On July 2, a federal court declared the strike illegal. Federal troops were brought in to get the railroad cars moving safely. Violence ensued for several days, but eventually, the Pullman workers lost. Some returned to their same jobs with the same pay, and others were completely blacklisted from any railway jobs in the country. However, public sentiment was with the workers, and the strike had a positive impact on the future of labor unions.