In 1893, the American economy suffered a severe depression (known as the Panic of 1893), and American industry was not immune. Low demand for passenger train cars and reduced revenue forced the Pullman Palace Car Company to cut wages. Workers complained that cost of living in the company town had not been reduced along with pay. Pullman owner, George Pullman, refused to acknowledge their concerns.
Stripped of their ability to speak up, workers turned to the American Railway Union (ARU) who refused to facilitate any train containing Pullman cars. In just a few days, over 250,000 workers across the country had “left their post” before handling a Pullman car.
President Cleveland wanted the trains moving again, based on his constitutional responsibility for the security of the U.S. Postal Service. (Many trains consisted of Railway Post Office Cars.) Under presidential order, thousands of United States Marshals and over 12,000 United States Army troops took action.
The ARU was not happy, and their peaceful protests turned violent. During the course of the strike, 30 strikers were killed, 57 were wounded, and property damage exceeded $80 million (over $2 billion today).
With blood on the President’s hands, quick action was needed to show support for the American labor movement. A mere 6 days after the Pullman Strike ended, the U.S. Congress unanimously voted to approve Labor Day as a national holiday.
Although it’s creation occurred during a low point for government/labor relations, Labor Day has stood to honor worker contributions in the United States. Contributions that add to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our economy.
This Labor Day weekend, join us in supporting American laborers by buying American-made products. Unsure where to start? Click through dozens of qualified vendors on the American Field website.
Or come see them yourself at an American Field event.
The Pullman Strike
Labor Day Parade in Union Square, NYC