The Great Railroad Strike of 1877
In the year 1877, the country was in the depths of a depression. That
year came a series of tumultuous strikes by railroad workers in a dozen cities
that shook the nation as no other labor conflict in history had done. The strikes began with wage cuts by railroad
company after railroad company in an environment of profiteering by companies
even as injuries and deaths among railroad workers occured with ever increasing
At the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) station in Martinsburg, West Virginia, workers determined to fight the wage cuts went on strike. They uncoupled engines and ran them into the Roundhouse and announced no more trains would leave Martinsburg. B&O company officials asked the Governor to intervene and send troops. A striker was shot and killed. But, the strike continued and over 600 freight trains were idled in the Martinsburg train yard
The Governor eventually called upon President Rutherford Hayes to send in federal troops. The owners of B&O offered to lend money to the government to pay the army officers. When the troops finally arrived, the trains were able to move again with the help of strike breakers that had been brought in from Baltimore.
However, in Baltimore, a crowd of thousands sympathetic to the railroad strikers surrounded the armory of the National Guard that had been called out by the Governor in support of the B&O Railroad. A bloody confrontation took place in which 20 strikers were killed. The enraged crowd of protestors went on to the train depot and tore up tracks, destroyed a train engine and several passenger cars. The arrival of 500 federal troops finally brought order to the situation. However, strike by railroad workers now spread to other parts of the country.
The strike continued to spread to Harrisburg, Reading, and elsewhere.
Police and state militia were again called upon to battle the crowds, killing
several workers. This did nothing but further enrage many others. B&O
officials and the press continued to talk about the 'communistic' beliefs of
union workers. Federal troops finally arrived to help quell the situation.
The strike spread to Chicago and local police and troops were brought in to battle the strikers and sympathetic crowds. Again, the result was 18 dead workers. St. Louis then erupted. Here, too, railroad companies had cut wages. The railroad was effectively shut down. Eventually, police and troops were used to end the strikes over time. News of the railroad strikes spread to Europe.
When the great railroad strike of 1877 was over, 100 people were dead,
over 1,000 people were jailed, and over 100,000 workers had gone out on strike.
More than half the freight on the nation's rails had been stopped. The railroad
companies made some concessions, withdrew some wage cuts, but they had not
really learned any lessons about working with unions and treating workers
fairly. Instead, they beefed up their internal company police forces, helped
the government strengthen National Guard armories, increased political lobbying
efforts, and began further preparations to break the unions. For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Railroad_Strike_of_1877
The Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886
The Great Southwest Railroad Strike
of 1886 was a labor union strike against the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific
railroads involving more than 200,000 workers. In March 1886, railroad workers in
the Southwest United States conducted an unsuccessful strike against railroads
owned by Jay Gould, one of the more flamboyant of the 'robber baron'
industrialists of the day. The failure of the strike led directly to the
collapse of the Knights of Labor and the formation of the American Federation
of Labor (AFL).
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