Great Railroad Strike of 1877


The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 the first rail strike in this country, started with unhappy railroad workers wanting better working conditions. The Strike spread to multiple cities and states including: Ohio, Baltimore, West Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, St. Louis, Kansas City, and San Francisco. After several violent outbreaks that involved state militia and federal troops, the Strike ended and more than 100 citizens had been killed. The immediate effects of The Great Railroad Strike were beneficial to the before unhappy railroad workers.

The Company

In 1877 the two most powerful railroad companies were the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. These two railroad powerhouses and many other railroad companies located in different states, decided that it would be beneficial to extend the railroad lines. However in doing so they failed to extend the number of railroad workers working on those lines. The companies also decided to cut the wages of the railroad workers, and cut the work week of the railroad workers to two or three days per week.

The Workers

As soon as the companies cut wages, cut the work week, and extend the railroad track without extending the number of workers, the workers were upset. The workers wanted the railroad companies to hire more workers to work on the newly built tracks. They also wanted higher wages instead of lower ones that they had just received. Finally they wanted their work week to be as long as it was before. With an opposite position from the companies it was almost inevitable that conflict between the workers and the companies was soon to arise.

The Causes

Of course the tension between the workers and the company led to the strike, but there was also another factor that led to the strike as well.

The Panic of 1873
In The Panic of 1873 large firms on the East Coast began to fail. Many began to dismiss workers and lower wages. These wage cuts and dismissal of
workers angered the workers on the railroad, which led to conflict.

Strike


West Virginia

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 began on July 17, 1877 in Martinsburg, West Virginia when workers for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad went on strike because of reduced wages. The workers refused to let the trains run until the most recent pay cut was returned to the employees.

West Virginia’s governor called out the state’s militia, but received no backup from the militia members who sympathized with the workers andrefused to intervene. This prompted the governor to request federal government assistance from President Rutherford B. Hayes, who sent federal troops to several locations to reopen railroads.
balt.jpg
Government troops battled the strikers. In the end over 100 were killed and over 1000 were left wounded. Source :"http://web.gc.cuny.edu/ashp/1877/f1877-1.html"


Baltimore


In the meantime, the strike had spread to several other states, including Maryland, where violence erupted in Baltimore between the strikers and the state’s militia. Mobs violently resisted and attacked the militia by throwing stones and over 14,000 protesters revolted by destroying railroad property. The militia fought back and tried to end the uprisings by shooting citizens and doing anything they could to stop it.

In Kansas City and San Francisco even more violence erupted as strikes and supporters took the streets in protest. The Federal troops were called in and successfully quelled the strikes, but only after killing over 100 people. The strikers were treated as heroes after the strike and received a lot of support.


Pittsburg

In Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and St.Louis, Missouri, strikers temporarily gained control of the cities until federal soldiers reestablished order. Many militia members that were sent to protect the railroads in Pittsburgh refused to use force and even joined the strikes. The National Guard was called in, which resulted in gunfire on a crowd and twenty people were killed. The strikers reacted by brutally assaulting and destroying railroad property, as well as taking over the local telegraph office and armory. The Pittsburg strikes resulted in forty deaths overall and over $4 million in railroad equipment.

St.Louis


In St Louis, Missouri, the workers were exceptionally strong and united under the leadership of The Workingmen's party. When the railroad workers declared themselves on strike they even had the support of the mayor, who had been an active revolutionary in his younger years. Mass meetings were held with thousands of attendees, calling for the nationalization of all industries within the cities. St Louis' entire industry was at a standstill, including breweries, trains, flour mills, banks, and shops. The workers were trying desperately to take and hold power, and held nu

merous rallies and meetings. Socialist speakers told crowds: "The people are rising up in their might and declaring they will no longer submit to being oppressed by unproductive capital." StLouis was moving closer and closer towards workers' control and the bosses were sending in the US army and state militias in a state of panic and rage. Strike leaders were jailed and the cities came under martial law. The workers were eventually "shot back to work" and the strikes slowly ended. David Burbank writes,"Only around St Louis did the originalstrike on the railroads expand into such a systematically organized and complete shut-down of all industry that the term general strike is fully justified. And only there did the socialists assume undisputed leadership... no American city has come so close to being ruled by a workers' soviet, as we would call it, as St. Louis, Missouri, in the year 1877."




riotscene.jpg
an attack on the Maryland Sixth Regiment by rioters, sympathizers, and hooligans as they marched to Camden station from the armory in Baltimore:


Chicago

The Workingmen's party , which was connected to Marx's First International, called a massive rally with six thousand people attending. They demanded the immediate nationalization ofall railroads. The following day the police attacked a smaller group of teenage protestors for calling on railway, mill, and lumberyard workers to join them. Soon the US infantry, joining police and guardsmen arrived to "keep order" - meaning beatings and gunfire; 18 people were killed.


In Kansas City and San Francisco violence erupted as stirkes and supporters took the streets in protest. The Federal troops were called in and successfully quelled the strikes, but only after killing over 100 people. The strikers were treated as heroes after the strike and received a lot of support.




An account published in the American Railroad Journal, the primary source of railroad news during the time, detailing the lawlessness that is taking place during the strike.  At the time of printing the strike was still taking place at many places throughout the country  It can clearly be seen that the editors of the journal did not sympathize with the striking workers.
An account published in the American Railroad Journal, the primary source of railroad news during the time, detailing the lawlessness that is taking place during the strike. At the time of printing the strike was still taking place at many places throughout the country It can clearly be seen that the editors of the journal did not sympathize with the striking workers.




Support

The strikes spread rapidly to wherever railroads were and eveolved into general labor strikes that paralyzed much of that nations railways and interstate commerce. The strikes received lots of support from farmers and businessmen who had experienced problems with the railroads discriminating. Wall street brokers also supported the strikes and Cincinnati business interests said they would gladly pay higher rates if it benefited the workers and not the railroads.




Effect

The strikes were overall successful in scaring business owners against further wage cuts.

By the end of August 1877, the strike had ended primarily due to federal government intervention, the use of state militias, and the employment of strikebreakers by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company. The Great Railroad Strike was typical of most strikes during this era. The availability of laborers and government support for businesses limited workers' ability to gain concessions from their employers. However, the strikes were overall successful in scaring business owners against further wage cuts and they grew terrified that events of the Paris Commure of 1854 would come to the US. States passed conspiracy laws and many business leaders reverted back to pre-wage cut pay scales.

The strikes also paved the way for movement toward more business regulation. Before 1877, only three brothers of railroad workers existed, but by 1900 there were sixteen. In 1887 the Interstate Commerce Commision was created to monitor the railroad companies. The strike had a prominent effect on the railroad companies and workers in both the immediate and longer term and greatly influenced everyone involved in the railroad business.




References:


Primary:

Picture of strikers being fought by government troops:
http://web.gc.cuny.edu/ashp/1877/f1877-1.htm

An account published in the American Railroad Journal, the primary source of railroad news during the time, detailing the lawlessness that is taking place during the strike. At the time of printing the strike was still taking place at many places throughout the country It can clearly be seen that the editors of the journal did not sympathize with the striking workers:
http://teachingamericanhistorymd.net/000001/000000/000070/images/july_28_1877-copyright.jpg

Picture of an attack on the Maryland Sixth Regiment by rioters, sympathizers, and hooligans as they marched to Camden station from the armory in Baltimore:
http://teachingamericanhistorymd.net/000001/000000/000070/images/6th_regiment_copy.jpg

Secondary:

Abc-Clio American History The Great Railroad Strike of 1877:
http://americanhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/308620?terms=great+railroad+strike+of+1877

http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=503

http://www2.ucsc.edu/resnet/res-includes/hilte/results.php


http://teachingamericanhistorymd.net/000001/000000/000070/html/t70.html