The Great Strikes
While the courts generally eased restrictions on labor strikes during the 19th century, legislators did not act to protect strikers. As a result, violence between employers and unions was frequent. In 1892, workers struck the Carnegie Steel Company plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania, after company manager Henry Clay Frick imposed a wage cut. On June 29, Frick hired some 300 Pinkerton detectives to run the plant, and on July 6, an armed confrontation occurred, resulting in several deaths. The state militia was called in to protect nonunion laborers, who worked the mills from July 12 to November 20, at which point the strike collapsed.
As a result of the Homestead Strike, the nation’s union movement suffered a severe setback, which was compounded two years later during the Pullman Strike of 1894. This violent confrontation between railroad workers and the Pullman Palace Car Company of Illinois tied up rail traffic across the United States from May to July. Workers, who lived in the company-owned town of Pullman (today a part of Chicago’s south side) were protesting wage cuts that had been made without corresponding reductions in company-levied rents and other employee charges. Laborers belonging to the American Railway Union protested—and were summarily fired. Railway union head Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) called a boycott of all Pullman cars, an action to which Pullman lawyers responded by using the newly enacted Sherman anti-trust legislation against the strikers. On July 2, a court injunction was issued to halt the strike. Federal troops were dispatched to enforce the injunction, and a riot broke out, during which several strikers were killed. The strike was crushed by July 10.