Gillam (2009) notes that the Homestead strike of 1982 is the most bitterly fought industrial deputes in the entire history of the U.S. labor. The fight ensued after a failure to reach an agreement during a long time negotiation between the union representatives and the management of the industry. There was difference in opinion as the manager insisted that he would no longer work with the union but the workers as individuals. On contrary the leaders of the union were never ready to sacrifice their Union.
On the other hand, Ladd (2009) notes that the Pullman Strike of the 1894 occurred majorly because the President of the company had decided to reduce the wages of its workers. He notes that the various attempts by the workers to arbitrate their case were all in vain. This forced the American Railway Union to call upon its members to boycott duties. According to Smith (2004), the effect of the strike began to be felt in Chicago where the company had its base then spread to the whole country. With the intervention of the federal government, the president of the Union was arrested and imprisoned while the pay for the workers who reported back remained as low as it was. Many other workers were also arrested and black listed while the union was also disbanded.
According to reports by Net Industries (2011), the Haymarket riot on the other hand occurred on the 4th May 1886. The report notes that the riot involved a confrontation between the police and a group of both the anarchists and the labor movement protesters. The riot resulted into the killing of seven police officers and for rioters while also leaving many people wounded. The workers were unhappy with the difficult working conditions that they were being subjected to. Their main agenda for the strike was to demand for the eight hours-work-day.
According to the American Experience (2009), Carnegie’s steel industry was equally affected by the tough economic times that the country was going through. The report notes that the steel industry had started to experience the impact of the decline in the prices of its products from 1890. The general manager of the Homestead plant was therefore compelled to make a decision that led to a series of fights amounting what is can today known as the worst strike of its kind in the history of the United States.
Gillam (2009) noted that the Homestead strike has been recorded in the U.S history as a bitterly fought labor dispute. It was a fight that involved the employees who were members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel workers and the Carnegie Steel Company situated at Homestead. According to Gillam (2009), the strike was instigated by the workers refusal of the plan by the company’s general manager (Henry C. Erick) to cut down on their wages and his long term intension of breaking the Union.
The American Experience (2009) noted that the fight was intense because the Amalgamated Association was one of the strongest and well established craft unions of that time. According to its report, this is what fueled the armed battle between the workers and the detectives leaving several men killed and many others wounded. This made the then governor to order for the intervention of the state militia which gave back the company to the management. Campbell (2008) notes that the strike was a serious blow to the workers unions in the entire steel industry which only picked up again in 1930s.
The fight never ended there, the displaced workers planed to counter and reiterate every further move by the company. The American Experience (2009) observes that the manager had also built what he thought was a well secure fence to deter any ill move by the workers. However, the workers managed to oust the contracted guards and take over its control. They explained that having worked in the company, they too had a right to the ownership of the properties.
Campbell (2008) noted that during this period, the workers position themselves strategically to counter any move by the management against them. This was revealed on the 6th of July when the workers sported a barge transporting 300 Pinkerton agents whom the company had hired to help break the strike. The American Experience (2009) noted that there was an exchange of fire leading to a fierce battle that caused the death of three Pinkerton agents and seven laborers. For a moment, the management force were overpowered and had to withdraw and the laborers thought they had won the battle.
Campbell (2008) noted that this was not to be the case as the governor of Pennsylvania complicated things for the workers. The governor had sent the militia which enabled the management of the industry to regain its control ones again. The plant was thus reopened but strictly to non-union workers with their wages lowered by more than the earlier proposed 20 percent. However, the strike went on until November the same year when the workers surrendered. The majority of the workers also had their names blacklisted making it difficult to secure a job with any other steel company. The Authority charged those who were leading the strike with murder. Those who organized the strike were also arrested for treason. The unionization of the workers was also banned until later in 1930s with the re- emergence of the labor activism (Campbell, 2008).
The Pullman Strike
According to Ladd (2009), this was the first nationwide strike in the History of the United States and the most disturbing event in the history of Illinois. Smith (2004) observes that the strike may have been caused by the conditions the company had subjected its workers to. The workers, for example, had to unconditionally accept any proposed cut on their pay without demanding for any reduction of the workloads. The workers had to pay for the library and rent for the church and their houses. The situation was further worsened by the depression that forced the company to cut down on the amount of wages it pays to its employees irrespective of the increase of other charges (Ladd, 2009).
The strike involved over 150, 000 people. It started on the 11th of May the year 1894 as a simple walkout of the workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company. The workers solicited for support from the larger American Railway Union which seemed to have worsened the situation. The ARU then took over the matter and called for its members to boycott any operation with the Pullman’s Car Company. Ladd (2009) notes that though the effect of the boycott was originally concentrated in Chicago during its early stages, it later spread to all other parts of the nation. The boycott almost stalled the operation of the railways in every part of the country.
The federal government intervened by criminalizing every form of boycott activities. The government also spread its soldiers whom together with the local authorities restored the operation of the railroad in the affected areas. Smith (2004) notes that just as in the case with the Homestead strike, the government also arrested the President of the American Railway Union and imprisoned him for allegedly disregarding the injunction. Like in other cases, the Union was not able to counter the government force. This led to the stop of the boycott and further weakened the union (Ladd, 2009).
Majority of the railroad workers reported back to their working stations agreeing to continue receiving the same wage as before. As was in the case with the Homestead strike, some of the company’s workers were blacklisted making it impossible for them to secure employment or contract with any railroad operating in the United States. However, the strike was important because it was the first time in history when the federal government had used injunction to help contain the clear the strike. The strike also tainted the name of the owner of the company, George Pullman, for failing to care for his employers raising the need to scrutinize other companies in the industry (Ladd, 2008).
The Haymarket Riot
The case of Haymarket riot of the may 4th 1886 was not very different. It was as a result of a series of labor unrest which had been experienced since 1870s. According to Braxel (2004), the riot was a reaction of American laborers against their masters for subjecting them to poor working conditions. He noted that life had become extremely difficult for the workers. Braxel (2004) observes that despite the increase in the cost of living, the company had kept the amount of wages paid to the workers constant and in certain instances even cut it down.
This major strike therefore came after series of periodic confrontations with the police using force which resulted into the greatest form of militancy which had never been witnessed in the country before. Net Industries (2011) noted that the perception of the radicals on the other hand was that, the riot was an indication of the looming end of the struggle between the laborers and the capitalists and that it would lead to a great revolution. To some anarchists, the time for capitalism was over and there was need to use any available method to end the system (Braxel, 2004).
Braxel (2009) noted that what is finally known as Haymarket riot was as a result of a coalition of various labor organizations which had come together to oppose the poor working conditions they were subjected to. According to him, the group’s main agenda for this strike was the call for the cut down of the number of the working hours to eight days. Net Industries (2011) also notes that the riot was organized by a few anarchists who were able to win the support of many people. It is recorded that around 1,500 people met at the Haymarket Square to take part in the riot. The attempt of the police to disperse the crowd resulted into the angry crowd throwing a bomb at them.
The police were therefore forced to open fire on the rioters. The ensued confrontation led to the killing of seven police officers and for other people while many others were also wounded (Net Industries, 2011). In this case, the public demanded for justice to be done on the leaders of the riot. However, the leaders were tried and were found not guilty of throwing the bomb. In what many still believes was an injustice, the court went ahead and convicted the leaders of inciting violence. Braxel (2004) noted that four of the leaders were hanged, one committed suicide while the remaining three were released by the governor of Illinois John, P. Altgeld after serving in jail for seven years. The governor felt that their trial was unjust.
Examination of the Reaction by the Government and the Public
There has been a mixed reaction concerning the Governments use of force in all the three circumstances. For example, some scholars have maintained that the use of an injunction by the Supreme Court against the union in the case of the Haymarket riot was unjustified. However, some members of the public came out strongly to criticize the approaches used by the workers especially the throwing of the bomb at the police officers during the Haymarket riot and the abrupt boycott during the Pullman strike which paralyzed the operation of the railroad.
However, the workers have also received support from a section of the government officials and that of the court itself. The difference in opinions was evidenced in a number of cases where either the government or the court officials were reacting differently to the cases presented by the workers. For example, when a federal panel was appointed to investigate the Pullman strike, it found out that the company had policies that had denied its workers every sense of justice. The panel also established that the strike was majorly as a result of the management refusing to arbitrate. This was a sharp contradiction to the initial reaction by the government in which the leaders of the strike were imprisoned and several workers blacklisted. The panel called for the need for unionization. The panel pointed out the need of new government regulation measures to regulate the actions of the industrialization especially their relationship with the workers (Ladd, 2009).
There are also a number of government officials who felt that the use of force was not the best option for the two companies and even the government. An example is the case of Illinois governor John P. Altgeld who refused to use troops against the striking workers because he believed that the workers too had their rights just like the company owners. However, others like the Attorney General Richard Olney supported the position of the General Managers Association. He called on the workers to who felt dissatisfied to with the conditions of their work to quit and leave those who were willing to continue with the job to do so (Gillam, 2009).
The reaction by the public and the state against the Haymarket protesters has equally been condemned from across the United States. The opponents of these actions argue that the trial procedure was not followed and the charges were exaggerated. It is also clear that the temporary support of the government actions by the public was merely influenced by the government’s harsh reaction to those who fail to obey.
This fear made it take long for the truth to be revealed to the public who therefore branded the police at Haymarket square martyrs and the workers the anarchists. However, with the revelation of the reality of the cause and the course of the riot, the public came into terms with the reality and their perception changed in favor of the workers. It became clear that the justice system had acted in favor of the police officers and the capitalists. This was revealed when a further investigation was carried out on the way in which the Haymarket trial was handled. The initial rulings were struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the workers.
Though the three strikes may have ended in defeat for the workers, these events seemed to have accomplished their major purpose. They have remained significant as cases of class struggle in the American History. These struggles have casted doubts on whether the use of force can be the best approach available for the government. Many scholars have argued that the fight between the workers and their employers in all these instances should not just be viewed as a riot or a form of strike. These were the workers’ instigated tool for expressing their displeasure with the capitalism. In both cases, the workers need for change made them willing to resist the attacks from the capitalist class. All the workers wanted to see was justice taking its course and this is what the state had failed to do in time to help prevent any of the three confrontations. This must change if the States are going to prevent such cases from occurring in future.