Turning the Century: Essays in Media and Cultural Studies

By Carol A. Stabile | Go to book overview

10
Constructions of Violence:
Labor, Capital, and Hegemonic
Struggle in the Pullman
Strike of 1894

KEVIN AYOTTE

The closing decades of the nineteenth century in the United States were anything but peaceful for the working class, or for capitalist industry. Labor conflicts over exploitative working conditions and low wages resulted in a series of strikes across all sectors of the economy. These disputes were the inevitable result of a rapidly expanding capitalist economy that was as yet largely unregulated by the federal or state governments. The repression of labor dissent was realized in a variety of forms, but all represented a struggle on the part of the capitalist ruling class to maintain its economic and political hegemony over American society. On May 11, 1894, the workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago, Illinois, left their jobs to protest a reduction in wages and untenable living conditions in the company town of Pullman, Illinois. As long as the strike remained localized at the Pullman Company in Chicago, the federal government, indeed much of the country, took little notice. Then, on June 26, 1894, members of the American Railway Union (ARU) initiated a sympathetic strike by refusing to handle any trains carrying Pullman cars, and eventually the strike halted virtually all railway commerce throughout major sections of the country. In a capitalist nation that depended upon rail transportation for the provision of industrial supplies, foodstuffs, and passenger conveyance, which ultimately produced profit for great numbers of business interests, the nationwide strike represented a challenge to the very ruling order of society.

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