Unions before the Bar: Historic Trials Showing the Evolution of Labor Rights in the United States

By Elias Lieberman | Go to book overview

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That "Freedom" to Hire and Fire (1906-1908)

UNITED STATES V. ADAIR

I

The Pullman strike aroused the nation's interest in the railroad worker. President Cleveland, who, on the advice of his attorney general, had been instrumental in breaking the strike, appointed a special commission to investigate the causes of the strike and make recommendations for the prevention of similar occurrences in the future.

The commission found that the unrest of the railroad workers was to be attributed to the employers' conduct in preventing unionization by the employees and in their refusal to deal with labor organizations In its report of November, 1894, the commission made various recommendations for new legislation to be enacted with a view of preventing strikes on the railroads and protecting the workers' right to organize. The commission's report was sent by President Cleveland to Congress. In 1895, Representative Constantine Jacob Erdman of Pennsylvania introduced a bill based on the commission's recommendations. But the proposed legislation did not have smooth sailing. While the House passed it with modifications on two occasions, in 1895 and 1897, the Senate rejected it both times.

The railroad unions favored the bill, but the American Federation of Labor and the railroad owners opposed it. Their reasons and motives for the opposition were entirely different. Samuel Gompers and Andrew Furuseth for the AFL had opposed it because they regarded this legislation as a "step toward serfdom" since the bill prohibited workers from striking and quitting the job without

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