The Pullman Strike was a nationwide conflict in the summer of 1894 between the new American Railway Union (ARU) and railroads that occurred in the United States. It shut down much of the nation’s freight and passenger traffic west of Detroit, Michigan. The conflict began in the town of Pullman, Illinois, on May 11 when nearly 4,000 employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company began a wildcat strike in response to recent reductions in wages. Most factory workers who built Pullman cars lived in the planned worker community of Pullman. The industrialist George Pullman had designed it as a model community, but he controlled it thoroughly. When his company laid off workers and lowered wages, it did not reduce rents, and the workers called for a strike. They had not formed a union.
Founded in 1893 by Eugene V. Debs, the ARU was an organization of unskilled railroad workers. Debs brought in ARU organizers to Pullman and signed up many of the disgruntled workers. When the Pullman company refused arbitration, the ARU called a strike against the factory, but it showed no sign of success. To win the strike, Debs decided to stop the movement of Pullman cars on railroads. The over-the-rail Pullman employees (such as conductors and porters) did not go on strike.
Debs and the ARU called a massive boycott (usually called a “strike”) that affected most lines west of Detroit and at its peak involved some 250,000 workers in 27 states. The Railroad brotherhoods and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) opposed the boycott, and the General Managers Association of the railroads coordinated the opposition. Riots and sabotage caused $80 million in damages; 30 people were killed. The federal government secured a federal court injunction against the union, Debs, and the top leaders, ordering them to stop interfering with trains that carried mail cars. After the strikers refused, President Grover Cleveland ordered in the Army to stop the strikers from obstructing the trains. Violence broke out in many cities, and the strike collapsed. Defended by a team including Clarence Darrow, Debs was convicted of violating a court order and sentenced to prison; the ARU dissolved.
... Pullman workers needed people who cared, and joined the union. Now Debs became the leader of the Pullman strike. The ARU had great influence among the workers ... of Chicago, founded in 1880 by George Pullman, president of the railroad sleeping car company. Pullman advertised his town as a model community ...