The well-being of workers comes at risk when industrial giants are involved. All greatest labor strikes concerned large industrial corporations that could allow neglecting well-being of their workers. After the Homestead strike that happened at the Carnegie Steel Company’s plant, the Pullman strike of 1894 became the most influential labor conflict of the 19th century. It put up the names of national leaders such as Eugene V. Debs and drew public attention to the matters of labor interests and socialism.
George Pullman was an ambitious entrepreneur dazzled by the ideas of capitalism. Having created a line of luxury railroad cars, he preferred leasing them to railroad companies. As he had built an industrial town in the southwest of Chicago, he started leasing houses to his employees. In the 1890s, the US gold reserves have fallen and brought financial panic. At this moment, Pullman decided to fire more than a third of the workforce and cut wages for the remaining employees. He did not cut the rent though, and most workers remained without any means to provide for their families.
In response to Pullman’s actions, his employees joined the American Railway Union. In 1894, they struck the Pullman company. Eugene V. Debs, the president of the union, asked train workers outside Chicago to boycott Pullman cars. The railroads, as well as Pullman himself, refused to negotiate the situation with the strikers. Instead, they formed the General Managers Association that fired all the workers who refused to move Pullman cars.
Striking workers did not abandon their demands. The strike was declared illegal by the federal court. Debs and other leaders went to prison, and federal troops moved to Chicago to settle the unrest. More than a dozen of workers were killed in the conflict, and the strike was gradually suppressed. In the end, the polarization of labor force and management increased and dew more attention to the issues of capitalism and socialism.