discussion question

I’m trying to learn for my History class and I’m stuck. Can you help?

Chapter 17 in the textbook focuses primarily on the working class—usually defined as those who work for wages in industrial or manual labor jobs—response to industrialization and its loss of control over the nature and terms of its work as large corporations and financial institutions came to dominate the American economy in the late nineteenth century (1800s). With this theme in mind, and after you have read the assigned chapter, answer the discussion questions below:


(1) Watch the following video entitled “The Battle at Kruger”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM. Explain how the situation can serve as an analogy—analogy is an effort to understand a concept/idea by comparing two things that seem unlike one another—for how labor unions operate in their struggle against industrial capitalist big business owners. Be sure to identify which animals you think represent the workers, which animals represent the owners, and how this situation in the animal kingdom is representative of the way in which labor unions and owners have historically related to each other.

(2) Regarding the Pullman Strike of 1894, read owner George Pullman’s testimony before the U.S. government on the matter on pages 578-579 in your textbook (document 17.5). Why does George Pullman think he has treated his workers fairly? Why might his workers have disagreed with him?

The Pullman Strike of 1894

Late-nineteenth-century industrialists exercised massive power over workers and the conditions of labor. Yet this power was not absolute. Workers organized into unions to secure higher wages, shorter hours, improved safety, and a fairer measure of control of the labor process. Even those corporate owners who were considered sympathetic to the needs of laborers and their families, such as railcar magnate George Pullman, assumed the right to manage their businesses as they saw fit (Document 17.5). Though Pullman had constructed a model town with clean housing and parks for his employees, he refused to heed workers’ economic complaints after the depression of 1893 began (Document 17.7).

When the American Railway Union (ARU), headed by Eugene V. Debs, launched a nationwide strike against the Pullman company in May 1894 to improve economic conditions and gain recognition for the union, Pullman refused to negotiate. Rebuffed by Pullman, the union coordinated strike activities across the country from its headquarters in Chicago. Workers refused to operate trains with Pullman cars attached, and when the railroads hired strikebreakers, some 260,000 strikers brought rail traffic to a halt. In response, U.S. attorney general Richard Olney, a member of many railroad boards, obtained a federal injunction ordering strikers back to work, but without success. At Olney’s recommendation, President Grover Cleveland ordered federal troops into Chicago to enforce the injunction. Their clash with strikers resulted in thirteen deaths, more than fifty injuries, hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damages, and the spread of violence to twenty-six states (Document 17.8). After the government arrested union leaders, including Debs, for disobeying the injunction, the strike collapsed in July 1894, and the Supreme Court upheld Debs’s imprisonment (Document 17.6).

The following documents reveal the points of view from four major combatants in the labor struggle. As you read these documents, consider the larger questions raised by this episode: Why have organizations been essential to advancing the rights of individuals in an industrialized society? Why was organized labor not more successful in gaining a larger share of power from capital? How did gender influence labor conflict and organizing? And what role should the government play in shaping the outcome of conflicts between labor and capital?

(3) Regarding the Pullman Strike of 1894, read labor union leader Eugene Debs’ comments on the strike and its impact on him personally on page 580 (document 17.6) in your textbook. According to Debs, what was the purpose of labor activism such as the strike? How did the Pullman strike teach Debs about the then-radical idea of socialism?

(4) Regarding the Pullman Strike of 1894, read labor union member Jennie Curtis’ testimony to the U.S. government on page 581 (document 17.7) in your textbook. How did being a woman affect Jennie Curtis’s experiences as a Pullman worker?


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