Railroad Strike 1894
In 1894, over 150,000 railroad employees throughout the United States went on strike. Two of Ludlow’s biggest employer’s were the Pullman Car Shops and the Southern Railroad. Hundreds of Ludlow residence lost their jobs during the strike, and many would not be re-hired following the close of the strike.
The economic depression of 1893 placed many businesses in financial jeopardy. Large corporations began to cut their work forces and reduce wages. The Pullman Car Company of Chicago was one of these businesses. The average Pullman employee had his wages reduced by 25%. These employees went on strike on May 10, 1894. On the following day, George M. Pullman was forced to close his Chicago plant. This was the first nationwide strike in United States history.
The Pullman Company maintained a repair shop in Ludlow. Initially, the Ludlow employees continued to work. Pullman workers, however, were members of the American Railway Union. The ARU represented over 150,000 railroad workers across the country. The ARU was under the leadership of Eugene V. Debs. Debs tried to bring about arbitration between the Pullman Company and the striking workers without success.
In late June, ARU official encouraged the employees of the Ludlow Pullman Shops to strike. The Ludlow shops employed 136 workers. By June 25, 1894, 67 of the 136 shop workers were on strike. In the following days, many more Ludlow employees walked off their jobs.
George M. Pullman refused to back down. Eventually, the ARU declared a general strike. The strike crippled the national railroad system. Many employees of the Southern Railroad in Ludlow also went on strike. Hundreds of Ludlow families were without an income. Officials of the Southern Railroad hired replacement workers to keep the railroad in operation. Railroad officials also acquired a corps of federal marshals to patrol the Ludlow yards.
In July 1894, President Cleveland sent federal troops to stop destruction of property and violence in Chicago. On July 7, the federal troops were attacked. They responded with gunfire. At least 7 strikers were killed and more than twenty were injured.
Violence in Chicago greatly concerned strikers in Ludlow. On the day the strikers were killed (July 7) large crowds of Ludlow residents congregated on Elm Street in front of the Odd Fellow’s Hall. The Kentucky Post sent messengers to Ludlow with news of the Chicago events. These reports were posted on a board set up in front of the hall. Officials from the Ludlow ARU No. 352 promised city officials that the strikers would remain peaceful. Ludlow’s ARU Committee included: Patrick J. Lean, Louis A. Poliquin and John Driscoll.
Enthusiasm for the strike began to decline in mid July. A number of Ludlow workers began returning to their jobs. A large ARU meeting was conducted in Ludlow’s Odd Fellow’s Hall on July 12, 1894. A national ARU representative forcefully denounced Ludlow strikers who had returned to work. The rally did little to bolster the hopes of the strikers. The strikers’ enthusiasm was further reduced by the ability of the Southern Railroad to continue operation. Trains were running on time despite the strike.
By early August 1894, Ludlow Mayor R.H. Fleming began encouraging all the strikers to return to work. Many chose to do so. Returning to work, however, would not be an easy task. The Southern, and all national railroads, refused to hire back many of their former employees. This was done as a punishment and as a deterrent to any future strikers. Former Southern employees hired Covington lawyer William Goebel to file suit against the company. The former strikers claimed that had been blacklisted.
A number of the Ludlow strikers lost their homes. Many were forced to find work in other occupations.
Kentucky Post, June 4, 1894, p. 4, June 6, 1894, p. 3, June 25, 1894, p. 4, June 26, 1894, p. 4, June 27, 1894, p. 4, June 30, 1894, p. 1, July 7, 1894, p. 1 and 4, July 10, 1894, p. 4, July 12, 1894, p. 4, July 13, 1894, p. 4, August 6, 1894, p. 1, August 7, 1894, p. 4, August 9, 1894, p. 4, and October 10, 1894, p. 3.