The Labor Movement: Violence and Reaction

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the public was fearful of the consequences of the Industrial Revolution. Although the public did not approve of violence, they were willing to accept it in the most extreme cases. On the other hand, the government was willing to resort to any measure, such as the killing of any member of the strike who did not cooperate and help to maintain peace and order.

The public felt that the strikes by the labor unions were actions against both the government and society, as put in The New York World in 1894 (Document A). Also in The New York World, the idea that the leaders would rather see themselves in the spotlight than the justice they were seeking. A headline in The Chicago Inter Ocean, 1894, expressed the view that the strike was equal to anarchy (Document C). In a New York Times editorial, 1894, Eugene Debs, the leader of the strike against Pullman, was said to be "a lawbreaker at large," and "an enemy of the human race." A view also expressed in this editorial is "Debs should be jailed.....and the disorder his bad teaching has engendered must be squelched." (Document E). In the Chicago Tribune of 1894 Debs may have been misjudged due to yellow journalism, which is journalism that exploits or exaggerates the news in order to attract readers. This enraged the public who believed that the newspapers were telling the truth. The Reverend Herrick Johnson of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Chicago, 1894, felt that the violence of the strikes must be met with violence by the government. (Document G) According to many documents, this view of the strike expresses the thoughts of the majority of the population.

Jane Addams felt that the owners of the companies were imposing their own thoughts and opinions onto their employees (Document H). This may have led to many of the strikes, it was one of the factors that led to the Pullman Strike. Pullman assumed that he knew his employees' needs better than they themselves knew. This means that the employees felt as though they were under a dictatorship because they were being told how to feel and how not to feel.

An illustration entitled "King Debs" seems to be saying that the unions will eventually come out on top of the industry. However, it could also mean that Debs felt that he was like a king (Document J). It seems as though the people were confused about whether or not to support or not support this outcome.

The government did not have many options as to how to deal with the labor strikes. They were concerned about what the people would think of what they did to stop the strikes. Government was forced to resort to violence because the strikers were not using peaceful methods to bring about change. This was the only action that the government could come take solve the labor crisis (Document B). In fact, President Grover Cleveland said, "If it takes the entire army and navy of the United States to deliver a postal card in Chicago, that card will be delivered." This basically said that whatever it takes to get the mail delivered it will get done no matter what troubles they may face (Document I).

The public, being afraid of the labor movement and its tactics, opposed violence but accepted the government's motives for using it. The people were against the labor movement because they were influenced by yellow journalism, which stated many lies and exaggerations of what was really going on with the labor strikes. (Document F).

By: Jennifer K., Dana P., Terra H., Megan C.

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