The Great Strike

This article from the July 23, 1877 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune suggests that railroad corporations should adopt new policies to meet the needs of railroad workers, which will also keep many of the corporations from falling into bankruptcy.

The Great Strike

The railroad corporations have a serious and important responsibility upon them. They are confronted by a civil war, in which those resorting to violence are demanding bread for themselves and families. In a controversy with starving men and families, the railroad companies are of necessity at a great disadvantage. The sympathies of mankind are all with the men who are struggling for bread. It is well, therefore, for the railroad companies to consider the responsibility which is now forced upon them.

The workmen say that the wages now paid them have been, by successive reductions, brought below the sum necessary to sustain life. The fact that other men are willing to work at these wages is not a sufficient answer to the complaint. It is urged by the companies that their receipts will not warrant the payment of higher wages. This is true; but is not this very fact of reduced receipts due, in turn, to a vicious policy of bad management on the part of the railroad companies, and is it not a matter within the reach of remedy?

Have not the railroads been engaged, and are they not now engaged, in the work of bankrupting each other? Are they not controlled largely by desperate gamblers, intent upon gaining personal control of vast aggrogates of property, that they may pluck it, and then throw the plundered concern back upon its robbed creditors. How often has this history been written of the New York & Erie, and how often, to a less extent of other roads? Look at the enormous array of stocks and bonds issued by those managements, representing property stolen. In whose hands, even now, are the great trunk railroads and their connections, some of the latter reaching half-way across the continent?

Since the great panic of 1873, nearly one third of the railroads (by mileage) have passed into bankruptcy, and are now operated by Receivers or temporary managers, whose duty it is to pay ordinary operating expenses and no more, and who are not troubled by capital stock or debt. The great trunk lines are involved as lessees with thousands of miles of other roads which were built in advanceof any need of them, and which have not sufficient business to support them. The management of the railroads has never been economical; it has been grossly extravagant, wasteful, and frequently dishonest. The reduction of the compensation and perquisites of the managers has been slow and stubborn; as the receipts fell off, the necessity for reduction of expenditures has been met largely by the reduction of the wages of the operatives. This, beginning two years ago, has gone on at intervals, until the wages of the latter have reached that rate that they no longer furnish the necessities of life.

In the meantime the management of the railroads, actuated by recklessness, by intrigue, by struggles between competing factions for control, by gamblers and adventurers, has been engaged in schemes to bankrupt each other. The railroad managers of the country can estimate to a fraction the rates of toil at which they can transport freight and make a profit. Having ascertainted this, the railroad managers, to injure the other roads, reduced their freight rates, and to make up that loss reduced their freight rates, and to make up that loss reduced the wages of the workmen. This has been done repeatedly, the several roads trying to defeat each other by taking from the wages of the workmen to make up the losses caused by the reduction in the rates of transportation. The result is the destruction of the business of their roads, the loss of revenue, the starvation of the workmen, a civil war, and the general suspension of rialroad business and the temporary paralysis of government itself.

The producers of the country and the merchants have not sought any such cut-throat policy on the part of the railways. The country is deeply interested in having the railways, which are the arteries of the business system, do a profitable business. They are interested in having these railways honestly and efficiently managed, paying a profit to their owners and living wages to the skilled and experienced labor of the men required for railroad work. The cut-throat and starvation policy having now reached a climax in riot, bloodshed and the temporary triumph of mob violence, it will be well for the railroad corporations to bravely meet the future by the adoption of a total change of policy.

About this Document

  • Source: Chicago Daily Tribune
  • Citation: page 4
  • Date: July 23, 1877