The great railroad strike, 1877

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The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 was the country's first major rail strike and witnessed the first general strike in the nation's history. The strikes and the violence it spawned briefly paralyzed the country's commerce and led governors in ten states to mobilize 60,000 militia members to reopen rail traffic. …

In 1877, northern railroads, still suffering from the Financial Panic of 1873, began cutting salaries and wages. In May the Pennsylvania Railroad, the nation's largest railroad company, cut wages by 10 percent and then, in June, by another 10 percent. Other railroads followed suit. On July 13, the Baltimore & Ohio line cut the wages of all employees making more than a dollar a day by 10 percent. It also slashed the workweek to just two or three days….

Soon, violent strikes broke out in Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and San Francisco. Governors in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia called out their state militias. … Fully armed and with bayonets fixed, the (Baltimore) militia fired, killing 10, including a newsboy and a 16-year-old student. The shootings sparked a rampage. Protesters burned a passenger car, sent a locomotive crashing into a side full of freight cars, and cut fire hoses. At the height of the melee, 14,000 rioters took to the streets. Maryland's governor telegraphed President Rutherford Hayes and asked for troops to protect Baltimore.

In Pittsburgh, where the local militia sympathized with the rail workers, the governor called in National Guard troops from Philadelphia. The troops fired into a crowd, killing more than 20 civilians, including women and at least three children.

It appears that some 40 people were killed in the violence in Pittsburgh. Across the country more than a hundred died, including eleven in Baltimore and a dozen in Reading, Pa. By the end of July, most strike activity was over.

Native-born Americans tended to blame the labor violence on foreign agitators. "



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