Letters from Pullman
Nothing rings more true than words written by actual Pullman workers describing their feelings on the town and the company. Trouble was brewing long before the workers exited the main gates. One woman told a reporter in 1886:
One fine morning a number of men...will knock at your door and tell you that they have come to whitewash your house. They will not bother you with questions...but they just go in and do it...all charges for repairs....will be DEDUCTED FROM YOUR WAGES next pay day. You would have liked to wait another week...because you wanted to buy a pair of shoes for your boy. The company can't care about that!
Another resident put it this way:
Pullman was all very well as an employer, but to live and breathe and have one's being in Pullman was a bit too much. Residents paid rent to the Pullman Company, they bought gas of the Pullman Company, they walked on streets owned in fee simple by the Pullman Company, they paid water-tax to the Pullman Company...They sent their children to Pullman's school, attended Pullman's church, looked at but dared not enter Pullman's hotel with its private bar, for that was the limit. Pullman did not sell them their grog...The lives of the working men were bounded on all sides by the Pullman Company; Pullman was the horizon in every direction.
Jennie Curtiss, a Pullman worker for five years wrote:
My father worked for the Pullman Company for ten years. Last summer he was sick for three months, and in September he died. At the time of his death we owed the Pullman Company about sixty dollars for rent. I was working at the time and they told me I would have to pay that rent, give what I could every pay-day, until it was paid. I did not say I would not pay, but thought rather than be thrown out of work I would pay it. Many a time I have drawn nine and ten dollars for two weeks' work, paid seven dollars for my board and given the Company my remaining two or three dollars on the rents, and I still owe them fifteen dollars. Sometimes when I could not possibly give them anything [because her wage was cut from $.90 to $.20 per section of carpet], I would received slurs and insults from the clerks in the bank, because Mr. Pullman would not give me enough in return for my hard labor to pay the rent for one of his houses and live.
On June 15, 1894, over a month after the strike began, an address by Pullman workers was read to the ARU convention. It stated:
Water which Pullman buys from the city at 8 cents a thousand gallons he retails to us at 500 per cent advance and claims he is losing $400 a month on it. Gas which sells at 75 cents per thousand feet in Hyde Park, just north of us, he sells for $2.25. When we went to tell him our grievances he said we were all his "children."
Pullman, both the man and the town, is an ulcer on the body politic...George M. Pullman, you know, has cut our wages from 30 to 70 per cent. George M. Pullman has caused to be paid in the last year the regular quarterly dividend of 2 per cent on his stock and an extra slice of 1 1/2 per cent, making 9 1/2 per cent (annual rate) on $30,000,000 of capital...We will make you proud of us brothers, if you will give us the hand we need.
A few more words from Pullman workers and residents:
I don't think we asked too much when we asked our wages restored to what they were in 1893, as we did not make any more than a fair living at that time. The highest pay that I made for two weeks in 1893 was $34.72, and I can truly say that my wages for the year did not exceed $1.80 per day. Up to the beginning of the strike, I had run in debt about one hundred dollars; one half of this for rent, the rest for groceries and meat...I have a wife and four children, and it was for them that I struck, as I think that when a man is sober and steady, and has a saving wife, one who is willing to help along, and after working two and a half years for a company he finds himself in debt for a common living, something must be wrong. Some folks have said that we should have been satisfied. So we would have been, if we had been assured that this cut of fifty per cent was only temporary, and the Company had done the fair thing on the rent at the same time. But no!...So with a prospect of working an indefinite length of time at these prices and under an overbearing and profane foreman, we struck and will stay out until the battle is fairly won, or we have to step out for good...I don't think that George M. Pullman is as well acquainted with his children as he pretends to be, or he would have known that there was not one single anarchist in his whole family.
I was worse off at the time of the strike by $250.00 than when I came to Pullman...The Company, not satisfied, began the war by reducing our wages to a starvation point. At the time we laid down our tools, we were building a car for $19.50 that we should have got $36.00 for. After the second cut in our wages the stores refused to give us credit, as they knew we could not pay in full from one pay day to another. More trouble began. The Company would not give us our checks at the shops as usual, but sent us to the Company's bank, where they would have a better chance to squeeze us for the rent it was impossible to pay. I have seen myself and fellow workmen pleading with the rent agent to leave us enough to buy some member of the family a pair of shoes or some other necessity. Then when our last cut came, that was the straw that broke the camel's back; we could not stand it any longer; I, like a good many others, had to stop carrying my dinner, as what I had to carry would have run through the basket. I have seen one of my companions on the next car to mine, so weak from the lack of proper food, that he would have to rest on the way going home.