The Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886Jay Gould was the owner of the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads in the mid 1880s. He owned nearly 12% of all the railroad tracks in the United States at the time. By many, he was called a robber baron industrialist, because it is thought that much of his wealth and power was gained through ” unscrupulous” methods (Topics in Chronicling America). He himself believed he deserved all the riches he had attained.
Many railroad workers were members of an Organization called the Knights of Labor. The Knights of Labor had an agreement with Gould stating generally that a man could not be fired without being given a notice and a logical reason. Many thought that Gould violated this agreement after firing a worker who had attended a meeting because he arrived late (Koppekin). This was when the Knights of Labor called a strike.
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The strike was caused because an agreement between the Knights of Labor and the Union was violated and a series unfair restrictions on the workers occurred; therefore it lead to the strike being deemed a failure and the ultimate decline of the Knights of Labor Union (Topics in Chronicling America). The first cause of the strike was because of a broken rule by Gould. He did not see anything wrong with his action, however it caused a large dispute which lead to the beginning of the strike. The strike began after after the agreement between the Knights of Labor and Gould’s Union Pacific was violated. The agreement basically stated that no worked can be fired without some notice and a valid reason. Gould fired Charles A. Hall because he attended a union meeting on a different time schedule.
Within a week’s time, more than 200,000 workers joined the strike that the Knights of Labor enforced. Some workers refused to honor the strike and continued working, however many did protest (Topics in Chronicling America). The second cause was also a rule violated by Gould that the workers found unfair. After up to the main disagreement between the Knights of Labor and the Union Pacific, Gould unleashed a series of restrictions on the workers. This included lower pay, longer hours and unsafe working conditions. Gould thought of this as a punishment for the workers, however it just caused more of a desire to go on strike.
The Knights of Labor were firm believers in the eight hour work day, as well as the need for safe working conditions. When Gould took these away from them, it was just another reason for them to go on strike (Koppekin). The strike affected many people, whether they were protesting or not. The first effect was very immediate, and it was that the strike was deemed a failure. The strike did not draw the support of many engineers and industrial workers. After almost two months of protesting, many workers realized they needed money to support themselves and their families.
If they had not been already fired for protesting, many of them returned back to work. The second effect of the strike was more long-term. After the failure of the strike, the Knights of Labor Organization experienced internal conflict between its factions, and lost many supporters. By 1890 they had lost almost 90% of their memberships (Topics in Chronicling America). Seeing as the organization plummeted, the strike is seen as being won by Gould, and not the workers. The Great Southwest Railroad Strike did end in favor of the owner, Jay Gould, however it affected many workers too. The disagreement between the Knights of Labor and the Union Pacific ended up affecting the lives of workers across the country. The reduced wages and increased working hours were yet another action that caused the workers to go on strike, however the strike ended in favor of Gould anyways.
This strike was a very important strike in US history because it affected the way people viewed industries across the country (Koppekin). It caused the Knights of Labor to ultimately decline and for Gould to become even more wealthy and powerful. The workers may have lost out in this situation, however the Great Southwest Railroad Strike paved the way for many strikes in the coming years to be even more impactful and memorable.