Reactions to the Strike

Debs and some other labor leaders came to the realization that workers could never have power unless they controlled the government.  Debs was especially outspoken.  The federal intervention in the strike was just one of a long series of interventions in labor disputes the effect of which was to defeat strikes.  If workers used the Socialist Party and democratic elections, the power of their numbers would ensure the election of political leaders sympathetic to their cause.  Debs later wrote about his reaction:

"Next followed the final shock - the Pullman strike - and the American Railway Union again won, clear and complete. The combined corporations were paralyzed and helpless. At this juncture there was delivered, from wholly unexpected quarters, a swift succession of blows that blinded me for an instant and then opened wide my eyes - and in the gleam of every bayonet and the flash of every rifle the class struggle was revealed. This was my first practical lesson in Socialism, though wholly unaware that it was called by that name."  (We provide the full text of Debs' essay.)

Civic leaders--ministers, editors, journalists, and some businessmen--in Chicago were appalled at the events of the Pullman strike and the class conflict that the strike exhibited.  They began a determined quest for another way, for a means of ensuring that the interests of the public were protected in the conflicts between capital and labor.  They sought a social system within the framework of capitalism where the conflicting interest of capital and labor were somehow harmonized.  They formed the Chicago Civic Federation to bring together representatives of "the public," "capital," and "organized labor."  In 1900 their organization became the National Civic Federation, and eventually included labor leaders, business leaders, and political figures.  Prior to the 1912 campaign the Civic Federation worked for reforms designed to ease labor-management conflict.