Fight for Ourselves

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 began on July 17, 1877, in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Workers for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad went on strike, because the company had reduced workers’ wages twice over the previous year. The strikers refused to let the trains run until the most recent pay cut was returned to the employees. West Virginia’s governor quickly called out the state’s militia. Militia members, for the most part, sympathized with the workers and refused to intervene, prompting the governor to request federal government assistance. President Rutherford B. Hayes sent federal troops to several locations to reopen the railroads.

A contemporary artist’s rendering of the clash in Baltimore between workers and the Maryland Sixth Regiment during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. The governor had called out the troops on behalf of the railroad company.

The Great Strike of 1877 exerted a profound effect upon American business, as well as political and intellectual life. Many employers’ organizations concluded that wage cuts had reached their rock bottom. The men would stand for no more. The strikes also jolted an increasingly complacent middle class, many of whom had no knowledge of the conditions that laborers faced every day. In the summer of 1877, these conditions came to light. For workers and employers alike, the strikes had shown the power of workers in combination to challenge the status quo.

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