The Great Railroad Strike of 1877
Document 8: Leader of '77

Buffalo Morning Express masthead

scanned newspaper article
scanned newspaper article
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Transcription of
Buffalo Morning Express:
July 16, 1892
(original spellings & punctuation maintained)

Leader of '77
The Man Who Managed the Great Railroad Strike Talks
Thinks the Amalgamated Association Should Order a General Strike
of all its Members - Some Reminiscences

From the New-York Herald

The greatest strike this country has ever known took place 15 years ago this month. It spread almost across the continent, with its head in Pittsburg. Its recognized leader was Robert A. Ammon, then a beardless boy, who was the president and organizer of the Trainmen's Union. The labor leader of 1877 is today a resident of New-York and a member of the law firm of Friend & House. He is a tall, dark man of commanding appearance, with handsome, regular features. By the side of the little senior member of his firm, Emanuel M. Friend, he looks like a giant. He has naturally taken a deep interest in the strike at Homestead, and in discussing the present labor troubles with me yesterday he said:

"There are many points of similarity between the strikes of 1877 and 1892. Then the railroad-men had a combination of three railroads to fight; now there are three great iron mills. In 1877 the Baltimore & Ohio, the New-York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad companies decided to cut wages 10 per cent. To avoid a general strike they arranged to have the reductions go into effect at different dates, believing that all trouble on one road would be at an end by the time that the next road began its cut.

"The 10-per-cent reduction on the Pennsylvania culminated in the great strike. We had not only the hearty cooperation and sympathy of the residents of Pittsburg, but the practical assistance of railroad employees throughout America.

"At the outset the strikers merely gave up their employment without threats and without any show of hostility. We knew that the places of thousands of skilled laborers could not be filled at short notice. We had plenty of funds,and we felt confident that we could induce any new hands the railroads would pick up to join us.

"Peaceful means having failed to subdue us, force was attempted, and force was met with force. The Philadelphia troops who were sent to conquer us made a fort in what they considered an impregnable position in a roundhouse, from which they believed they could attack us in safety. It was at the foot of a hill, and we dislodged them by rolling down carloads of blazing oil, one after the other, until the militiamen were burned out. The Philadelphia troop was decimated and the total loss of life was large. I was indicted on 24 counts for conspiracy and arson, and finally tried and acquitted.

"As I say, we had a strong public sentiment with us, and we held so firmly together that the road had to capitulate and to give us the extra 10 per cent it attempted to take away. To avoid interfering with the United States mails and with the passenger traffic, we ran the passenger trains regularly on our own account, collecting fares and turning the money into one general fund.

"Like the three railroads the three Carnegie mills have acted in accord and at different times. The object of Mr. Frick is to do away with the Amalgamated Association so as to avoid all possible complications with organized labor. This has been practically accomplished at the two mills outside of Homestead, and the supreme effort is now being made at the greatest iron plant in America.

"I think that the proper course for the leaders of the present strike would have been to have met force with diplomacy. They have money and they have the support of the united workingmen at Homestead. They could have withdrawn and said simply, 'We will do no work until you have complied with our just demands. If you are able to fill our places go ahead and do so.'

"Then they could have kept the works indefinitely closed by inducing workmen who were brought in to join their union. They would have had little difficulty in doing this, as they could afford to pay salaries until the owners surrendered.

"If they really wished to fight they could have beaten the militiamen as easily as we beat the large armed force put in the field in 1877. Force having been pitted against them in the shape of Pinkerton men and having been repelled, just as we repelled the same set in 1877, the strikers could have intrenched themselves in the great mills and with the iron and steel at hand it would have been impossible for an army to have dislodged them.

"They could have collected provisions for a siege, spiked the railroads and bidden defiance to the world, and the company would have capitulated in very short order. I do not say that this would have been the wisest course, mind you, but I say that it would have been a quick and practicable solution of the difficulty. The great drawback was that so large a proportion of the men owned their own homes around the works and would have objected to the plan.

"The leaders of the present movement are bound to be indicted anyhow, and it would be much better if they had brought the entire matter to a point. The only question really at issue is whether Mr. Frick can conquer the Amalgamated Association or not.

"If he succeeds, it will be death blow to organized labor.

"If all skilled labor were thoroughly organized, corporate capital would not be jeopardized, and the relations between capital and labor would be on a more solid and friendly basis.

"If the officers of the Amalgamated Association would order a strike among the iron and steel manufacturers of the United States at once, the employers would come to terms very quickly. Such pressure would be brought to bear upon them that they would send for a committee of the employees to arbitrate the matter."

Last Updated: January 18, 2012