BackgroundThe labor movement in the United States had been fomenting since the 1870s with railway unions leading the general movement. The primary goal of early labor unions, frequently called "brotherhoods", was to promote fraternity amongst members of a given craft. Eventually, and largely due to work laid out by Samuel Gompers and Eugene Debs, unions began to practice collective bargaining, and organizing strikes.
The Pullman Palace Car Company was a railway company based out of the Pullman district of Chicago, Illinois. The owner was multimillionaire George Pullman, who operated a company town. The company forced all employees to pay the company for shelter and food, as well as other basic needs.
The workers launched what an impromptu strike to protest wage reductions starting May 11. The local labor leaders then called upon Debs' American Railway Union to support the strike.
The American Railway Union was about to meet in their national convention in Chicago that was the take place in June of 1894. The convention took place as expected, and the general sentiment was in favor of fully supporting the strike. Debs, the president of the ARU, managed to convince Samuel Gompers, the union boss of the American Federation of Labor to attend a strategic meeting in the suburb of Blue Island, Illinois.
The meeting, which was largely kept secret, was held on June 29, and ended with Gompers committing the AFL behind the strike. The two men, Debs and Gompers, agree to keep the protests entirely peaceful, and then begin to arrange the logistics of such a massive strike.
On July 2, a Federal injunction was filed, under the authority of the President Grover Cleveland. The injunction mandated that Debs, Gompers, and other leaders of the strike were not to be "compelling or inducing by threats, intimidation, persuasion, force or violence, railway employees to refuse or fail to perform their duties."
On July 3, Federal troops, including marshals, and Army troops under the command of General Nelson Miles made their presence known in Chicago. Debs and Gompers instructed their respective union members to continue the boycott as planned.
By July 7, the US Army was ordered to break the boycott and force the workers to get back to work, or else to have them forcibly removed. A coordinated attack was then made at 1200 throughout Chicago.
The US Army opened fire upon protesting and striking union members. The official death count was 214, with an additional 96 people injured. Gompers's AFL then stopped protesting and went back to work, followed quickly by Debs' ARU.
Meanwhile, the federal Marshals arrrested the strike's leaders, including Gompers and Debs. The two men were bailed out of jail for $10,000 each, and then prepared for the ensuing legal case brought by the Attorney General.