Friday, January 9, 2015

Leaders of America's Railroad Labor Unions

Eugene Debs (1855-1926) was a prominent leader of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen (BLF) in his youth. Later he helped found the American Railway Union (ARU) in 1894, the Socialist Party of America (1901) and the Industrial Workers of the World (1905). Eugene Debs ran for president of the United States on the Socialist Party ticket five times between 1900 and 1920, winning millions of votes. Although many of his dreams were not realized during his lifetime, Debs inspired millions to believe in "the emancipation of the working class and the brotherhood of all mankind," and he helped spur the rise of industrial unionism and the adoption of much needed progressive social and economic reforms. 

A. Philip Randolph helped organize and served as the first President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.   It was the first labor organization led by African-Americans to receive a charter in the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1935.Randolph expanded his agenda once he became the leader of this foremost black labor organization in the U.S. Randolph was chosen as the leader of the National Negro Congress, an umbrella organization founded in 1937 that united many of the major black civil rights organizations of the day. Randolph helped negotiate the return of the CIO to the AFL in 1955, by which time he had also achieved elder statesman status within the civil rights movement.  In 1978, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters merged with the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks (BRAC).

Jennie Curtis
Jennie Curtis, a teenager, was a seamstress for the Pullman company in the repair shops sewing room. She was also the President of American Railway Union (ARU) Girl's Union, Local 269, at Pullman.  She appeared before the 1894 convention of the ARU where she described the plight of the Pullman factory workers who had suffered repeated wage cuts side by side with the high rents charged by the company. In response to her appeal for help, the delegates voted to impose a boycott of Pullman cars, sparking the infamous Pullman Railroad Strike.  See

Other notable union leaders in the U.S. to check out include:
For more detail, go to the Railroad & Rail Worker web site.

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