“This order of things cannot always endure.”
August 23, 2018 9:19 AM   Subscribe

“Pullman was designed to keep workers content enough to avoid unrest. The buildings were magnificent, everything was inordinately clean, homes had personal yard space in addition to expansive public parks, with maintenance and sanitation covered by the company. By building an appealing environment that seemed to focus on the health and contentment of its inhabitants, Pullman hoped to entice a skilled workforce to join him—and to avoid strikes. Though workers had access to libraries, churches, parks, shopping, and a man-made lake, there were also strongly enforced prohibitions against newspapers, town meetings led by workers, public speeches, and even taverns. Residents had to adhere to cleanliness standards, which largely existed only to give inspectors an excuse to invade their homes. A Pullman pastor explained: “It is a civilized relic of European serfdom.” It was a company town controlled by a paranoid baron who felt insecure about his power and did all he could to keep his employees placated enough to stay quiet—and it worked, until it didn’t.” How (or How Not) To Build A Labor Movement.
posted by The Whelk (22 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
It is worth reminding people of the construction of Pullman's grave:
His family, worried that workers would dig up and desecrate his body, a fate he deserved, poured 18 inches of reinforced concrete over his coffin, covered that in asphalt and tarpaper, then poured on more concrete, then put reinforced steel on top of it, and then another layer of concrete.
That is how reviled he was.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:31 AM on August 23, 2018 [30 favorites]


"Debs realized that no serious labor movement could succeed as long as the government remained ruled by the capitalist class. The only way forward that would have a lasting effect, rather than temporary reforms gained through strikes, would be to achieve political power for socialism. "

This is a good and interesting article, thanks.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 9:46 AM on August 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


"That is how reviled he was."

That just makes me want to go through the effort even more.

Very interesting article, though kind of inciteful, at least for me. The premise of a company caring for its employees is great, but the way it goes awry just gets me riled up. Capitalism is fucking nasty.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:06 AM on August 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


I feel like a lot of the impetus (at least for me) into socialism is because it seems technologically possible for the first time--that we could actually get to a Fully Automated Gay Luxury Communism at some point in the near future, provided we fight for it. Post-scarcity seems like a real possibility.

But during the early labor movements, it seems like it was different, and maybe to us, more naive in that it was the idea that working people were numerous enough and could be united enough to demand socialist reform or even a full communist revolution/reorganization and continue having industrialization and production that benefited the many instead of the few. Except that they did get that, just not as much as they wanted, and the ruling classes have been working diligently ever since to undermine what little they got.
posted by emjaybee at 10:16 AM on August 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


During the early labor movements, captialism hadn't warped our cultural norms as much yet, so many people still thought of selfishness as a vice, and weren't as atomized from each other. Also, this is a cultural difference between different socio-economic classes. When your safety net is the other people around you (not savings, or government programs), you learn to work together.
posted by eviemath at 10:41 AM on August 23, 2018 [18 favorites]


Sealing his coffin in concrete, it's almost like they were disposing of nuclear waste.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 10:44 AM on August 23, 2018 [9 favorites]


This reminds me of a paper I wrote in school a very long time ago about another "utopian" community, the Fruitlands . It was founded by Amos Alcott, who was Louisa May Alcott's (author of Little Women) dad.

It was based on Transcendentalist Principles, which were *all* the rage at the time in the 1840's, and they followed some pretty frugal dietary restrictions. It was short-lived though, as they strove towards self-sufficiency, didn't grow enough food, and most importantly, didn't use animals, thinking that they were unenlightened and would taint their food.

It fell apart after seven months or so.
posted by mike_honcho at 10:47 AM on August 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


Debs should've been president.
posted by East14thTaco at 11:14 AM on August 23, 2018 [9 favorites]


Fun fact: Pullman's (then long abandoned) factory was burned down in the 90's by a mentally ill homeless man who had been squatting there.

Pullman is still a weird place. A lot of the townhomes are still there, and that housing stock is legitimately better than anything else in the area. But man, for being within the city and off it sure is isolated. There's some legit wetlands nearby, but also lake Calumet.

I'd known that the Pullman Company was the largest employer of African Americans at the time* - there was a viaduct mural about the Pullman Porters around cottage grove, IIRC. And I knew that the porters were paid a lot less than the white workers at the time and they weren't unionized. I hadn't realized, for whatever reason, that they weren't allowed within the town itself.

*second fun fact - the reason why Pullman was the largest employer of African Americans at the time was because 'he liked their servile attitudes'
posted by dinty_moore at 11:44 AM on August 23, 2018 [10 favorites]


Upon googling, it turns out that the viaduct mural going into Pullman was to commemorate the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first Black-led Labor Organization to be recognized by the AFL. You can see a painting of the mural here, though it has since been painted over.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:54 AM on August 23, 2018 [8 favorites]


This reminds me of a paper I wrote in school a very long time ago about another "utopian" community, the Fruitlands . It was founded by Amos Alcott, who was Louisa May Alcott's (author of Little Women) dad.

The Alcott girls would jokingly refer to Fruitlands as "Apple Slump," after a particularly inelegant dessert the family used to eat.

On my annual trip to Western Pennsylvania, I go through several small towns with neighborhoods of what looks like it used to be company housing. I love seeing what the current residents have done to individualize the exteriors.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:55 AM on August 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


And I knew that the porters were paid a lot less than the white workers at the time and they weren't unionized. I hadn't realized, for whatever reason, that they weren't allowed within the town itself.

Henry Ford's company town, Fordlandia, was on a riverbank in the Amazon rainforest. While Ford couldn't enforce full segregation (as there was no other place for people to go), the city "was built with a separate neighbourhood, the Vila Americana, for the American staff... separated from the areas intended for Brazilian workers. The Vila Americana had the best view of the city, and was the only section with running water; while the Brazilian workers made do with water supplied by wells." [SLTheGuardian]
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:17 PM on August 23, 2018 [7 favorites]


The sad part is that at first people were probably thrilled to get nice place to live and a good job--until they realized they'd made a deal with the devil.

I keep tellin' ya, we got to eat the rich.

Of course, some of them would probably gag ya as they went down.

(I'll bet that concrete on his grave wouldn't stop me from peeing on it.)
posted by BlueHorse at 12:39 PM on August 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


It is worth reminding people of the construction of Pullman's grave:
His family, worried that workers would dig up and desecrate his body, a fate he deserved, poured 18 inches of reinforced concrete over his coffin, covered that in asphalt and tarpaper, then poured on more concrete, then put reinforced steel on top of it, and then another layer of concrete.
That is how reviled he was.


That's the line they gave the public, and they may have believed it themselves at some level, but down deep, they wanted to make sure he couldn't get out.
posted by jamjam at 12:44 PM on August 23, 2018 [20 favorites]


The problem see is that people who work in the sewer want to work in the street, and people who work in the street want to work in the garden, and people who work in the garden want to work in the kitchen, and people who work in the kitchen want to work in the salon, and people who work in the salon want to work upstairs, and all of these rewards are handed out by the man, who always has something you want, and can always bust you back to the sewers. So you either play by the man's rules and rat out your brothers, and get a chance of working without so much shit on your boots, or dirt under your nails... or you don't. And only when you get everyone hating the man enough to say fuck it, the sewer is better than doing what he says, then maybe everyone can get out of the sewer. But how often does that happen.

And that's why capitalism is bad.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:45 PM on August 23, 2018 [19 favorites]


If you want to see a company town done right, visit New Lanark. I've never found anyone with a bad thing to say about Robert Owen. So either he was a good man, or he was the perfect ruthless tyrant who destroyed all who opposed him. I suspect (and hope) the former.
posted by scruss at 12:48 PM on August 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


Ha ha ha ha! I didn't read the article yet, but from reading the description of the town in the post I was certain they were talking about Disney's Celebration. When I worked for Disney all the managers were just rabid to move into that creepy, Stepford-esque town.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:02 PM on August 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


I had to go to the ER at the hospital in Celebration once. It was wall to wall heatstruck kids all the way down.

Why no, I never have gone on vacation without getting sick or injured.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:13 PM on August 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


"It is clear the family in their bereavement was making sure the sonofabitch wasn't going to get up and come back."

Ambrose Bierce
posted by BWA at 1:43 PM on August 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


Robert Owen was a truely wonderful person. I own a copy of his biography and when I got it, I learned from my mother that her grandfather, a union organizer and carpenter had the utmost respect for Robert Owen.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:09 PM on August 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


This is searing, amazing, heartbreaking:
The Pullman strikers pleaded:

Pullman, both the man and the town, is an ulcer on the body politic, he owns the houses, the schoolhouses, and churches of God in the town he gave his once humble name.

And thus the merry war—the dance of skeletons bathed in human tears—goes on, and it will go on, brothers, forever, unless you, the American Railway Union, stop it; end it; crush it out.

posted by doctornemo at 2:10 PM on August 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


Sealing his coffin in concrete, it's almost like they were disposing of nuclear waste.

It is clear his grave is not a place of honor... no highly esteemed deed is commemorated there… nothing valued is there.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:06 AM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


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