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Why Build A National Monument To A Union-Busting Robber Baron?

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Why Build A National Monument To A Union-Busting Robber Baron?


Occasionally, I see something that is so bizarre, so out of place, so wrong that I have to assume I’m hallucinating. For example, I could have sworn I was delusional when I heard about the National Park Service’s Pullman National Monument in Chicago.

George Pullman? My mind boggled! Our tax dollars are being spent to build a national park in tribute to a narcissistic, paternalistic, brutalistic 19th-century robber baron? Incredibly, yes. Pullman, a notorious union buster and exploiter of working families, is having his history mythologized by today’s Powers That Be, portraying him as a model of the corporate order’s historic virtue. At the Feb. 19 official consecration of Pullman’s park, Chicago’s thoroughly corporatized mayor, Rahm Emanuel, even gushed: “This will be a monument … to Pullman’s role in building the American dream.”

“History,” as the old adage goes, “is written by the winners,” even when they’re losers as human beings. Pullman was most certainly a loser as a human being for this “dream,” as Rahm refers to it, was a nightmare to Pullman’s workers. They toiled in his factories making rail cars, including the luxury “Palace” sleeper for elite train travel. Pullman considered himself a beneficent employer, having built a 600-acre town for the workforce and vaingloriously naming the new home-place for himself. PullmanTown included houses he rented to his workers, churches, schools, a bank, library, and parks — all owned by his company. Indeed, when officials announced this year that Pullman’s town was becoming an honored part of America’s park system, officials attested to his generosity by hailing the town as a place he created “to provide his employees a good life.”

The workers in the town of Pullman, however, were less charmed, for he ruled the burg as autocratically as he did his factories. No saloons or “agitators” were allowed, nor did he allow any public speeches, town meetings, independent newspapers or even open discussions. In a letter residents wrote to the American Railway Union, they offered an example of Pullman’s greed and exploitation of his workers: “Water which Pullman buys from the city at 8 cents a thousand gallons he retails to us at 500 percent advance … Gas which sells at 75 cents per thousand feet in Hyde Park, just north of us, he sells for $2.25.”

The resentful residents created a little ditty that summed up the surreal feel of the place: “We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman schools, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die, we shall go to Pullman hell.”

In 1894, the workers got Pullman’s hell on Earth. Not only did he drastically cut his workers’ (he referred to his workers condescendingly as his “children”) wages five times, he also refused to lower their rent. He had guaranteed a 6 percent return to the wealthy investors who financed the town, he explained — and the investors’ needs came first. What a dysfunctional father! The suffering imposed by this feudal lord on his workers led to the historic Pullman Strike that quickly spread nationwide, led by union icon Eugene Debs.

This uprising was not a problem for Lord George, though. He and other railroad royals rushed to the White House and got President Grover Cleveland to dispatch the U.S. Army to join police and militia forces to crush the labor rebellion. Thirty workers were killed, Debs was arrested on a trumped-up conspiracy charge and all laborers who’d joined the strike were fired and blacklisted.

Now, 120 years later, we taxpayers are financing a monument to this loser’s greed. The only way that Pullman National Monument can have any legitimacy is for the grounds to be strewn with sculptures of the 30 dead workers he killed.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Image: Public Domain (via Wikicommons

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a nationally syndicated columnist and one of America's most prominent progressive voices. His column carried by more than 75 publications across the country. Prior to becoming a writer, Hightower served as Texas Agricultural Commission from 1982 to 1991.

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    1. Eleanore Whitaker September 2, 2015

      You must be pretty hard up if this is how you have to earn a living Tootsie!

      1. JPHALL September 2, 2015

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  2. Paul Bass September 2, 2015

    The answer to this is “DON’T VISIT THIS STUPID MUSEUM!” If no one visits, it will close, which it deserves to do.

    1. Eleanore Whitaker September 3, 2015

      This is just another attempt to make rich men who got that way look like innocent little lambs. What next? A museum to Henry Fricke? Carnegie’s notorious labor boss who worked 11 men to their deaths?

      Or, are we to be treated to a Charles and David Koch museum, replete with their tentacle organizations’ memorabilia like the Tea Party, Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax Reform?

      You have do wonder why Koch Industries with its massive creation of these groups that pander spefically to the wealthiest 1% are getting away with this kind of violations to anti-trust laws.

      The IRS allows Koch Industries to make massive donations that are destructive and damaging to our country, our society and our workers. This is what their wealth buys?

    2. Allan Richardson October 7, 2015

      It’s a National Park Service museum, and it will stay open as long as Congress (with its permanently gerrymandered Republican majority) wants to keep it open, regardless of its financial success or not. Of course, since it will be federal property, the First Amendment will protect (as long as a Democrat is in the White House) pro-labor demonstrators who present the alternative side with signs and protests, and perhaps raise donations to build a pro-union museum on nearby land. Call it the National Pullman Workers Reality Museum; close enough for Google to hit both on one search.

      I have never been to Chicago, but I assume the location of the proposed museum is in a tourist-drawing part of town, and given enough donations, a site for the “other side” to present its case could be purchased (or perhaps donated by one of those “rich liberals” the RWNJs are always claiming have more money than their rich folks have).

  3. Daniel Jones September 2, 2015

    If you ever had any doubts about the American Plutocracy, this article should lay them to rest…


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