Harper's WeeklyJuly 14, 1894
EUGENE V. DEBS,
who, as president of the American Railway Union, gave the order
for the boycott against the Pullman cars, is a man of thirty-nine,
who has been a railway man, a politician, and an editor. Debs
is a native of Terre Haute, Indiana, where his father kept a grocery store. The son
attended school regularly till he was big enough to help about
the store. Then he took his place as a worker, but continued to
study nights, and so acquired a very fair degree of education.
When he was seventeen or eighteen he went to work in the paint-shop
of the Vandalia Railroad. Later he became a locomotive fireman,
and on joining the local Brotherhood of Firemen was made a delegate
to the national body. Debs filled the place of secretary for fourteen
years, during which time he also acted as the editor of the Fireman's
Magazine. In 1879 he was elected City Clerk of Terre Haute,
and in 1884 he was sent to the Indiana State Legislature. In 1892
he did effective work for the National Democratic ticket.
The same year he decided to leave the Firemen's Brotherhood,
much against the wishes of its members, with whom he was very
popular. When he insisted upon resigning, the sum of $2000 was
voted to him, with the understanding that he was to use it to
defray the expenses of a vacation trip to Europe. He declined
to accept the gift, and in 1893 set about the organization of
the American Railway Union, membership in which is not confined
to any branch of railway employees, his idea being, that they
would be better able to enforce their demands if all branches
of the service combined than if organized separately.
The Railway Union grew rapidly, and late last year Debs inaugurated
the big strike on the Great Northern Railway, which extends northwesterly
from St. Paul. Several conferences have been held during the last
few months for the purpose of harmonizing all existing labor organizations,
but the Railway Union seat, no delegations to any of them, and
has never had the help of the brotherhoods. At the June convention
of the Union some sort of an arrangement for mutual help was made
between it and the Knights of Labor. At this convention, also,
Debs was chosen president for a term of four years.
This is the record of a man who has always managed to keep
himself to the fore, who is now causing the country unprecedented
trouble and expense, and who has placed an embargo on the traffic
of a nation.
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