STATE VIOLENCE INCITES RIOTING
21st Street near Penn Avenue
On July 20th, 1877, striking railroad workers in Pittsburgh successfully stopped trains from leaving the freight yard in the Strip District. The sheriff was called upon to clear the tracks by railroad officials, anxious to regain control of their lines. Already, many local police and militia had joined the crowd of friends and neighbors in support of the strike. Knowing that local militiamen would not use force against their own community, the sheriff requested assistance from the Philadelphia militia.
Philadelphia's troops had just returned home from service in the Reconstruction South. Tired, hungry and missing their families, these men were sent to Pittsburgh to defend the interests of businessmen who were losing money for every hour their trains stood idle. As the crowd showered the troops with insults and stones, the Philadelphia militia opened fire. The massacre ignited a full-scale riot, which left dozens dead and countless wounded.
The Great Strike of 1877 is thought to mark the first use of federal troops to defend a corporation's "right to run a profitable business." These action have since set a precedent for state violence against labor movements and legislation that favors the rights of corporations over the safety and well being of working families.