Columns » Hightower

A monument to Pullman's greed




Occasionally, I see something that is so bizarre, so out of place, so wrong that I have to assume I'm hallucinating. For example: 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."

Sure, your honor — "dream" as in nightmare. Over 5,000 workers toiled in Pullman factories making rail cars, including the luxury "Palace" sleeper for elite train travel. He condescendingly referred to these workers as his "children," but what a dysfunctional father!

In the hard winter of 1894, this feudal lord of the manor abruptly slashed his "children's" meager wages by some 25 percent, leaving many unable to pay rent and feed their families. Thus came the historic Pullman Strike that quickly spread nationwide, led by union icon Eugene Debs.

No 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 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.

The only way that Pullman National Monument can have any legitimacy is for the grounds to be strewn with sculptures of the workers he killed.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit

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