This Brotherhood Fought For Our Right To A Living Wage

September 10, 2019

Working on a Pullman train was one of the few jobs available to Black people after the Civil War.

But conditions were terrible - wages were low, workers often had 70-hour weeks, and they had to spend half their pay on uniforms, meals, and housing!

When workers got organized to demand better working conditions, Pullman retaliated by firing them, spying on meetings, and buying “support” from Black churches, who denounced the organizers. But they wouldn’t give up.

The workers got A. Philip Randolph, a powerful labor activist, to lead their cause. The union, called the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), grew and pressured both Pullman and the U.S. Government.

But prominent white labor unions, such as the AFL, refused to organize with Black workers. And during the Great Depression, when many couldn’t afford to risk their jobs, membership diminished. Eventually, though, the hard work and struggle paid off!

President Roosevelt signed two bills regulating the industry, which pushed Pullman to negotiate fairly.

In 1937 Pullman signed the first agreement between a Black union and a major corporation. They achieved a more-fair agreement, and paved the way for other unions and organizations of Black labor. 

If you have a job with days off and at least minimum wage, you may have Randolph and the BSCP to thank!

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