The Railroad UnionsThe unions in the railroad industry were among the oldest in the country. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers was founded in 1863, after a first attempt to establish a union was made as early as in 1855. By 1894 it had enrolled 32,033 members. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen was formed in 1873. The appointment of Eugene Victor Debs as its leader in 1880 was a turning point in its history. By July 1893 it had enrolled 28,681 members. In 1883, the Brotherhood of Railroad Brakemen, to be renamed the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen after 1890, was organized at Oneonta, New York, which reached a membership of 8,540 by 1893. Furthermore there were the Conductors' Brotherhood (later known as the Order of Railway Conductors) and the Switchmen's Union of North America, resulting from the reorganization of the defunct Switchmen's Mutual Aid Association.
The main goals of the brotherhoods were the promotion of economic interests of their members. Their main tasks were negotiating wage and hour schedules, lines of promotions, and other issues. On the whole, the brotherhoods were not strike-minded, but were ready to use this method to enforce demands they believed in. A strike fund was maintained to support those which were formally authorized by the leaders of their organizations.