The name Eugene Debs is synonymous with socialism
and the American left at the turn of the 20th century in the United
States. In 1893, Debs founded the American Railway Union (ARU),
the first industrial union (as opposed to traditional craft-based unions).
One year later, the ARU led a strike against the Pullman Railway Car
Company outside of Chicago, which became one of the most famous
and heated strikes in U.S. history, eventually involving 250,000 workers
in 27 states. Debs served six months in jail for leading the Pullman Strike.
While imprisoned he read Marx, and turned his focus towards socialist
organizing within the working class in the U.S. He helped found the
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905, and as a political
candidate he ran for president five times under the Socialist Party of
America. His most famous campaign was conducted in 1920 while
he served time in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, sentenced at age 63 to
10 years under the Espionage Act. He received over 900,000 votes;
campaign buttons read, “Vote for Prisoner 9653.”