U.S. Labor History Timeline

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2013- Current:


Guardian – US Labor News



December 11, 2012, Michigan- Republican-led state House of Representatives gave final approval to a pair of “right-to-work” bills covering public- and private-sector unions. Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed the bills into law, completing in a few days a campaign to make Michigan the 24th U.S. state to prohibit unions from requiring employees to join and contribute dues.December 4, 2012, ILWU office clerical workers (450 in all) ended their one-week strike after winning new protections to prevent jobs from being outsourced to Texas, Taiwan and beyond. The new contract was reached between members of ILWU Local 63’s Office Clerical Unit (OCU) and 14 employers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

November 6, 2012, Californians defeat Prop 32, called  “paycheck protection” by its supporters. In reality it is a veiled attempt by Capital to squelch organized labor’s ability to compete financially in political campaigns.

November 6, 2012, President Barack Obama wins re-election over Mitt Romney. Obama shows strength in the industrial Midwest with strong union support gained through the auto industry bailout enacted in his first term.

June 5, 2012, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker fights back a recall attempt by unions upset at his assault on Wisconsin public employee union bargaining rights. A big setback for labor.


December 6, 2011, Massey Energy fined $209 Million for Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. Despite its questionable practices, Massey Energy will not be criminally prosecuted for a mine explosion that killed 29 workers in West Virginia. And only a small portion of total settlement goes to workers’ families.

Nov 8, 2011, Ohioans vote to repeal Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) by a margin of 61 to 38 percent. SB 5 would have limited collective bargaining rights for more than 350,000 public workers in Ohio and increased health care and pension costs for some workers.

Nov 2, 2011, Occupy Oakland leads first general strike in Oakland, Ca. since 1946. Port of Oakland shut for hours. Unions, Teachers, Nurses and thousands of Oakland workers join in walk-out.

September 2011, Occupy Movement begins with Occupy Wall Street protests. Movement’s slogan “we are the 99%”  designed to illustrate growing disparity of wealth in troubled times.

September 2011, ILWU shuts down Seattle and Tacoma ports, Union members bust up Longview Terminal

June 10, 2011, Supreme Court rules in Wal-Mart’s favor in the largest civil rights class action suit in United States history.

May 19, 2011, independent investigation condemns Massey Energy‘s role in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

Spring 2011- Ohio and Wisconsin legislatures pass anti-collective bargaining laws.


April, 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signs controversial anti-immigration law (SB 1070). The law is the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in recent U.S. history.

April 5, 2010, in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster an underground explosion caused the deaths of 29 miners in West Virginia.

2008 – 2010, auto industry crisis in U.S. – Bush and Obama Governments secure federal bailout funds to help struggling G.M and Chrysler.

2007 – 2009

Fall 2008, the U.S. economy collapses under the weight of a credit crisis. The Bush administration secures hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds from Congress to bailout banks and financial institutions under the TARP program.

2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike, fourteen weeks

2005 – 2006

January 2, 2006 – The Sago Mine Disaster in W.Va. The blast and ensuing aftermath trapped 13 miners for nearly two days with only one miner surviving.

2005 –Seven major national unions, representing six million workers, disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO and, in September, form a new coalition called “Change to Win“, devoted to organizing.

2005 New York City transit workers strike

2003 – 2004

70,000 Southern California grocery workers strike Safeway to protect their health benefits and stop imposition of a two-tier wage system. The 2003 -2004 supermarket strike.


March 29, the 500,000-member United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners announced that it was disaffiliating with the national AFL-CIO because of differences in the direction of the labor movement.

April 5, 10,000 Public school teachers and 3000 state university faculty in Hawaii shut down all public education in the State in the nation’s first state-wide education strike.

Jim Walter Resources Mine Disaster in Alabama on September 23, 2001, where 13 miners perished.


November 30, 1999 – Battle in Seattle – WTO protests lead to violence in the streets.


In a big win for their members and all of organized labor, the Teamsters reach a new five-year agreement with United Parcel Service (UPS) on Aug. 18, ending a two-week strike over abuse of part-time workers and health care for retirees.


The 123,000-member I.L.G.W.U. and the 129,000-member A.C.T.W.U. merge to form the new Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).


The longest players’ strike in sports history (232 days) is conducted by the Major League Players Association against National and American League owners.


a five day strike of 21,000 American Airlines’ flight attendants, virtually shutting the airline down is ended when Pres. Clinton persuades the owners to arbitrate the dispute.

The Family and Medical leave Act is passed.


The founding convention of the AFL-CIO’s Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) is held from April 30 to May 2 in Washington D.C.


On September 3rd the Imperial Food Products fire in Hamlet, North Carolina where, despite a federally approved state OSHA program, 25 poultry processing workers are killed, 49 injured.


7500 hotel worker and members of HERE, Local 5 strike 11 major hotels from March 3 to March 24 to protect their pension benefits.

June 15, LAPD officers attacked a group of 400 non-violent demonstrators in the SEIU “Justice for Janitors” campaign in the Century City strike against that high-rise commercial office area of Los Angeles.

1988 – 1989

The United Mine Workers of America wildcat strike of the Pittston Coal Group in Virginia spreads across the eastern coalfields involving up to 50,000 miners in 11 states. Using non-violence and civil disobedience, the miners win a contract after a bitter nine-month struggle.

1988 Writers Guild of America strike, over five months, 22 weeks.

1981 – 1988

1985 – 1986, Hormel Strike in Austin, Minnesota.

1981 – The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association strike.  Newly elected President Ronald Reagan fired all the strikers and broke the union, sanctioning the practice of hiring “permanent replacements” for striking workers. Solidarity day labor rally draws 400,000 to the Mall in Washington D.C.


NYC Transit Strike


Douglas Fraser becomes first labor leader elected to board of directors of a major corporation (Chrysler).


The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute [p.l. 95-454, 5 U.S.C. §7101 et seq.], also known as Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, grants by statute collective bargaining to federal workers which had been subject to executive order.


January 2, Common Situs picketing bill vetoed by President Gerald Ford. Notable benchmark in Labor’s decline.


July 1, Cesar Chavez and sixty supporters of the UFW embarked on a thousand-mile march across California to rally the state’s farm workers.

July 30, former Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa disappears from the parking lot of the Machus Red fox Restaurant in suburban Detroit. Although presumed dead, his remains have never been found.


November 13, Karen Gay Silkwood, a lab tech at the Cimeron plutonium plant and officer of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union local in Oklahoma City dies mysteriously en route to a union meeting with a newspaper reporter.

September 2, Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

July 1974, Baltimore Police Strike – one of the most effective municipal labor actions of its kind since the Boston Police Strike of 1919.

March 22, the founding convention of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) in Chicago elects Olga Madar its first president.


In Harlan County, Kentucky Coal operators again try to break the United Mine Workers and a bloody coal-field war erupts.

May 30, Crystal Lee Jordan (aka “Norma Rae”) is fired for trying to organize a union at the J.P. Stevens plant in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina.



April 1972, first Major League Baseball strike



April 28, Occupational Safety and Health Act.

December 23, Jimmy Hoffa’s prison sentence is commuted by President Richard Nixon on the condition he not participate in union activities for ten years.


U.S. Postal Workers’ strike affects mail service in major cities. First U.S. nationwide strike of public employees

Under the leadership of Cesar Chavez, United Farm Workers start boycott of 25 major growers in California.


Mary Moultrie organizes the successful strike of 550 black women hospital workers for union representation in Charleston, South Carolina.


During an AFSCME Sanitation Workers’ strike, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated at his motel in Memphis.

November 20th, a gas explosion at Consolidated Coal Company’s No. 9 mine at Farmington, West Virginia trap 81 men, 78 of whom are killed in the mine. Farmington Mine Disaster

July 8, 1968, Chrysler Wildcat Strike. A wildcat is a strike action taken by workers without the authorization of their trade union officials.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people 40 to 65 years old.


December 15, Age Discrimination in Employment Act.


New York City transit strike


September 8, Delano Grape Strike began when the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, mostly Filipino farm workers in Delano, California, walked off the farms of area table grape growers demanding wages on level with the federal minimum wage. One week after the strike began, the predominantly Mexican-American National Farmworkers Association led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta joined the strike, and eventually the two groups merged, forming the United Farm Workers of America. Quickly, the strike spread to over 2,000 workers

October 22, Service Contracts Act.


July 2, President Johnson signs Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title VII bans discrimination in the workplace.

Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa succeeds in bringing virtually all North American over-the-road truck drivers under a single national master freight agreement.


June 10, Equal Pay Act.


President Kennedy issues Executive Order 10988 giving federal workers the right to join unions and bargain for wages and working conditions.


ILWU signs Mechanization and Modernization Agreement, which pioneers the trade-off of members’ job security for the employers’ right to introduce labor-saving equipment.

1960 Writers Guild of America strike, over five months, 21 weeks.1960 Actors strike, led by SAG President Ronald Reagan, six weeks.


Longest steel strike in U.S. history, shut down 90% of US steel production for 116 days.

Knox Mine Disaster in Pennsylvania

September 14, Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (aka Landrum-Griffin) regulating union elections and finances.


Jimmy Hoffa is elected president of the Teamsters.

AFL-CIO expels the Teamsters, Bakery Workers, and Laundry Workers for “unethical conduct.”


The American Federation of Labor merges with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, to form the AFL-CIO, the world’s largest labor federation.


AFL expels the International Longshoremen’s Association for corruption.

Louisiana Sugar Cane Workers’ Strike


55 day steel workers strike is ended by Federal Government intervention authorized by Pres. Truman.


UAW president Walter Reuther elected president of CIO


ILWU leaves CIO rather than be ejected for “Communist domination.” Ten other CIO unions are kicked out.

August – September, 1949, Peekskill Riots – The catalyst for the rioting was an announced concert by black singer Paul Robeson, who was well known for his strong pro-trade union stance, civil rights activism, Communist affiliations, and anti-colonialism.

Child labor is finally prohibited through an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Previous attempts had not been successful.


Second Red Scare Era Begins (1947-57). McCarthyism period.

June 23, The Taft-Hartley Act passed over President Truman’s veto, drastically amending the Wagner Act of 1935. Taft-Hartley reduced rights of workers to organize labor unions. State “right-to-work” laws begin to appear.

March 21, President Truman institutes loyalty oath requirement. Opening salvo in what would become the second red scare


May 25, with only three minutes left before the United States Army would seize control of the nation’s railroads, the leaders of both striking railway workers’ unions signed a settlement at the White House. Earlier in the day, the U.S. House of Representatives had approved President Truman’s request for emergency legislation that would have allowed striking workers to be drafted into the U.S. armed forces.


Hollywood Black Friday Riot – six-month strike by the set decorators (Conference of Studio Unions) boiled over into a bloody riot at the gates of Warner Brothers‘ studios in Burbank, California.

The House Committee on Un-American Activities became a standing (permanent) committee in 1945. The committee of nine investigated suspected threats of subversion or propaganda that attacked “the form of government guaranteed by our Constitution.” Countless numbers of working class will be subpoenaed by the committee in the years to come.


Congress passes the Smith-Connally Act to restrict labor bargaining and organizing. It would have required 30 day “cooling off” before strike, criminal penalties for encouraging strikes, Presidential seizure of struck plants, prohibitions against union campaign contributions. It is vetoed by President Roosevelt.


National War Labor Board established with labor representation on the board

1942-43 Musicians’ strike, thirteen months plus


President Franklin Roosevelt announces a no-strike pledge by AFL and CIO for duration of World War II.

5-week animators’ strike at Walt Disney Studios to end the paternalistic relation between Disney and his animation staff, cemented the studio’s derogatory nickname of “the mouse factory.”


June 25, Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); established Wage and Hour Division in DOL.

May 26, 1938, the House Committee on Un-American Activities was established as a special investigating committee.


May 30, Memorial Day Massacre. Deadly incident took place during the “Little Steel Strike” in the United States.

John L. Lewis, seeking to organize steelworkers, secures a labor contract with the president of the world’s largest steel company, United States Steel, but the smaller companies that collectively were known as “Little Steel” brutally fought steelworkers. Scores of deaths and injuries occurred as the United Steelworkers of America struck at Little Steel plants across the industrial northeast.

May 26, The Battle of the Overpass: United Auto Workers bloody confontation with Ford security forces. Published pictures of badly beaten UAW organizers Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen swayed public opinion in favor of the UAW.

Woody Guthrie sets out from Pampa, Texas for California, beginning years of rambling. He was bound for glory.


December 28th, Flint “sitdown strike” of auto workers (UAW) supported by the Women’s Emergency Brigade at the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan.

June 30, the Walsh-Healey Act sets safety standards, minimum wage, overtime pay and child labor provisions on all federal contracts.

The Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor votes to expel all labor members who claim affiliation with the CIO led by the UMW president John L. Lewis.


July 5, National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), establishing the National Labor Relations Board.

Six affiliated unions of the AFL form a Committee for Industrial Organizing to expand the scope of the AFL beyond its craft-union orientation.

August 14, the Social Security act is approved.


San Francisco General Strike: the key event of modern west coast industrial unionism. Harry Bridges led longshoremen and sailors; Alameda County workers go out too, including streetcar drivers, calling for municipal ownership of the privately-held streetcar company; general strikes in other cities on west coast. On July 5 (Bloody Thursday) two pickets are killed by the police.

The strike of 400,000 textile workers from New England, the Mid-Atlantic states and all over the southeastern United States and lasting twenty-two days. The strike’s ultimate failure and the union’s defeat left the southeastern portion of the United States an unorganized and anti-union region for the next 50 years.

July 16, Minneapolis Truckers Strike, 5000 men go out in a strike that established the Teamsters as a nationally significant labor union. Four men are killed–two on each side–and martial law is declared before an agreement is reached.

April 12 to June 3, 1934. Auto-Lite Strike – The strike is notable for a five-day running battle between roughly 6,000 strikers and 1,300 members of the Ohio National Guard. Known as the “Battle of Toledo.”


The New Deal era begins. The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented by the Franklin Roosevelt Administration between 1933 and 1936 in response to the Great Depresion

Section 7(a) of the National Recovery Act (NRA) is passed by Congress to give most private sector workers the right to join a union and bargain collectively with their employers. Shortly thereafter the Supreme Court holds Title I of the Act unconstitutional.

Workers at George A. Hormel and Company stage the first sit-down strike in the U.S., taking over the Austin meat-packing plant for three days. The tactic works: Hormel agrees to submit wage demands to binding arbitration


Franklin Delano Roosevelt elected president in midst of great Depression. Happy Days Are Here Again.

March 23, Norris-LaGuardia Act (Anti-Injunction Act) passes, prohibiting some federal injunctions in labor disputes and outlawing “yellow-dog” contracts – agreements where an employee agrees not to join a union.

Wisconsin enacts the nation’s first unemployment insurance law.


September 1, Clara Holden, National Textile Workers’ Union organizer is abducted and beaten by vigilantes in Greenville, South Carolina.

February 1931, The Battle of Evarts – a mining strike and ensuing violence that occurred in Harlan County, Kentucky in 1931.

March 3, Davis-Bacon Act, providing for payment of prevailing wage rates to laborers and mechanics employed by contractors and subcontractors on public construction.


The Stock Market Crashes


November 21, the Columbine Mine Massacre of striking coal miners in Colorado who were attacked with machine guns.

Sacco and Vanzetti executed on August 23, 1927


May 20, Railway Labor Act; required employers to bargain collectively and not discriminate against their employees for joining a union and outlawing “yellow-dog” contracts.

Passaic NJ Textile Strike


Immigration Act of 1924. – The American Federation of Labor (AFL) and other unions vigorously opposed unrestricted immigration from Europe and Asia beginning in the 19th century. Some of it was racial, some of it cultural but the primary issue that unified the workers was the fear that an influx of new workers would flood the labor market and lower wages and take jobs.. The AFL intensified its opposition after 1906 and was instrumental in passing immigration restriction bills from the 1890s to the 1920s, such as the 1921 Emergency Quota Act and the Immigration Act of 1924.


July 1 to September 1, nationwide railroad strike of 400,000 shop workers caused by the Railroad Labor Board’s wage cut. The railroads hired strikebreakers, increasing hostilities between the railroads and striking workers. On September 1 federal judge James H. Wilkerson issued a sweeping injunction against striking, assembling, picketing, and a variety of other union activities, colloquially known as the “Daugherty Injunction.”

June 22, 1922, The Herrin Massacre – On April 1, 1922 the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) began a nationwide strike. In June 1922 in Herrin, Illinois three union miners were killed in a strike-related confrontation. The next day, out of a group of fifty strikebreakers and union guards, nineteen were killed.


December 1921, President Warren G. Harding commutes Eugene Debs’ sentence.

August-September, the Redneck Army marches in West Virginia at the Battle of Blair Mountain. The largest insurrection in the U.S. since the Civil War. Mother Mary Harris Jones, at age 84, was on the front lines.

July 14, 1921, Massachusetts jury found Sacco and Vanzetti guilty of robbery and murder. This verdict marked, however, only the beginning of a lengthy legal struggle to save the two men. It extended until 1927, during which time the defense made many separate motions, appeals, and petitions to both state and federal courts in an attempt to gain a new trial. All to no avail.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that nothing in the Clayton Anti-trust Act protected unions from injunctions brought against them for conspiracy in constraint of trade. (Duplex Printing Press v. Deering)

January 21, national conference of state Manufacturers’ associations in Chicago develop the “American Plan” to combat union organizing. The plan was aimed at eliminating closed shop unions.


Palmer Raids: on January 2 Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer ordered raids by the Federal Department of Justice in 30 cities across the United States to arrest and deport suspicious immigrants (so called “alien reds”) many of whom were involved in US labor unions. The raids were coordinated by a young J. Edgar Hoover, Palmer’s chief investigating officer. In all, he rounded up and deported about 3,000 people as foreign agitators, anarchists, communists.

Baldwin-Felts guards invade Matewan, West Virginia to break up a coal miners strike. The mayor, a small boy, a miner and four guards were killed in a show-down. West Virginia Mine Wars erupt.

May 5, 1920, Sacco and Vanzetti arrested for robbery and murder in botched payroll holdup that took place in Braintree Mmassachusetts a month earlier.

John L. Lewis is elected president of the United Mine Workers of America, at the age of 40, taking control of the largest labor union in the nation.


First Red Scare 1919 -20

November 11, 1919, Centralia Massacre – Centralia, WA. conflict between the American Legion and workers who were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or “Wobblies”) resulted in six deaths, additional wounded

The Great Steel Strike against U.S. Steel Corp. led by the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers. Starting in Chicago, it spread to 350,000 workers throughout Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and lasted from September 1919 to January 1920. It was broken by massive use of scabs.

September 9, A strike by 1,100 police in Boston is the first ever by public safety workers. It was broken when Governor Calvin Coolidge summoned the entire Massachusetts Guard.

August 26, United Mine Workers’ organizer Fannie Sellins, a widowed mother of four, is shot to death by coal company guards while leading strikers in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania.

May 1, 1919, May Day Riots – a series of violent demonstrations that occurred throughout Cleveland, Ohio on May 1 (May Day), 1919. The riots began when Socialist leader, Charles Ruthenberg organized a May Day parade of local trade unionistssocialistscommunists, (with anarchists participating as well) to protest the jailing of Eugene V. Debs.

The Seattle General Strike of February 6 to February 11, 1919 by over 65,000 workers in several unions, dissatisfied after two years of World War I wage controls.

1917 – 1918

1918 -Union offices raided across country, IWW singled out for harshest treatment. Leadership of the Wobblies, including Big Bill Haywood, sentenced to federal prison on charges of disloyalty to the United States.

Eugene Debs, after giving a speech denouncing American participation in World War I in Canton, Ohio, is arrested. He was convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 and sentenced to a term of 10 years. He ran for President in 1920 on the Socialist ticket from his jail cell in the Atlanta Penitentiary.

May 16 1918, U.S. Congress passes Sedition Act.

October 1917, Russian Revolution brings Bolsheviks to power

August 1, 1917, IWW Frank Little lynched in Butte, Montana in 1917 for his union and anti-war activities.

July 12, 1917, the Bisbee deportation— two thousand deputized citizens in Bisbee, AZ herd striking miners and IWW leaders into boxcars and dump them in the scorching desert across New Mexico border.

June 15, 1917, U.S. Congress passes Espionage Act.

1915 – 1916

November 5, 1916, Everett Massacre (aka Bloody Sunday)– Armed confrontation between local authorities and members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union, commonly called “Wobblies”. It took place in Everett, Washington.

July 22, 1916, The Preparedness Day Bombing. A parade celebrating entry in to WWI is bombed in San Francisco, California on July 22, 1916. Two labor leaders, Thomas Mooney and Warren Billings, were convicted in separate trials and sentenced to be hanged.

1916 – IWW leads mining strike in the Mesabi Range in Minnesota.

Joe Hill, IWW organizer and “labor’s troubador” was executed by firing squad in Utah on November 19, 1915 for a robbery and murder. Convicted under dubious circumstances Hill’s last word was “fire!”


The Clayton Anti-trust Act, described by Sam Gompers as “Labor’s Magna Carta”, limits the use of injunctions in labor disputes and providing that picketing and other union activities are not illegal conspiracies or trusts.

Ludlow Massacre: on April 20th a small army of goons hired from the Baldwin-Felts agency backed up by the National Guard lay down a barrage of machine gun fire on a strikers’ tent village at Ludlow, Colorado, killing men, women and children.


Dec 24, 1913. 73 people (59 of them children), most striking copper miners and their families, were crushed and suffocated to death at a holiday party in Calumet Michigan. Someone yelled Fire! There was no fire. Woody Guthrie  wrote a song where the “copper-boss thug-men” yelled Fire! and held the door shut. The town itself is still divided over exactly what happened. Learn more: http://1913massacre.com/ Lyrics by Woody Guthrie: http://bit.ly/vkh7Gw

The United States Department of Labor (separate from Commerce) is established by law.

Michigan Copper Strike Begins

August 13, 1913, Wheatland Hop Riot occurs in California. A bloody clash occurred at the Durst Ranch in Wheatland, California on August 3, 1913, over ranch conditions for farm laborers. The riot resulted in four deaths and many injuries.

Paterson NJ silk strike ends in failure for workers

In 1913, The Women’s Trade Union opened the country’s first credit union.


In Lawrence, Massachusetts the IWW leads a successful strike of 23,000 men, women and children to organize the Lawrence Textile Mills. The “Bread & Roses” Strike, has been hailed as the first successful multi-ethnic strike (see History Matters). The strike was led by “Smiling Joe” EttorBill Hayood, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

July 14 –Woody Guthrie Born

Massachusetts passes nation’s first minimum wage law.

San Diego Free Speech Fight. In 1912–1913 was one of the more famous of the IWW led “free speech fights” over the free speech rights of labor unions. Vigilantes attack IWW organizers on trains and escort them to county line.


The Triangle Waist Co. fire in New York on March 25, causes the death of 146 workers.


October 1910, Los Angeles Times Bombing. The explosion started a fire which killed 21 newspaper employees and injured 100 more. The McNamara Brothers stand trail.

The wives of striking miners arrested in Greensburg, Pennsylvania sing their way out of jail under the leadership of Mother Jones.

February 19, 1910, Philadelphia General Strike. a labor strike by trolley workers of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company that grew to a city-wide riot and general strike


Uprising of the 20,000” female shirtwaist workers in New York State strike against sweatshop conditions.

Pressed Steel Car Strike of 1909 – McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania.

IWW Free Speech Fights begin in fall 1909. The town of Spokane, Washington had outlawed street meetings, and had already arrested Elizabeth Gurley Flynn,[9] a Wobbly organizer, for breaking the ordinance. The response was simple but effective: when a fellow member was arrested for speaking, large numbers of people descended on the location and invited the authorities to arrest all of them, soon it became too expensive for the town. In Spokane, over 500 people went to jail and four people died.


The U.S. Supreme Court struck down section 10 of the Erdman Act of 1898, which had outlawed “yellow-dog” contracts. (U.S. v. Adair)

Connecticut Supreme Court holds that a boycott by hatters’ union is a restraint of trade. Union and strikers are sued.


Nation’s worst mining disaster at Monongah, West Virginia. 361 coal miners known dead.

Haywood, Moyer, and Pettibone stand trial for murder of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg in Boise, ID.


The IWW pioneers the Sit-Down Strike. Employees at General Electric fold their arms on the job for 65 hours.

The International Typographical Union successfully strikes for an 8-hour day.


In Chicago, Big Bill Haywood calls to order the conference to found the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) to bring all American workers into “One Big Union.” Eugene Debs, Mother Jones and Lucy Parsons in attendance.


The Department of Labor and Commerce is created by an act of Congress, and its Secretary is made a member of the President’s Cabinet.

Big Bill Haywood leads the Western Federation of Miners (WMF) through a terrible and bloody series of conflicts spanning two years in what became known as the Colorado Labor Wars.

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones leads protest march of mill children, many of whom were victims of industrial accidents, from Philadelphia to New York.

November 14, at the AFL convention in Boston, women unionists unite to form the National Women’s Trade Union League and elect Mary Morton Kehew president and Jane Addams vice-president.


May 12 – Oct 23, The Great Anthracite Coal Strike; 147,000 miners strike over union recognition. Pres. Roosevelt mediated.


Couer d’Alene labor confrontation and the Dynamite Express


Congress passes the Erdman Act, a more detailed version of the 1888 Railroad workers legislation, adding sections to make it illegal to fire workers for their union membership.

1896 – 97

Twin-Shaft mining disaster at Pittston, PA

September 10, 1897, the Lattimer massacre was the violent deaths of 19 unarmed striking immigrant anthracite coal miners at the Lattimer mine near Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

Leadville Colorado miners’ strike 1896-97


Eugene V. Debs leads the newly formed American Railway Union in a national strike against the Pullman Company. The strike and the union were finally broken by a court injunction and the intervention of federal troops. The strike is considered one the most important in U.S. labor relations history. The aggressive use of the injunction and the Sherman Anti-trust Act by the state was unprecedented and the subsequent imprisonment of Eugene V. Debs at the Woodstock Jail had a profound influence on the man who would go on to become the most recognized, and in some cases the most feared, labor leader in America.

In the Cripple Creek Strike, Colorado gold miners, represented by the Western Federation of Miners are able to negotiate a peaceful end to a pitched battle between unionists and the state militia.

Late Spring 1894, Bituminous Coal Strike. From Pennsylvania to Illinois soft coal miners strike over wage cuts.


Serious depression hits U.S. economy. Worst economic down-turn in nation’s history to this point.

Western Federation of Miners formed.

American Railway Union formed – June 20, 1893


The Great Homestead Lockout at the Carnegie Steel Works outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania against the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel & Tin Workers. Carnegie directs his manager, Frick, not to renew the union contract. Frick turns mills into “Fort Frick,” hires Pinkertons to protect scabs and locks out union laborers. Strikers battle arriving Pinkertons (9 strikers and 7 Pinkertons killed).

Integrated general strike of 42 unions in New Orleans, broken when Governor Foster sends in the State Militia to use military force against the strikers.

Mary Kenney O’Sullivan of the Bindery Workers is appointed the AFL’s first female national organizer.

Coeur d’Alene miners’ strike


The United Mine Workers (UMW) was founded in Columbus, Ohio, on January 22 with the merger of two old labor groups, the Knights of Labor Trade Assembly No. 135 and the National Progressive Miners Union.


The first federal labor relations law was enacted, applying to Railroad workers. It provided arbitration and Presidential boards of investigation.


December 28, The American Federation of Labor is formed at a convention in Columbus, Ohio, representing 140,000 workers grouped in 25 national unions. Sam Gompers is elected President.

Haymarket Tragedy: May 1, in Chicago’s Haymarket Square a bomb went off in the middle of a protest rally against the killing of 4 strikers who had been on strike for the 8-hour day.

March 1886, Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 200,000 workers against the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads owned by Jay Gould, one of the more flamboyant of the ‘robber baron’ industrialists of the day. The failure of the strike led directly to the collapse of the Knights of Labor and the formation of the American Federation of Labor.

March 1886, Seattle riots. Knights of Labor lead brutal anti-Chinese campaign in Northwest.


Knights of Labor Strike of South West System (J. Gould): The Missouri Pacific, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas; and the Wabash.

September 2, 1885, Rock Spring Massacre.

The Foran Act bans immigration of laborers brought in under contract to break strikes.


Pendleton Act established the United States Civil Service Commission, which placed most federal employees on the merit system and marked the end of the spoils or patronage system.


September, First Labor Day Celebration takes place in New York City.

May 8, 1882, Passage of the Chinese Exclusion act. implemented to suspend Chinese immigration. The Scott Act (1888) expanded upon the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting reentry after leaving the U.S. The Act was renewed for ten years by the 1892 Geary Act.When the act was extended in 1902, it required “each Chinese resident to register and obtain a certificate of residence. Without a certificate, he or she faced deportation.”


Atlanta, Georgia: 3,000 Black women laundry workers stage one of the largest and most effective strikes in the history of the south.


July 14, National strike of railroad workers cripples the nation. Known as “The Great Uprising” the strikes quickly spread across the nation touched off by a walk out by road men protesting the cutting of their wages for the second time in a year by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Governors side with companies and many call in state militias. In West Virginia the governor called for and was granted federal troops. These troops suppressed strike after strike until the uprising was quelled. See Below:

On June 21, “Day of the Rope” – ten leaders of the Molly Maguires were hanged at Pottsville and Mauch Chunk Pennsylvania.


Trials of the “Molly Maguires“, a secret society of Irish coal miners in Pennsylvania that had been infiltrated by Pinkerton detective James McParland. A private police force arrested the alleged defenders, and private attorneys for the coal companies prosecuted them. The state provided only the courtroom and the gallows.


A five-month long labor war in Pennsylvania between mostly Irish Coal Miners and the Reading Coal and Iron Company.


The union label is used for the first time by the Cigar Makers International Union.

January 13, 1874, Tompkins Square Riot. the New York Police Department crushed a demonstration involving thousands of unemployed in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park, located in what is now called the East Village.


March – May, 1871, Paris Commune. This event had an effect on labor relations in the U.S. for years to come.


The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, a secret society, is organized in Philadelphia.

September 6, 1869. the Avondale Mine Disaster takes place in Plymouth, Pennsylvania.

July 28, women shoemakers form the Daughters of St. Crispin, the first national union of women workers, at Lynn, Massachusetts.


The first 8-hour day for federal workers takes effect.

In 1868, the  Workingmen’s Benevolent Association (WBA) of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, was organized, with John Siney as president.


The Knights of St. Crispin was organized on March 7 to protect journeymen shoemakers against the competition of “green hands.”


The National Labor Union formed, the first national association of unions to succeed for any length of time.


13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolishes slavery.


Great shoemakers strike in New England. 800 women operatives and 4,000 workmen marched during a shoemaker’s strike in Lynn, Massachusetts.

January 10, The Pemberton Mill in Lawrence, Mass. Collapses.


The Typographical Union, the first national union to last through to the present day, was formed. (now merged with Communications Workers of America).


The Female Labor Reform Association is formed in Lowell, Massachusetts by Sarah Bagley and other women cotton mill workers to reduce the work day from 12 or 13 hours a day to 10, and to improve sanitation and safety in the mills where they worked.


The Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled in Commonwealth v. Hunt that labor unions were not necessarily illegal conspiracies.


President Martin Van Buren signs an executive order establishing a 10-hour workday without a decrease in pay.


Andrew Jackson declares a 10-hour workday in Philadelphia Navy Yard.


General strike in Philadelphia for 10 hour day.

Paterson NJ textile strike


February, 1600 women members of the United Tailoresses of New York, strike for “a just price for our labor.”


First workingmen’s parties formed to try to elect candidates favoring the 10-hour day, free public education, and ending the practice of imprisoning people in debt.


Philadelphia Carpenters Strike

In Philadelphia, several unions of skilled craftsmen combined to form the first trade association.


The first union for women only formed: The United Tailoresses of New York.

Boston House Carpenters Strike


Women workers strike for the first time, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. 102 women workers strike in support of brother weavers protesting the simultaneous reduction in wages and extension of the workday.

Pawtucket Rhode Island Textile Strike.


The whaling ship Essex goes down after being attacked by a large sperm whale. The incident inspires Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.


The invention of the power loom makes weaving a factory occupation.


Employers start taking labor groups to court for “criminal conspiracies in constraint of trade”. The shoemakers, found guilty and fined, went bankrupt and disbanded.

Members of the Philadelphia Journeyman Cordwainers were tried for criminal conspiracy after a strike for higher wages.


The Philadelphia shoemakers in a “sympathy strike” to support a local toolmakers’ strike.


The Philadelphia shoemakers reorganized as the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers.

The Typographical Society was formed by printers in New York City.


The first local craft union formed for collective bargaining was organized by shoemakers in Philadelphia.


First Building Trades Strike: Philadelphia carpenters strike for a 10-hour day and overtime pay.


First textile mill, built in Pawtucket, RI, is staffed entirely by children under the age of 12.


Philadelphia printers strike.


New York printers combine temporarily to ask for a wage increase, disband after winning it.


Declaration of Independence signed in Carpenter’s Hall.


A strike in Boston harbor, more commonly known as the “Boston Tea Party.” Local citizens dressed as Indians throw British tea overboard.


Boston Massacre set off by a conflict between rope workers and British soldiers.


New York tailors strike to protest a wage cut.


The first society of working women, the Daughters of Liberty, is organized as an auxiliary of the Sons of Liberty, a workingman’s association.


New York bakers quit work to protest local government setting the price of bread-possibly the first work stoppage in America.


Shoemakers and coopers (barrel-makers) guilds organize in Boston.

Another Wikipedia Labor Timeline

Labor History of the United States from Wikipedia


One response to “U.S. Labor History Timeline

  1. Thank you for putting all this information together on one page. It is very useful and informative, especially considering the times we live in today!

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