ABBREVIATED TIMELINE OF THE MODERN LABOR MOVEMENT



1877:  Great Railway strike (nationwide railroad worker's strike)

 

1886:  American Federation of Labor formed (under leadership of Samuel Gompers)

 

1894:  Pullman Strike, with "sympathy strike" from American Railroad Union members (under leadership of Eugene V. Debs) Court injunction charges strikers with "conspiracy in restraint of trade" President Cleveland sends in federal troops to subdue strikers

 

1895:  Supreme Court upholds legality of using an injunction to stop a strike

 

1897-1904: Membership of AFL quadruples (rises to 2 million members) under leadership of Samuel Gompers

 

1890s and beyond:  National Association of Manufacturers and other industry groups organize opposition to labor movement (hires strikebreakers, uses industrial spies, blacklists union members to prevent them from obtaining other jobs)

 

1903:  Women's Trade Union League formed. Middle- and upper-class women provided logistical, political, and moral support to union women, (e.g. Florence Kelley, etc.) especially in the influential International Ladies' Garment Union (Leaders include Rose Schneiderman, Clara Lemlich)

 

1905:  Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) formed (under leadership of 'Big Bill' Haywood)

 

1908  Danbury Hatters case (Loewe vs. Lawlor):  Supreme Court declares secondary boycotts illegal under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.  (Secondary boycotts had enabled workers to picket and pressure companies doing business with their employers during a strike)

 

1910s, especially 1919:  Deportation of important radical labor leaders, including Emma Goldman, in conjunction with post WWI Red Scare

 

1925:  First major African-American union formed: Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (under leadership of A. Philip Randolph); union recognized by Pullman company in 1937, which constituted the first recognition of an African-American union by a major employer

 

1934:  Major strikes in San Francisco (general strike) and Minneapolis (teamsters' strike in which 50 men were shot in the back by police and Governor Floyd Olson placed the Twin Cities under martial law)

 

1935:  Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) founded

 

1935:  Wagner Act/National Labor Relations Act (associated with Sen. Robert Wagner and Frances Perkins)

irecognized labor's right to organize and bargain collectively

ioutlawed employer practice of blacklisting union members and organizers

icreated a Labor Relations Board with the power to certify a properly elected bargaining unit

 

1937:  Major (and bloody) strike in Flint, Michigan in which General Motors is forced to recognize the United Auto Workers' Union

 

1937 "Memorial Day Massacre":  Police fired on a peaceful crowd of workers and their families, with 10 dead

 

1937:  4,740 strikes in this peak year of strike activity

 

1938:  Fair Labor Standards Act

iEstablished a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour

iEstablished a standard work week of 44 hours for businesses engaged in interstate commerce

 

1941 Executive Order 8802 barring discrimination in defense industries and government employment is a victory for minority workers

 

1941-1945:  Labor union membership grows from 10.5 million to 14.7 million

 

1946:  4.6 million workers strike, more than ever before in U.S. history

 

1947:  Taft-Hartley Act limited power of unions:

iprohibited unions from preventing non-union workers from working if they wished

ioutlawed the closed ship, in which an employee had to join a union before getting a job

iallowed states to prohibit the union shop, which forced workers to join the union after they had been hired

igave the President the right to call for an 80-day cooling-off period in strikes affecting national security

irequired union official to sign non-Communist oaths

 

1950:  Peak year of work stoppages involving 1,000 workers of more

Late 1940s-1960s:  period of management-labor cooperation, exemplified by building of COLAS (cost-of-living-adjustments) into contracts

 

1955:  AFL-CIO merger

 

1981:  President Reagan breaks PATCO (air traffic controllers' strike) by firing the protesting public employees and hiring permanent replacement and signals retreat from government protection of union rights

 

1980s and 1990s: Nadir  of the labor movement, related in part to pattern of movement of many industries overseas

 

SUPPLEMENTARY READING:

--Chapter 14 "Sweatshops and Picket Lines" in Ewen, Immigrant Women

--Chapters 13-15 in Zinn, A People's History

--Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs

--Chapter 3 "Holding Truman Accountable: Full and Fair Employment at Just Wages" in Black, Casting Her Own Shadow

In Birnbaum and Taylor, Civil Rights Since 1787

iNell Irvin Painter, "Black Workers from Reconstruction to the Great Depression"

iRichard Thomas, "Blacks and the CIO"

iA. Philip Randolph, "The March on Washington Movement"

iSelections from "Labor Days" section, pages 363-434

iAngela Davis, "The Prison Industrial Complex" (on continuing labor issues)

iJessie Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition, "A Workers' Bill of Rights"

--Selections from Evans, Born for Liberty, which has a good index and good topic headers within chapters

--Also, on workers during the Great Depression, see some of the accounts gathers by Terkel in Hard Times

See also:

Michael Goldfield, The Decline of Organized Labor in the United States (1987)

Barbara Kingsolver, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike (1989)

Jo-Ann Mort, Not your Father's Union Movement: Inside the AFL-CIO (1998)

 

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Revised 08/25/2008  

 

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