Labor History Timeline

American Labor History Timeline 


The Colonial and Revolutionary Eras
1619    First slaves brought to American colonies: They were brought to Jamestown by Dutch traders who had stolen them from a Spanish ship. Because the Spanish usually baptized captured Africans and the English exempted baptized people from chattel slavery, these first African Americans joined around 1,000 English indentured servants in the colony. (Source: Wikipedia)

Bacon's Rebellion-The Burning of Jamestown
1676    Bacon’s Rebellion: Nathanial Bacon led Virginia settlers in a rebellion by against the rule of William Berkeley and local Native Americans, who were scapegoated for the colony’s economic woes. While Bacon himself was disdainful of labor, his rebels came from all social classes, and included poor whites, former indentured servants and African slaves, an alliance that terrified the ruling elite. (Sources: Wikipedia, PBS)

1712    New York Slave Revolt: 23 slaves rose up, killing 9 whites. 21 of the conspirators were eventually executed. 70 other Africans were arrested and jailed in response, with several committing suicide in jail. In the aftermath, African Americans were prohibited from gathering in groups of more than three, carrying firearms, or owning property, even if they were free. (From Wikipedia)

1741    New York Bakers Strike: Possibly the first work stoppage in U.S. history occurred when New York bakers, who were predominantly small business owners, rebelled against price fixing by the city. (Sources: UHWO, Inc.)
Boston Massacre
1770    Boston Massacre: As British soldiers quartered in colonists’ homes started taking jobs from local workers, the rope makers started provoking British soldiers, who fired and killed Crispus Attucks, a multiethnic colonist (African and Wampanoag). They went on to kill 4 others. Attucks is considered the first casualty in the American Revolution. (From Workday Minnesota)
Portraits of Daniel Shays and Job Shattuck
1787    Shays Rebellion: On January 25, Daniel Shays and 800 followers marched to Springfield, Massachusetts to seize the Federal arsenal during Shays’ rebellion. They were ultimately defeated by the Massachusetts State militia. The rebellion, which began in August, was an attempt to end the imprisonment of farmers for debts, confiscation of their lands and other attempts by the wealthy to make the poor pay for the Revolutionary War. The U.S. Constitution was written in the wake of Shays’ rebellion and designed in part to prevent other similar uprisings by the common people against slave owners, bankers, landlords and businessmen. (Sources: the Daily Bleed and Wikipedia)

Early Industrial Capitalism, Abolition and the Nascent Labor Movement
1800    Gabriel Prosser Uprising: Prosser was a literate, enslaved blacksmith who planned a large slave uprising in Richmond, Virginia but was betrayed and executed before the revolt was launched. At the time, 39% of Virginia’s population was enslaved, thus the potential damage from a slave revolt was significant. It is estimated that 100 co-conspirators were involved in Gabriel’s Uprising, including several whites who he likely met working in the foundries. (Sources: Wikipedia)

Denmark Vessey
1822    The Vessey Conspiracy: Denmark Vessey, a Caribbean slave inspired by the 1791 Haitian revolution, purchased his freedom and then plotted what would have been the largest slave insurrection in U.S. history. However, turncoats reported him and the other conspirators, leading to their execution. (Sources: Wikipedia)

1825    First Women’s Union: United Tailoresses of New York. (Sources: UHWO)
Nat Turner captured by Mr. Benjamin Phipps
1831    Nat Turner’s Rebellion: Also known as the Southampton Insurrection, the Rebellion was a slave revolt in Virginia in which slaves killed 55-65 whites, the highest number of white casualties of any slave revolt in U.S. history. The insurrection was put down by authorities within a few days, but Turner managed to evade capture for several months. Between 100 and 200 slaves were executed by the courts or by white mobs in retaliation. (Sources: Wikipedia)

1834    Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Workers Riot: On January 29, canal workers rioted, prompting President Jackson to send in troops, the first time American troops were used to suppress a domestic labor dispute. Workers were rebelling because of terrible working conditions and low pay. Construction teams were made up mostly of Irish, German, Dutch and black workers who toiled long hours for low wages in dangerous conditions. The use of federal troops set a dangerous precedent that gave business leaders the confidence that they could count on the federal government to quash labor unrest in the future. (Sources: the Daily Bleed and

1835    Philadelphia General Strike:  Workers struck for the 10-hour day in what was probably the nation’s first General Strike. In all, 20,000 workers walked off the job. After one week, the city caved to the workers’ demands, granting all city employees a 10-hour day that ran from 6 am to 6 pm, with an hour lunch and an hour for dinner. Their success inspired a wave of strikes and ultimately led to the 10-hour day in many other cities (Sources: UHWO, Socialist Webzine)

1835    Children Struck for 11-Hour Day: In the Patterson silk mills, children went on strike for an 11-hour day and a 6-day work week. (Source: AFGE)

1838    Caulkers Association Founded: One of the first black unions, the Caulkers Association began in the Baltimore shipyards, where Frederick Douglas worked before escaping to freedom. The union bargained collectively and often won wage increases for its members. (Sources: APWU)
The Last Moments of John Brown, by Thomas Hovenden
1859    Harpers Ferry: John Brown led an unsuccessful raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, WV, in an attempt to provoke a slave revolt and provide weapons to them. The raid ultimately led to his arrest and execution. (Sources: Wikipedia)

1863    Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln, ordering the freeing of all slaves held in the Confederate states. (Sources: UHWO)

1865    13th Amendment: Abolished slavery. (Sources: UHWO)

1867    Chicago General Strike for 8-Hour Day: The 1-week strike to enforce the state’s new 8-hour day law ultimately failed, as militia were brought in to force workers back to work, general for 10-12 hour shifts. The 8-hour day movement started in earnest in 1864 and was inspired by the abolition of slavery (shorter day meant a little more freedom). The movement was about leisure, freedom and personal growth, each of which requires less time at work. (Sources: AFGE, Encyclopedia of Chicago, Truth Out)
Terence Powderly, Grand Master Workman of the Knights of Labor  
1869    The Knights of Labor (KOL), officially known as the "Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor," was founded on December 28, 1869, when both American capitalism and the labor movement were young and relatively disorganized. It began as a secret society, but quickly grew into the largest and most significant labor organization in the U.S. by the 1880s. The Knights are considered by many to be a predecessor to the more well-known Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Like its more radical cousin, the IWW, the KOL called for the abolition of the wage system and fought to organize all workers into one big union, including women, blacks and immigrants. And, like the IWW, one of the KOL’s slogans was, “An Injury to One is the Concern of All.” (Sources: Modern School; The Knights of Labor; The Lucy Parsons Project;; The Samuel Gompers Papers; Wikipedia)
National Colored Union, Harpers
1869    First National Black Union: The Black National Labor Union was founded in Washington, D.C. under the leadership of Isaac Myers (later ceded to Frederick Douglas). Myers was born to free African Americans in Baltimore in 1835 and was a member of the Caulkers Association (see 1838, above), where he worked with Douglas. (Sources: AFGE, APWU)
6th Regiment Repressing Workers, Baltimore, 1877
1877    The Great Upheaval (AKA: The St. Louis Commune, St. Louis General Strike, The Great Strike, The Great Train Strike)—As many as 100 workers were killed and over 200 were injured in the wave of strikes occurring throughout the country. The strike united diverse workers, including black and white, as well as skilled and unskilled. The Great Upheaval began in Martinsburg, WV, on July 16, when the B&O Railroad slashed wages by 10%, the second wage cut in 8 months. The train crews refused to work, drove out the police and occupied the rail yards. Local townspeople backed the strikers and came to their defense. When the militia was sent in to run the trains, the strikers and their supporters defended themselves with guns, derailed the trains and guarded the switches at gunpoint. While they halted all freight movement, they continued to move mail and passengers, thus maintaining public support. When militia reinforcements were sent in, most mutinied or refused to fight, as they were sympathetic to the workers.  Throughout the country, similar scenarios unfolded, with workers taking over the railroads and other businesses, and attacking police and militias when they tried to take them back or to bring in and defend strikebreakers.  In numerous towns, the soldiers fraternized with locals, refused to fight them and sometimes joined their struggle. (Soures: Modern School; UE News; Howard Zinn; Brecher, Jeremy., Strike!, 1997. ISBN 0-89608-570-8)

1877    Ten coal-mining activists ("Molly Maguires") were hanged in Pennsylvania. The Mollys were an Irish secret society of coal miners accused of kidnapping and other acts of violence. They were convicted based on the testimony of one Pinkerton private cop and various witnesses were believed by many to have been bribed or coerced. (Sources:; Wikipedia; Spartacus)
Chinese Railroad Workers in the Snow
1882    Chinese Exclusion Act: Chinese men had been encouraged to immigrate to the U.S. from 1848 to 1869 to work in California’s gold fields and on the transcontinental railroad. They worked for low wages and put little pressure on state infrastructure, in part because they were single males, but also because of restrictive and racist laws and the threat of attack by whites. By the 1870s, racist attacks against the Chinese were on the rise and white citizens were complaining that the Chinese were taking their jobs. The Chinese Exclusion Act, one of America’s most restrictive anti-immigrant laws ever, remained in place until 1943, when the U.S. needed China’s assistance in its war with Japan. (Sources: Wikipedia, Harvard University Library).
Rock Springs Massacre
1885    Rock Springs Race Riot and Massacre—28 Chinese Americans killed by white miners in a dispute stemming from Union Pacific Coal Company’s practice of paying Chinese laborers a fraction of what they paid white workers. In a particularly negative blot on U.S. labor history, the Knights of Labor not only helped organize the white workers, but many of their members participated in the attacks on the Chinese workers. (Sources: Wikipedia; History Matters)

1886    Bay View Massacre 6 workers and 1 child were killed at the Milwaukee Iron Company Rolling Mill while fighting for the 8-hour day. (Sources: Wikipedia; Links to the Past; Wisconsin Labor History Society;

1886    American Federation of Labor: The AFL was founded in 1886 in Columbus, OH, with Samuel Gompers as its leader. The AFL emerged in response to turf wars with the Knights of Labor, particularly after a cigar makers strike in New York. (Gompers had been the head of one of the rival cigar makers unions.) The union, which was always staunchly anti-communist, began to make alliances with the Democratic Party in 1907 and was an enthusiastic supporter of World War I, WWII, the Korean and Cold Wars. (Sources: AFGE, Wikipedia,
Haymarket Rioters, Harpers
1887    The Haymarket Affair 8 cops died, mostly from friendly fire, plus an unknown number of civilians, when a bomb was thrown at a public meeting in Haymarket Square, Chicago, during planning for a General Strike to win the 8-hour day. 8 anarchists were arrested and convicted in a kangaroo court, despite the fact none was present at the bombing. 4 were executed and one committed suicide in jail to “cheat” the state out of its revenge on him. May 1st is celebrated as International Workers Day in virtually every country of the world (except the U.S.) to commemorate this struggle. (Sources: Modern School; IWW; Lucy Parsons Project; Recollection Books;

1887    The Thibodaux Massacre: The Louisiana Militia and bands of whites shot at least 35 unarmed black sugar workers and lynched two strike leaders. Some sources place the death toll at over 300. The massacre came during a 3-week labor dispute that had been organized by the Knights of Labor. Gov. Sam McEnery eventually brought in 10 companies of infantry to break the strike. (Sources:; Wikipedia,
Shield Used by Striking Homestead Workers
1892    Homestead Steel Strike and Massacre: Homestead Steel Works in Pennsylvania was owned by Andrew Carnegie and managed by Henry Clay Frick. Amalgamated Association of Steel and Iron Workers (AA) had won a bitter and violent strike against Homestead in 1882, and Frick and Carnegie vowed to crush the union, which they ultimately did. In January, Carnegie slashed wages, while Frick imposed speedups and hired 300 Pinkertons. In July, Frick laid off the entire Homestead workforce, effectively ending collective bargaining. The workers fought back, taking over the town’s political authority and running its infrastructure. 10,000 strikers temporarily held off the Pinkertons and scabs with sticks and a few guns. However, 40 strikers were shot and nine killed, while 120 Pinkertons were shot and seven killed. (Sources: Modern School, Part I; Modern School, Part II; Wikipedia; Strike! by Jeremy Brecher, South End Press, Boston, 1972)

1892    Frisco Mine was dynamited by striking Coeur D’Alene miners after they discovered they had been infiltrated by Pinkertons and after one of their members had been shot. Prior to this, the mine owners had increased work hours, decreased pay and brought in a bunch of scabs to replace striking workers. Ultimately, over 600 striking miners were imprisoned without charge by the military in order to crush the strike. These events led to the formation of the Western Federation of Miners, one of the more radical unions of its day. (Sources: Wikipedia; Fire in the Hole)

Big Bill Haywood
1893    Western Federation of Miners (WFM) formed in May of this year, in Butte, Montana, representing 15 unions in Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah and South Dakota. Big Bill Haywood became a leader of the organization by 1902 and vigorously espoused industrial unionism, in which all workers in a given industry are organized in one big union in order to maximize solidarity and power. In response to the mass arrests and imprisonment of its members during the 1890s, Haywood began to call for the complete abolition of the wage system. (Sources: Wikipedia; Strike! by Jeremy Brecher, South End Press, Boston, 1972)

1894    Cripple Creek Strike and Waite Agreement: Cripple Creek mine owners in Colorado attempted the same attacks on Colorado miners (e.g., longer hours and pay cuts) and organized a private army to enforce their will. The private army terrorized citizens, as well as miners, and was ultimately disbanded by the mine owners under threat of martial law in what was known as the Waite Agreement, which last for ten years. The WFM were also able to win the 8-hour day for their members. The peace and victory would be a short-lived precursor to the Colorado Labor Wars of 1903-1904—See Below. (Sources: Wikipedia; Strike! by Jeremy Brecher, South End Press, Boston, 1972)
Pullman Strike
1894    Pullman Strike: 34 workers were killed in this nationwide rail strike led by Eugene Debs. The strike began in Pullman, IL, as a wildcat response to wage cuts. The strike escalated to involve over 250,000 workers across 27 states, with 12,000 army soldiers being sent in to quash the strike. The rail workers ultimately signed a no-union pledge that kept the lines union-free until the Great Depression. (Sources: Wikipedia; Strike! by Jeremy Brecher, South End Press, Boston, 1972; Recollection Books)
Protest March After the Lattimer Massacre
1897    Lattimer Massacre: 19 unarmed immigrant miners were killed by a sheriff’s posse during a strike in Luzerne County, PA. (Sources: Wikipedia; UMWA)

1898    Virden Massacre: 25 workers were killed in a battle with armed guards transporting black strikebreakers in from Alabama. The strikers succeeded in turning away the train and winning wage increases. (Sources: Wikipedia; Remember Virden; Illinois Labor History)

1899    Bunker Hill: Bloody strikes had been going on at this and other Idaho mines over the course of the 1890s. The mine owners had been using scabs, Pinkertons, armed goons, soldiers, lock-outs and other tactics to squeeze the workers and crush their union. In retaliation, the miners loaded a train with dynamite and delivered it to the Bunker Hill mine in 1899, killing one scab and one WFM member. (Sources:; Wikipedia)

1902    8-Hour Days Were Created by State Amendments in Utah and Colorado. In Colorado, the law was passed with the support of 72% of voters and the backing of the WFM. However, under pressure from the mining companies, the legislature ignored the referendum and the miners decided to strike (see Colorado Labor Wars, below). (Sources: Wikipedia)

1902    Pennsylvania Mining Strike (AKA The Coal Strike): Anthracite coal miners (UMWA) in Eastern Pennsylvania were striking for higher wages, shorter hours and union recognition. Teddy Roosevelt intervened (the first time a president had done so), threatening to send in the military after negotiations failed to end the conflict. The strike finally ended  with a a raise and shorter hours, but still no union recognition. (Sources: Wikipedia;

1902    Pana Massacre: 14 workers were killed, martial law was declared, and the town of Pana, IL, was occupied by National Guards in an attempt to break the UMWA. (Sources:; Wikipedia;

1903-1904       Colorado Labor Wars: The National Guards, Pinkertons and vigilantes were used by the mine owners to intimidate miners. Hundreds of striking WFM miners were arrested and held in stockades. Many were deported. Children were arrested for chiding soldiers. General Sherman Bell, of the National Guards and a former mine manager, upon hearing that imprisoned WFM miners were asking for writs of habeas corpus, said “Habeas corpus be damned. We’ll give them post mortems.” (Sources: Wikipedia; Colorado’s War on Militant Unionism, George Suggs; Lucy Parsons Project)

1904    Dunnville Battle: 6 workers were killed and more than 70 were deported in the continuation of the Colorado Labor Wars. (Sources:

Rise of IWW, Garment Workers and State/Employer Violence
Lucy Parsons
1905    The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) was founded on June 27, 1905, by Big Bill Hayward, Daniel De Leon, Eugene Debs, Lucy Parsons, Father Haggarty, Mother Jones, Ralph Chaplin and others, in part in response to the defeats of the WFM in Colorado, Utah and Idaho and in opposition to the conservative AFL. The IWW was not just a labor union fighting for better conditions for working people, but a revolutionary organization out to abolish the wage system and employer class completely. Like the Knights of Labor, they organized all workers into one big union and were inclusive of all workers, regardless of race, gender or national origin. Unlike the Knights, they eschewed political action, favoring direct action like strikes, slow-downs, work-to-rule and sabotage. (Sources: The IWW; Wikipedia;; Helen Keller; Harry Siitonen; Sabotage, by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn: Western Mining History; Lucy Parsons Project)

1905    Chicago Teamsters Strike: 21 workers were killed in what would escalate into a General Strike. Riots continued on a near daily basis from April through July. The Teamsters had attempted to end the strike by bribing members of the Employers Association, leading to allegations of corruption that would weaken the union in the following years. (Sources: Wikipedia; Chicago’s Strike Ordeal, Stanley Powers, 1905)
GE in 1907
1906    First Sit-Down Strike: America’s first sit-down strike was organized by the Wobblies (IWW) at General Electric, in Schenectady, NY. 3,000 workers participated in the occupation of the facilities for 65 hours, bringing production to a standstill. (Sources: UHWO, Wikipedia)

1907    Nation’s Worst Mining Disaster: 361 coal miners were killed in Monongah, West Virginia. (Sources: UHWO)
2 Picketers Among the Uprising of 20,000
1909    Uprising of 20,000: The Lady Garment Workers Strike in New York (AKA the Shirtwaist Strike) was a strike by mostly Jewish women and girls against sweatshop working conditions. 700 were arrested in just one month. Male goons were hired to intimidate and assault the women. A judge told the women they were striking against God. However, the women remained resolute and public sentiment turned in the favor. The strike ended in 1910 with increased wages and improved working conditions and hours. (Sources: Wikipedia; AFL-CIO; Jewish Women’s Archive)
The Little Red Song Book
1909    The Little Red Song Book, from the IWW, was first published in Spokane and included songs by Joe Hill, Ralph Chaplin, T-Bone Slim, and others. The early editions contained many of the labor songs that are still famous, such as "The Red Flag," "The Internationale," and "Solidarity Forever," while later editions included such classics as “Rebel Girl,” “Mr. Block,” and “The Preacher and the Slave.” You can see video versions of some of these on the Labor Music Video Page. (Sources: IWW; The Sacred Chao)
LA Times Building After Bombing
1910    Llewellyn Ironworks and Los Angeles Times bombings: A bomb destroyed the LA Times building in October, killing 21 employees and injuring over 100, and another destroyed a portion of the Llewellyn Ironworks in December. The Iron Workers had been engaged in a brutal and protracted battle with U.S. Steel and the American Bridge Company, which had been successfully busting their union through the use of spies, informants, scabs and agents provocateur, as well as propaganda by their friend Harrison Otis, publisher of the Los Angeles Times. James McNamara and his brother, John McNamara, secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers, were convicted after being kidnapped and allegedly framed by private cops. (Sources: Modern School; Workday Minnesota)

1910-1911       Westmoreland Coal Strike: 16 workers and family members were killed during this strike by the UMWA. The strike lasted from March, 1910 through July, 1911, encompassing 65 mines and 15,000 miners, with the miners and the UMWA losing the strike. Miners’ wives showed up to support their husbands, harassing scabs and getting arrested. Because they couldn’t afford the fines, the women were forced to serve a month in jail with their babies and children. (Sources: Wikipedia; patheoldminer; Jones, Mary Harris: The Autobiography of Mother Jones. 4th ed. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co., 1996)
Triangle Shirtwaist Building, March 11, 1911
1911    Triangle Shirtwaist fire: 147 women and girls died (mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants) in this tragic fire, many because the managers had locked all the doors, preventing escape. The company’s owners were acquitted of any crimes, but were forced to pay nominal civil damages of $75 per victim. (Sources: Remembering the Triangle Fire; Wikipedia; Democracy Now)

1912    Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike in West Virginia lasted from April, 1912, until July 1913, and resulted in 50 workers’ deaths through violence, plus numerous more deaths from starvation. The strike and resulting violence were a prelude to the later Matewan massacre and Battle of Blair Mountain. The miners were striking for union recognition, free speech, an end to blacklisting and cribbing, among other demands. Beatings, sniper attacks and sabotage against the workers were routine. The Baldwin-Felts private police were called in by the mine owners. (Sources: Wikipedia; “History is a Weapon,” Mother Jones speech to striking coal miners; “The Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike,” San Francisco Bulletin, March 21, 1913)
Lawrence Strike
1912    Lawrence Textile Strike (AKA The Bread and Roses Strike, because the women were demanding not only a living wage, so they could feed their families, but a better quality of life, too). This IWW-led strike was the first known strike to implement the moving picket line, so as to avoid arrests for loitering. The strike was also unique in that the workers spoke 22 different languages and came from 24 different nationalities, prompting the IWW to give each language group a delegate on the strike committee and complete autonomy. (Sources: The Lucy Parsons Project;; Bread and Roses Centenial;

1912    IWW struck Galloway Lumber Company in Grabow, LA. Also known as the Graybow Riot (July 7), four workers were killed, 50 were wounded, and 58 were arrested. (Sources: IWW)

1913    Calumet Christmas massacre (AKA the Italian Hall Disaster): 73 men, women and children, mostly striking miners and their families, were crushed to death on Christmas Eve at during a party at the Italian Hall in Calumet, MI, when someone falsely yelled “fire.” Company thugs have been blamed for the false cry and for blocking the doors in a deliberate attempt to crush the union. (Sources: Wikipedia; the Italian Hall Disaster; Daily Kos)
Strike leaders Patrick L. QuinlanCarlo TrescaElizabeth Gurley FlynnAdolph Lessig, and Bill Haywood.
1913    Patterson Silk Strike was an IWW-supported strike for better working conditions and the 8-hour day. Nearly 2,000 workers were arrested, including IWW members Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Big Bill Haywood. (Sources: The Masses (John Reed); Wikipedia; The Lucy Parsons Project; Patterson Friends of the Great Falls; Sabotage, by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn)

1913    United Fruit Strike: New Orleans: police shot three IWW members, killing one. United went on to be one of the dominant neocolonial powers in Central America (along with Standard Fruit), supporting Banana Republic dictators and their violent anti-labor policies. United Fruit is now known as Chiquita. (Sources:, Wikipedia, the Daily Bleed)

1913    Wheatland Riots: Hop pickers struck against Durst Ranch in Wheatland, CA, when Durst advertised for twice as many workers as he needed in order to drive down wages. Over 100 vigilantes arrived and shot into the crowd, killing 2 workers, a deputy and a district attorney. IWW organizers Ford and Suhr were blamed and sentenced to 15 years in prison.. (Sources: IWW; Wikipedia;;
1914    Ludlow Massacre: John D. Rockefeller and other mine operators engaged company goons and the Colorado State Militia to crush 10,000 striking miners in Ludlow, Colorado. The militia attacked a tent camp with machine guns and then set it ablaze, killing 5 men, 2 women and 12 children. By the end of the strike, more than 75 people had been killed. (Sources: Howard Zinn; Colorado Coalfields War Project; Wikipedia; AFGE; Modern School)

1914    The Montana militia crushed a strike by WFM miners in Butte. (Source: AFGE,
Roosevelt Massacre
1915    Factory guards shot 20 rioting strikers in Roosevelt, New Jersey, killing several of them. (Source: AFGE)

1916    Youngstown Massacre (January 6): Company guards at the Youngstown Sheet and Tube plant attacked a crowd of striking workers and their wives and children with tear gas bombs and live fire, killing three strikers and wounding 25 others. (Source:  Daily Bleed)
Joe Hill, executed, with Bullet Holes
1916    Joe Hill (1879-1915) was executed on trumped up murder charges. Hill was a Swedish immigrant who became an IWW organizer and prolific song writer (Rebel Girl, Preacher and the Slave, The Tramp, Casey Jones the Union Scab). (Sources: Wikipedia, Joe Hill Project)

1916    Everett Massacre: 7 workers were killed and 50 injured when vigilantes hired by local businesses fired upon IWW members arriving in Everett by boat from Seattle. 75 Wobblies (IWW) were later arrested for murder. (Sources: Wikipedia; Everett Public Library; UW Everett Collection; IWW;

1916    "Preparedness Day" parade bombing occurred in San Francisco, killing 10 and injuring 40. Labor organizer Thomas J. Mooney and Shoe Worker Warren K. Billings, both IWW members, were convicted, spending years in prison before being pardoned in 1939. (Source: AFGE, Wikipedia, Modern School)
Striking miners and others rounded up by the armed posse
1917    Bisbee Deportation: On July 12, 1,300 striking IWW miners, their supporters, and innocent bystanders were illegally deported from Bisbee, AZ,  by 2,000 vigilantes—over 200 miles in cattle cars, without food or water for 16 hours. (Sources: the Daily Bleed, Modern School, IWW, and Wikipedia)
Frank Little, 1907
1917    Frank Little Lynching: On August 1, IWW organizer Frank Little was lynched in Butte, Montana. Little, a Native American, was kidnapped from his home by six Anaconda Copper Company thugs, dragged by a car and hanged from a railroad trestle. He had also been advocating that workers refuse to collaborate with the capitalists by fighting in WWI. (Sources: Workday Minnesota, IWW, Wikipedia)
Newspaper cartoon of woman pleading for democracy during East St. Louis Riot
1917    East St. Louis Labor and Race Riot (40-200 deaths): The “Great Migration” north was already well underway, with African Americans moving to industrial cities like Chicago seeking work. In East St. Louis, resentful white mobs frequently attacked black workers and their families, culminating in a riot on July 2 that killed as many as 200 African Americans and left thousands of them homeless. Many of the unions fed the racism not only by generalizing all black workers as scabs, but by doing little to organize them or build solidarity with them. (Sources: Wikipedia, the Black Past)

1917    IWW Offices Raided in 48 U.S. Cities. Roughly 165-300 IWW members were arrested initially, but within six months, 2,000 were in jail and sentenced to lengthy terms. In Spokane, martial law was declared. Virtually every IWW union hall in the country was busted. The raids and arrests were so extensive that the union never regained its strength or influence. (Sources:, IWW, History Matters)

Insurrection, Palmer Raids and WWI
1918    Ginger Goodwin Assassination: A hired private policeman shot United Mine Workers Organizer Ginger Goodwin outside Cumberland, B.C. (Source: AFGE)

1919    Fannie Sellins Assassination: Company guards gunned down United Mine Worker organizer Fannie Sellins in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania. (Source: AFGE)
Chaos during Boston police strike and riot
1919    Boston Police Strike and Riot: On September 19, looting, rioting, and sporadic violence broke out in downtown and South Boston after 1,117 policemen declared a work stoppage. Governor Calvin Coolidge brought in the entire state militia to put down the strike. (Source: AFGE, Wikipedia)

1919    The Great Steel Strike: nearly 400,000 steelworkers went on strike for union recognition on September 22, ultimately failing. Martial law was declared in Gary, IN. Troops were called to several cities. (Sources: AFGE,

1919    Centralia Massacre: Legionnaires attacked a Centralia, Washington IWW hall and then lynched IWW organizer Wesley Everest. (Sources: AFGE, Wikipedia, IWW)
Newspaper clipping during Seattle General Strike
1919    Seattle General Strike: After two years of frozen wages due to the war, over 65,000 workers went on strike in Seattle for higher wages, joined by members of both the AFL and the IWW. The strike was a virtual commune, with the General Strike Committee taking over most governmental functions, including providing food and security. Mayor Hanson brought the strike to an end by threatening violence with soldiers, cops and several thousand deputized UW students. (Sources: Wikipedia, Seattle General Strike Project, Seattle Times, Lib com)

1919    Red Scare BeginsApproximately 250 "anarchists," "communists," and "labor agitators" were deported to Russia, marking the beginning of the so-called "Red Scare," or “Palmer Raids.” Woodrow Wilson's Attorney General,  A. Mitchell Palmer, ultimately arrested nearly 6,000 people on suspicion of "communism." Those who were not U.S. citizens were deported as "undesirable aliens." (Sources: AFGE, Workday Minnesota, Daily Bleed)

1920    Anaconda Road Massacre: On April, 21, Anaconda Copper company guards in Butte, Montana opened fire on striking IWW miners, killing 1 and injuring 16 others. (Sources: Wikipedia)

1920    Matewan Battle: Ten people were killed when coal company officials in Matewan, West Virginia, tried to remove striking union workers from coal company housing. They sent in agents from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency who evicted several families before trying to hop on a train out of town. Sheriff Hatfield, who supported the miners’ right to organize, tried to arrest the detectives who, in turn, tried to arrest Hatfield. Unbeknownst to the detectives, they had been surrounded by miners. No one knows who shot first, but when the smoke had cleared, there were 7 dead detectives (including Albert and Lee Felts) and 4 dead townspeople. Miners were typically forced to live in company towns and purchase living necessities from company stores at inflated prices. They were paid in scrip, which was useless outside of the company towns. In the time leading up to the Battle of Matewan, numerous miners had been assassinated by vigilantes, goons or detectives. In the aftermath of the massacre, the miners went on strike and were treated to even more violence. (From Workday Minnesota, Wikipedia, Daily Bleed, Modern School and

1920    Alabama Coal Strike: This was a statewide strike by the United Mine Workers that was marred by racial violence and ended in defeat for the union. UMW was already integrated by this time, which was offensive both to white racists, and black assimilationists. Several people were killed during the strike, most of whom were black workers. (Sources: Wikipedia)
Miners with bomb that had been dropped on them 
1921    Battle of Blair Mountain: Sheriff Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers were murdered by Baldwin-Feltz private cops for their role in the Matewan labor battle in 1920, when two Feltz family thugs were killed by Hatfield and his deputies. They were executed on the Welch County court house steps in front of their wives, leading to the Battle of Blair Mountain, where 20,000 coal miners marched to the anti-union stronghold Logan County to overthrow Sheriff Dan Chaffin, the coal company tyrant who murdered miners with impunity. The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War and the first time that American citizens were aerially bombarded by their own government. (Sources: the Daily Bleed, Wikipedia, Workday Minnesota)

1922    The Herrin Massacre (June 22): striking coal miners killed 20 guards and strikebreakers in Herrin, Illinois in retaliation for the murder of three of their own. (Source: AFGE, Wikipedia)
A. Phillip Randolph, 1946
1925    The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, founded by A. Phillip Randolph and others, was the nation's first African American union. The AFL, which proclaimed support for Randolph's efforts, historically excluded African Americans from its membership. (Source: AFGE)

1927    Columbine Massacre: 6 unarmed mine workers were machine-gunned down in Serene, Colorado, either by police or company guards, during a weeks-long strike at the Columbine Mine. (Sources: Wikipedia)

The Era of Depression and General Strikes
1933    National Industrial Recovery Act (NiRA): Companies that abided by NiRA codes for minimum wages and maximum working hours could not only skirt anti-trust laws, but could also enforce open shops and discriminate against union activists and workers of color. (Sources: WSWS, International Socialist Review)
Toledo General Strike
1934    Toledo General Strike: 2 workers were killed and over 200 were injured during the Auto-Lite strike in Toledo, Ohio. The auto strike began in February, 1934, with as many as 10,000 other employed and unemployed Toledo workers joining the General Strike in May. During the General Strike, there was a five-day running battle between thousands of workers and the Ohio National Guard. Workers fought the police and National Guardsmen with their fists and with bricks (sometimes firing them with slingshots made from inner tubes). The strike ended when public outrage over the brutality against the workers forced Auto-Lite to recognize the union and offer employees a 5% raise. (Sources: Wikipedia, WSWS)
SF General Strike
1934    San Francisco General Strike: The longshoremen’s strike, which began as a strike for a union hiring hall and union recognition, started on May 9 and lasted 83 days, leading ultimately to the unionization of all West Coast ports. After World War One, West Coast long shore workers were poorly organized or represented by company unions. The IWW had tried to organize them with some successes, like in San Pedro, in 1922, but they were ultimately crushed by injunctions, imprisonment, deportation and vigilante violence. While longshoremen lacked a well-organized union, they retained a syndicalist sentiment and militancy. On May 9, 1934, longshoremen walked off the job at ports up and down the West Coast, soon to be followed by sailors. 2 strikers were shot dead by the bosses’ goons in San Pedro. There was also violence in Oakland and San Francisco. Street battles between the cops and strikers continued in San Francisco, heating up on July 3, and culminating in Bloody Thursday, on July 5, when 3 workers were shot by police (two of them died). The attack led to a four-day general strike that effectively shut down commerce in San Francisco, despite police violence and attempts to weaken it by national unions. (From the Daily BleedWorkday Minnesota and Wikipedia)

1934    Minneapolis General Strike: grew out of a Teamsters strike that began May 16. On Friday, July 20, 150 police opened fire on striking workers as they attempted to block a scab truck, killing two and injuring 67 others. That night, 15,000 workers protested, followed by a citywide strike of all transport workers on July 23. The next day, roughly 100,000 people participated in a march. On July 26, martial law was declared. Picketing and rallies were banned, while union leaders were arrested or and ordered to leave town. However, the strike was costing employers millions of dollars and the strike was ultimately settled with the employers recognizing the teamsters and offering workers a modest raise. (Sources: WSWS, Wikipedia)

1934    Eastern Textile General Strike: Over 400,000 textile workers participated in what was one of the largest strikes in U.S. history up until that point. The strike came in response to attacks by employers exploiting the new National Industrial Recovery Act (NiRA, see above), which allowed the mills to slash hours and weekly pay by 25%. In response, a General Strike of textile workers began on September 1 that spread throughout the South and the Eastern Seaboard.  The authorities in the various affected states responded by calling in National Guards, deputizing citizens, declaring martial law and other heavy handed tactics that resulted in numerous deaths and dozens of arrests. The workers’ ultimate defeat left most of the South non-unionized for the next 50 years. (Sources: International Socialist Review, North Carolina History Project, Wikipedia)

1935    The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) Founded on November 9, 1935, as an opposition movement within the AFL (which expelled the CIO in 1938). Important founding members included the Steelworkers, Auto Workers and Textile Workers. The CIO ultimately merged with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1955 to form the AFL-CIO.  (Sources: International Socialist Review, Workday Minnesota)

1935    Wagner Act: A wave of strikes and labor turmoil during the Great Depression paved the way for the Wegner Act—also known as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which legitimized unions, but also created rules by which they had to abide, promoting the bureaucratization and timidity of union leadership. Even with the rules of NLRA strongly favoring the bosses, they fought it tooth and nail, finally winning passage of the Taft Hartley Act, in 1947, which weakened NLRA by blocking unions from engaging in secondary boycotts, solidarity actions with other unions, and general strikes.  (Sources: Modern School)

1937    GM Sit-Down Strike: GM recognized the United Autoworkers (UAW) after their famous 44-day sit-down strike in Flint, MI. The Flint strike was actually preceded by two days when workers at the Fisher Body plant in Cleveland launched a sit-down strike. During the Flint strike, 5,000 armed workers circled the plant to protect the workers inside. Following police attacks with tear-gas, workers fought back with fire hoses. 13 workers were injured by police gunfire. By the time the National Guard arrived, sympathy strikes had spread to GM plants across the country, with 44,000 autoworkers participating. (Sources: Workday Minnesota, Daily Bleed)
Battle of the Overpass, National Archives
1937    Battle of the Overpass: United Auto Workers were attacked by Ford security forces. UAW organizers Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen were badly beaten, swaying public opinion in favor of the UAW. (Sources Wikipedia)
Memorial Day Massacre, National Archives
1937    Memorial Day Massacre: The Chicago police shot and killed 10 unarmed protesting workers during the “Little Steel Strike.” 30 others were injured, including 9 who were permanently disabled. Most were shot in the back as they fled. No police officers were ever prosecuted. (From Wikipedia, WSWS)

1938    Hilo Massacre: On August 1, 1938, police opened fire on 200 unarmed trade unionists protesting the unloading of a ship in Hilo Harbor, on the Big Island of Hawaii, in what became known as "the Hilo Massacre." The protest was in support of striking waterfront workers. 50 workers were injured. Police also used tear gas and bayonets. (From Workday Minnesota and the Daily Bleed)

WWII and the Post-War Wave of Strikes and Federal Suppression
1941    No Strike Pledges by AFL and CIO: The major unions sold out their members in the name of fighting fascism. (Sources: UHWO)

1943    Smith-Connally Act: The law restricted labor bargaining and organizing, required cooling off periods, imposed criminal penalties for encouraging strikes and allowed the president to seize control of struck plants. (Sources: UHWO)

1944    Port Chicago Mutiny, San Francisco Bay Area: Munitions exploded while mostly black sailors were loading ships, killing 320 and injuring 390. Unsafe working conditions continued after the disaster, prompting hundreds of the sailors to stop working and refuse to load anymore munitions. 50 of them were convicted of mutiny and sentenced to long prison terms, though the majority were released after a year and a half. (Sources: Wikipedia)

1945-1946       400,000 Miners & 750,000 Steelers Went on Strike—Part of the largest strike wave in U.S. history. At one point there were 1.6 million workers simultaneously on strike. By the end of the year, more than 4.5 million workers had deliberately stopped working. During World War II, most major unions signed no-strike pledges. As a result, there were numerous grievances and conflicts that had been building up during the war that came to a head in 1945-1946. The number of union members in the U.S. also doubled from 7 million in 1940, to 14.5 million by the war’s end. During the strike wave, over 400,000 coal miners struck, along with 750,000 steelworkers, 70,000 teamsters, 300,000 meatpackers, 175,000 electrical workers and nearly 50,000 petroleum workers and machinists. (Sources: Daily Kos, New York Times,, Counter Punch)

1945    Navy Seizes Oil Refineries: In October, Truman used the navy to seize half of the nation’s refining capacity to break a post-war strike in 20 states. (Sources:, Jeremy Brecker)

1946    Government Seizes Railways: In May, rail workers decided to join the miners and steelers. Such a strike threatened to bring the economy to a standstill as it would have significantly reduced the transport of goods. President Truman seized the railroads to break the strike, threatening to use the army to run the lines until the workers settled. (Sources: UHWO, Bits of News)

1946    Rochester General strike: The Rochester City Council fired nearly 500 city workers on May 15, 1946 for forming a union and then started to mass arrest picketers and organizers on May 21-23, provoking a General Strike later that month. (sources: Rochester Labor, Daily Kos)

1946    Oakland General Strike: The last General Strike in the U.S. occurred in 1946 in Oakland, California. The strike came in response to the anti-labor policies of Hastings and Kahn’s department stores in downtown Oakland. Hundreds of store clerks (mostly women) went on strike in late October. The store enlisted the police to clear away strikers and protect strike-breaking scabs. On December 3, 100,000 workers throughout Oakland joined the strike. The AFL eventually voted to walkout in solidarity with the clerks. However, Harry Bridges, who was then head of the California CIO, refused to become involved, while the AFL quickly brokered a sellout deal on December 5, when the city manager agreed not to use police to bring in scabs deal—a deal that angered of many store clerks and teamsters who continued to picket (Modern School, Counterpunch, Libcom).

1946    More General Strikes: Less well-known General Strikes also occurred in 1946 in Stamford, CT, and Lancaster, PA. (Sources: Jeremy Brecker)

1947    Taft-Hartley Act: This anti-labor law, which was passed in 1947, banned the General Strike, solidarity or sympathy strikes, and secondary boycotts. It prohibited closed union shops and opened the door to “right-to-work” legislation. President Truman, whose veto was overridden, called it an “intrusion on free speech.” The law also permits the president to obtain a strike-breaking injunction by claiming that national security is threatened by the strike. Many believe Taft-Hartley was a direct response by capital to the upheavals of the recent Oakland General Strike and the coal and steel strikes. (Wikipedia, Modern School)

1950    Army Seizes Railroads: Truman once again seized the railroads—this time to block a General Strike from occurring. The army occupied the railroads for two years before handing them back to their owners. (Sources: AFGE)

1952    Army Seizes Steel Mills: Truman also used the army to avert a major strike in the steel mills. The Supreme Court later ruled the move unconstitutional.  (Sources: AFGE)

1955    AFL and CIO merge: Two large pro-business unions merge into one mega-pro-business union hell bent on avoiding strikes and keeping production flowing.

1959    Longest Steel Strike in U.S. History: 90% of U.S. steel production was halted for 116 days. Eisenhower used Taft-Hartley to force the steelworkers back to work. (Sources: UHWO, Wikipedia)

The 1960s and 70s
1962    Federal Workers Granted Right to Unionize. (Sources: UHWO)

1964    Civil Rights Act Bans Workplace Discrimination. (Sources: UHWO)

1965    Delano Grape Strike: The predominantly Filipino Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee launched the strike, but it was soon joined by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta’s Mexican-American National Farmworkers Association. The two groups eventually united to form the United Farmworkers (UFW). The union also initiated a nationwide grape boycott that lasted five years and ended with the first union contract for U.S. farm workers outside of Hawaii. (Sources: UHWO, Workday Minnesota)
1968    78 Miners Killed at Consolidated Coal Mines, West Virginia. (Sources: UHWO)

1968    Martin Luther King Assassinated while supporting the AFSCME Sanitation Strike, Memphis. (Sources: UHWO, Wikipedia)

1970    Postal Strike:  The first mass postal strike in U.S. history began when carriers in Manhattan and Brooklyn walked off the job, but quickly spread to 210,000 of the nation’s 750,000 mail carriers. (Sources: UHWO, AFGE)
Trailer for “Harlan County, USA”
1972    Bloody Coal Strike (Again) in Harlan County: Miners struck the Duke Power Company in Harlan County, Kentucky, the sight of numerous bloody strikes in the past (including the Battle of Evarts, 1931). (Sources: UHWO, Wikipedia, The Atlantic)

1974    Karen Silkwood Killed: Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union activist Karen Silkwood was assassinated during her investigation of a Kerr-McGee nuclear plant in Oklahoma. Her car was run off the road while she attempted to deliver documents to a New York Times reporter. (Sources: UHWO, Workday Minnesota)

1975    Jimmy Hoffa Disappears: (Sources: UHWO)        

The Modern Era, PATCO, Decline of Unionism
1981    PATCO Strike: U.S. federal air traffic controllers began a nationwide strike after their union, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), rejected the government's final contract offer. Most of the 13,000 strikers ignored orders to go back to work and were fired on August 5 by President Reagan for participating in an illegal work stoppage. In response, the AFL-CIO organized a protest of 400,000 in Washington, D.C. However, Reagan's action crushed the union and sets the tone for labor-management relations across the country for the ensuing 30 years, with employers beginning to take tougher stands against unions, increasingly relying on strikebreakers and mass firings, and hastening the decline in union membership. (Sources: UHWO, Shmoop Labor History,  Workday Minnesota)

1989    Pittston Coal Strike: A Wildcat strike at the Pittston mines in West Virginia spread to 11 states, with 50,000 miners participating. The strike began when 98 miners and a minister occupied the company’s Moss 3 plant in Carbo, VA. The strike began after Pittston terminated health benefits for retirees, widows and disabled miners. State troopers were called in to arrest strikers after violent conflicts occurred, yet the struggle barely made the news the U.S. Over 4,000 strikers were arrested and UMW boss Richard Trumka did everything in his power to shut down the strike and sell the workers out. They ultimately won back health benefits for current and retired miners, one of the few labor victories of the 1980s, but they also lost job security and some workplace rights. By 1995, Pittston’s workforce had declined by more than two-thirds. (Sources: UHWO, AFGE, Workday Minnesota, Wikipedia)
Scene from “Bread and Roses,” Ken Loach’s 2000 film about Justice for Janitors

1990    LAPD Attacks Justice for Janitors (J4J): J4J began in Los Angeles in response to the slashing of wages and benefits by employers. In 1983, janitors were making $7 per hour or more, with health benefits. By 1986, their wages had declined to $4.50 per hour, without benefits, as building owners subcontracted cleaning services to private contractors who cut wages and benefits to better compete with each other. The J4J strike in LA lasted throughout April, with the janitors ultimately winning a 22% raise. (Sources: UHWO, Wikipedia)
Hamlet Chicken Plant Disaster, by Mojo Nixon and Jello Biafra

1991    Hamlet Chicken Plant Disaster: A fire at the Imperial Foods poultry processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina, killed 25 and injured 49. Workers had been locked into the facility to prevent them from taking too many breaks, thus trapping them inside and dooming them to die in the fire. In 11 years, the plant had never received a safety inspection. The owners of the plant received 20-year prison sentences. (Sources: UHWO, Wikipedia)

2001    1st State-Wide Teachers’ Strike: occurred in Hawaii. 10,000 K-12 teachers and 3,000 university faculty participated. (Sources: UHWO)