Labor History

Below, you will find a general timeline of labor and worker's history. In the future, there will be more comprehensive timeline of LGBTQ, Latinx, Black, and Indigenous history.


General Timeline of Worker's History

15th Century

Atlantic Slave Trade

  • Transportation by slave traders of enslaved African people; other segments of trade including shipping sugar, tobacco, and cotton to Europe, and finished goods to Africa
  • Estimated 10 to 12 million enslaved Africans to the Americas

1619

First African Slaves arrive in Point Comfort, Virginia

Jamestown Craftsmen Strike: Foreign skilled craftsmen sent to Jamestown by Virginia Company to create materials for shipbuilding

  • Many settlers not allowed to vote in first election (because they weren’t of English descent) -- refused to work until given the right to vote 
  • Virginia Company later gave full voting rights to workers

1662

Virginia Hereditary Law: "children shall be free or bound according to the condition of the mother."

  • Slavery becomes institutionalized in the United States leading to generations of enslaved peoples

1676

Bacon's Rebellion: In Jamestown poor farmers suffer economic damage due to falling tobacco prices---  many wanted to expand westward, Governor Berkeley refused inciting a revolt

  • Backlash from Bacon's Rebellion credited with beginning the move towards a system of slavery built off of race

1712

Carolina Slave Code: Forbid slaves to leave their owner's property unless they were accompanied by a white person or had permission. Any runaway slave was given the death penatly.

1739

Stono Rebellion (South Carolina)

  • Group of around 20 South Carolina slaves marched to a firearms store where they killed the shopkeepers and armed themselves
  • On way to Florida, added to their numbers swelling to 100 slaves 
  • Group defeated by South Carolina militia 
  • Led to the Negro Act of 1740: This restricted slave activities (ability to assemble, grow their own food, learn to read). It became hareder for slave-owners to free their slaves

1765

Daughters of Liberty formed to protest the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts which introduced indirect and direct taxation to the colonies.

  • This was the first society of working women

1766

Green Mountain Boys: An organization of farmers that formed to resist New York State's attempt to control territory they had land titles to

1786

Printers in Philadelphia walk out to protest a wage reducation

  • They eventually gained a $6 a week minimum wage

1790

First textile mill established in Rhoda Island by Samuel Slater

  • All the workers were under the age of 12

1791

Philadelphia carpenters strike for a 10 hour day and overtime pay

  • The strike was unsuccessful

1793

Cotton gin was invented which makes cotton production more profitable

  • Growth of slavery as demand for cotton workers increases
  • Cotton production expanded from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850

1800

Gabriel Prosser organizes a slave revolt

  • Information of the revolt was leaked
  • He and 25 other people involved were hanged

1810

First cigar factory opens in Connecticut

  • All workers are women

1814

Invention of the power loom makes long-term made cloth more affordable, which increases demand

  • Caused growth in employment
  • Opened up opportunities for women mill workers

1819

Panic of 1819

  • Collapse of the American economy through 1821
  • Tariff protects manufactureres from foreign competition

1824

First reported strike of women workers in Rhode Island

  • Join other male weavers protesting wage reducation and extending the workday

1827

United Tailoresses of New York demands wage increase in first all-women strike

Mechanics Union of Trad Assocations forms in Philadelphia

  • Consisted of skilled workers in different trades
  • First city-wide labor council

1831

Nat Turner leads a slave rebellion in Virginia

In NYC, 1600 tailoresses go on strike for two months due to wages

1833

Workingmen's Ticket: A political party forms to promote labor ideology

1834

National Trades Union forms in NYC, which was the first attempt at a national labor federation

800 women strike over the right to organize and wage decreases in Dover, New Hampshire

1836

Group of mechanics, farmers, and workingmen meet in Utica, New York, calling for legislation to guarantee labor the right to orgnaize and to increas wages

1840

Ten hour workday without pay reducation is instituted for all federal employees on public works

1842

Connecticut and Massachusetts passes laws prohibiting children from working over ten hours a day

1844

200 delegated forms the New England Workingmen's Association, promoting the ten-hour workday

1845

Female workers in five cotton mills in Pennsylvania strike for the ten-hour work day

1847

New Hampshire becomes the first state to make the ten-hour work day law

1848

Pennsylvania makes 12 the minimum age for workers in commercial occupation and passes a ten-hour workday law

1852

First state law in Ohio passes to limit women's workday to ten hours

1864

Central Pacific Railroad starts with a crew of 21 Chinsese Americans

  • As the project continued, more and more Chinese Americans workers were hired
  • They were paid $26 a month, working six days a week
  • Chinese Americans received 30-50 perecent lower wages than white people

1865

13th Amendment is ratified and bans slavery in the U.S.

1866

National Labor Union forms in Baltimore

  • First national labor federation
  • Sought to create a national organization that would fight for labor reform

1867

General strike of Chicago trade unions demand an eight-hour workday

1869

Federal eight hour work day passes and applies to laborers, mechanics, and workmen employed by the government

1877

Molly Maquire Strike

  • Out of 22,500 miners working in Schuylkill county, 5500 were children
  • 19 Irish coal miners hanged

1879

Black National Labor Union is founded in Washington, D.C.

  • Established to improve hearsh conditions experienced by black workers

Knights of Labor is founded in Philadelphia

  • Demanded an eight-hour workday

1882

First Labor Day celebration in New York City

1886

American Federation of Labor forms in Ohio

General Strike in Chicago leads to seven being charged and sentenced to death

1892

Homstead Strike: A dispute between Carnegie Steel Company and its workers due to wage decreases

  • Gun battle resulted in number of people being killed

1908

Section 10 of the Erdman Act, which forbids a person from being fired because they were in a union, is declarated unconstitutional

1909

McKees Rocks Strike

  • Immigrant workers went on strike to protest awful working conditions and fluctuating pay
  • Wages rose by 15 percent

1911

146 workers, mostly women, die at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City.

1912

Massachusetts adapts first minimum wage law for women and minors

Lawrence Textile Strike: Is led by immigrant women and prompted by two-hour pay cut due to law shortening the work week for women

  • Lasted more than two months
  • Succesful - given raises up to 20 percent

1913

U.S. Department of Labor is established

1914

Ludlow Massacre

  • Wives and children of striking miners die when National Guardsment attack their tent during a strike
  • Overall, 13 women and children, and 7 men died

Clayton Act limits the use of injunctions in labor disutes

  • Injunctions were used by employers to prevent striking
  • Injunctions would compel a party to refrain from doing a specific act and if they continued to do that act, they could face criminal/civil penalties

1916

Adamson Act enacts eight-hour workday for railroad workers

1919

United Mine Workers strike and earn a 27 perecent wage increase

1920

19th Amendment forbids state and federal governments from denying the right to vote on the basis of sex

1921

Truax v. Corrigan heard in the Supreme Court, rules that an Arizona law forbidding injunctions in labor disputes was unconstitutional

1926

Railway Labor Act requires employers to bargain collectively and not discriminate against employers who wanted to join a union

1929

Stock Market crashes, leading to the Great Depression

1932

Anti-Injunction Act prohibits federal injunctions in most labor disuptes

1935

Committee for Industrial Organation (CIO) forms within the AFL.

1937

General Motors agrees to recognize the United Auto Workers as bargaining agents for auto-workers and not to discriminate against union members

U.S. Steel recognizes the Steel Workers Organizing Committee as the official bargaining agent of steel workers

  • Workers earn a 10 percent wage increase and an eight-hour day/40 hour work week

1938

CIO breaks from AFL

1939

Fair Labor Standards Act creates the right to a minimum wage of .25 and prohibits employment of minors in "oppressive child labor"

1942

Bracero Program (1942-1964)

  • U.S. signs the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement with Mexico which stipulates that decent living conditions and a minimum wage of .30
  • Many workers faced low wages, awful living conditions, and discrimination
  • Brought 4 to 5 million Mexican laborers to the U.S. between 1942 and 1964

1947

Taft-Harley Act of 1947

  • Restricts activites and powers of labor unions
  • Outlawed "closed" shops -- employers who hire only union members
  • Allows "union shops -- requires non-union members to join the union within a certain number of days
  • Prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns

1949

Amendments to Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 directly prohibits child labor

1955

AFL and CIO merge

1963

Equal Pay Act prohibits wage differences for workers based on sex

1964

Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin

1965

César Chávez forms the AFL-CIO United Farm Workers

1969

Stonewall Riots

  • Series of demosntration by members of the LGBTQ community against a police raid
  • One event leading ligher prominence of LGBTQ rights in the national consciousness

1970

First mass postal strike in U.S. Postal Service

Occupational Safety and Health Act passes

  • Goal to ensure employers provide employees with an environment free from hazards (unsanitary conditions, toxic chemicals, etc.)
  • Create the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

1975

80,000  workers in the American Fedeation of State, County, and Municipal Employees go on strike

1977

Minimum wage is raised to $2.65

1992

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance is created within the AFL-CIO

1993

Family and Medical Leave Act passes; requires most employers to provide 12 weeks unpaid leave for workers to... 

  • Care for a newborn
  • Adopt/foster care
  • Care for a family member
  • Recover from illness

1994

Pride At Work, coalition of LGBTQ labor union workers, is founded

2006

AFL-CIO and National Day Laborer Organizing Network forms a partnership to collaborate with local workers on immigration reform

2009

President Obama signs the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restoring rights of working women to sue over pay discrimination

Sources