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Labor History

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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


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


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


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


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.


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


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


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


Printers in Philadelphia walk out to protest a wage reducation

  • They eventually gained a $6 a week minimum wage


First textile mill established in Rhoda Island by Samuel Slater

  • All the workers were under the age of 12


Philadelphia carpenters strike for a 10 hour day and overtime pay

  • The strike was unsuccessful


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


Gabriel Prosser organizes a slave revolt

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


First cigar factory opens in Connecticut

  • All workers are women


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


Panic of 1819

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


First reported strike of women workers in Rhode Island

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


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


Nat Turner leads a slave rebellion in Virginia

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


National Labor Union forms in Baltimore

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


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


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


Molly Maquire Strike

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


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


First Labor Day celebration in New York City


American Federation of Labor forms in Ohio

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


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

  • Gun battle resulted in number of people being killed


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


McKees Rocks Strike

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


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


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


U.S. Department of Labor is established


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


Adamson Act enacts eight-hour workday for railroad workers


United Mine Workers strike and earn a 27 perecent wage increase


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


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


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


Stock Market crashes, leading to the Great Depression


Anti-Injunction Act prohibits federal injunctions in most labor disuptes


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


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


CIO breaks from AFL


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


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


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


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


AFL and CIO merge


Equal Pay Act prohibits wage differences for workers based on sex


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


César Chávez forms the AFL-CIO United Farm Workers


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


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


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


Minimum wage is raised to $2.65


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


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


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


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


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