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Labor History Timeline

Building a New Nation

1607 English planters found Jamestown colony and complain about lack of laborers
1619 Slaves from Africa first imported to colonies
1664 First slavery codes begin trend of making African servants slaves for life
1676 Bacon’s Rebellion of servants and slaves in Virginia
1677 First recorded prosecution against strikers in New York City
1765 Artisans and laborers in Sons of Liberty protest oppressive British taxes
1770 British troops kill five dock workers in Boston Massacre
1773 Laborers protest royal taxation in the Boston tea Party
1775 American Revolution begins
1786 Philadelphia printers conduct first successful strike for increased wages
1787 Constitution adopted
1791 First strike in building trades by Philadelphia carpenters for a 10-hour day bill of Rights adopted

Struggles for Freedom

1800 Gabriel Prosser’s slave insurrection in Virginia
1805 Philadelphia shoemakers found guilty of conspiracy
1808 Slave importation prohibited
1834 First turnout of “mill girls” in Lowell, Mass., to protect wage cuts
1835 General strike for 10-hour day in Philadelphia
1842 Commonwealth v. Hunt decision frees unions from some prosecutions
1843 Lowell Female Labor Reform Association begins public petitioning for 10-hour day
1847 New Hamsphire enacts first state 10-hour-day law
1848 Seneca Falls women’s rights convention
1860 Great shoemaker’s strike in New England
1861 Abraham Lincoln takes office as president and Civil War begins
1863 President Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation
1865 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishes slavery

Origins of Today's Union Movement

1866 National Labor Union founded
1867 Congress begins reconstruction policy in former slave states
1869 Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor and Colored National Labor Union formed
1870 15th Amendment to the Constitution adopted; states the right to vote may not be abrogated by color
1877 National uprising of railroad workers Ten Irish coal miners ("Molly Maguires") hanged in Pennsylvania; nine more subsequently were hanged
1881 Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions formed
1882 First Labor Day parade in New York City
1885 Successful strike by Knights of Labor on the Southwest (or Gould) System: the Missouri Pacific; the Missouri, Kansas and Texas; and the Wabash
1886 American Federation of Labor founded
1887 Seven "anarchists" charged with the bombing in Chicago's Haymarket Square and sentenced to death
1890 Carpenters President P.J. McGuire and the union strike and win the eight-hour day for some 28,000 members
1892 Iron and steel workers union defeated in lockout at Homestead, Pa.
Integrated general strike in New Orleans succeeds
1894 Boycott of Pullman sleeping cars leads to general strike on railroads
1898 Erdman Act prohibits discrimination against railroad workers because of union membership and provides for mediation of railway labor disputes

The Progressive Era

1900 AFL and National Civic Federation promote trade agreements with employers
U.S. Industrial Commission declares trade unions good for democracy.
1902 Anthracite strike arbitrated after President Theodore Roosevelt intervenes
1903 Women’s Trade Union League formed at AFL convention
1905 Industrial Workers of the World founded
1908 AFL endorses Democrat William Jennings Bryan for President
1909 “Uprising of the 20,000” female shirtwaist makers in New York strike against sweatshop conditions
 Unorganized immigrant steel workers strike in McKees Rocks, Pa. and win all demands
1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory in fire in New York kills nearly 150 workers
1912 Bread and Roses strike begun by immigrant women in Lawrence, Mass., ended with 23,000 men and women and children on strike and with as many as 20,000 on the picket line
Bill creating Department of Labor passes at the end of congressional session
1913 Woodrow Wilson takes office as president and appoints the first secretary of labor, William B. Wilson of the Mine Workers
1914 Ludlow Massacre of 13 women and children and seven men in Colorado coal miners’ strike
1917 United States enters World War I
1918 Leadership of Industrial Workers of the World sentenced to federal prison on charges of disloyalty to the United States
1919 One of every five workers walked out in great strike wave, including national clothing coal and steel strikes; a general strike in Seattle; and a police strike in Boston
International Labor Organization founded in France

Repression and Depression

1920 19th Amendment to the Constitution gives women the right to vote
1924 Samuel Gompers dies; William Green becomes new AFL president
1925 A. Philip Randolph helps create the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
1926 Railway Labor Act sets up procedures to settle railway labor disputes and forbids discrimination against union members
1929 Stock market crashes as stocks fall 40 percent; Great Depression begins
1931 Davis-Bacon Act provides for prevailing wages on publicly funded construction projects
1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act prohibits federal injunctions in most labor disputes
1933 President Franklin Roosevelt proposes New Deal programs to Congress

Democratizing America

1934 Upsurge in strikes, including national textile strike, which fails
1935 National Labor Relations Act and Social Security Act passed
Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) formed within AFL
1936 AFL and CIO create labor's Non-Partisan League and help President Roosevelt win re-election to a second term
1937 Auto Workers win sit-down strike against General Motors in Flint, Mich.
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters wins contract with Pullman Co.
1938 Fair Labor Standards Act establishes first minimum wage and 40-hour week
Congress of industrial Organizations forms as an independent federation
1940 John L. Lewis resigns and Philip Murray becomes CIO president
1941 A. Philip Randolph threatens march on Washington to protest racial discrimination in defense jobs
1941 U.S. troops enter combat in World War II
National War Labor Board created with union members
1943 CIO forms first political action committee to get out the union vote for President Roosevelt

The Fight for Economic and Social Justice

1946 Largest strike wave in U.S. history
1947 Taft-Hartley Act restricts union members' activities
1949 First two of 11 unions with Communist leaders are purged from CIO
1952 William Green and Philip Murray die; George Meany and Walter Reuther become presidents of AFL and CIO, respectively
1955 AFL and CIO merge; George Meany becomes president
1957 AFL-CIO expels two affiliates for corruption
1959 Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (Landrum-Griffin) passed
1962 President John Kennedy's order gives federal workers the right to bargain
1963 March on Washington for jobs and Justice
Equal Pay Act bans wage discrimination based on gender
1964 Civil Rights Act bans institutional forms of racial discrimination
1965 AFL-CIO forms A. Philip Randolph Institute
César Chávez forms AFL-CIO United Farm Workers Organizing Committee
1968 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., during sanitation workers' strike

Progress and New Challenges

1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act passed
1972 Coalition of Black Trade Unionists formed
1973 Labor Council for Latin American Advancement founded
1974 Coalition of Labor Union Women founded
1979 Lane Kirkland elected president of AFL-CIO
1981 President Reagan breaks air traffic controllers’s strike
AFL-CIO rallies 400,000 in Washington on Solidarity Day
1989 Organizing Institute created
1990 United Mine Workers of America win strike against Pittston Coal
United Steelworkers of America labor Alliance created within the AFL-CIO
1992 Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance created within AFL-CIO
1995 Thomas Donahue replaces Lane Kirkland as interim head of AFL-CIO
John Sweeney president of AFL-CIO
1997 AFL-CIO defeats legislation giving the president the ability to “Fast Track’ trade legislation without assured protection of workers’ rights and the environment
1997 Pride at Work, a national coalition of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender workers and their supporters, becomes an AFL-CIO constituency group AFL-CIO membership renewed growth
1999 More than 75,000 human service workers are unionized in Los Angeles County
30,000 to 50,000 working family activists take to Seattle streets to tell the World Trade Organization and its allies, “If the Global Economy Doesn’t Work for Working Families, It Doesn’t Work”
 5,000 North Carolina textile workers gain a union after a 25-year struggle
65,000 Puerto Rico public-sector workers join unions
Broad Campaign for Global Fairness pushes for economic and social justice worldwide
Union movement organizes biggest program of grassroots electoral politics ever

Recent Times: 2000-2010

  • (February) AFL-CIO Executive Council calls for reform in the nation’s immigration laws for undocumented workers.
  • (March) Women now are two-thirds of new union members in the U.S.
  • (April) 30,000 union members and activists rally against the United States granting permanent normal trade relations with China.
  • (June) 4,200 technical and administrative employees of Boeing in Kansas join the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA).
  • (November) Unions lead a massive grassroots get-out-the-vote effort, with 100,000 volunteers distributing more than 14 million leaflets at union worksites and calling 8 million union members—ultimately more than 26 million voters in union households went to the polls.
  • (April) 40,000 union activists and allies protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Quebec City, Canada, the largest anti-globalization mobilization to date.
  • (May) AFL-CIO launches Alliance for Retired Americans to recruit activists and mobilize older Americans.
  • (September) Thousands of union members sacrifice their lives and health, and volunteer their time to respond to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C.

     Labor unions join with community allies to enact “living wage” ordinances in 76 communities across the nation.

  • (May) The AFL-CIO forms the Industrial Union Council (IUC) to revitalize manufacturing, combat destructive international trade agreements, and defend workers’ rights.
  • (July) President Bush pledges to strip collective bargaining rights from 170,000 civil servants in the new Transportation Security Administration and denies bargaining rights to airport-security screening personnel.
  • (January) The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department launches the Helmets to Hardhats program to connect National Guard, Reserve and transitioning active-duty military members with quality career training and employment opportunities in construction.
  • (July) The AFL-CIO holds a nationally televised Working Families Presidential Forum in which all nine Democratic Presidential candidates take part.
  • (August) The AFL-CIO establishes Working America to reach out to non-union members and mobilize workers through door-to-door canvassing in neighborhoods.
  • (November) The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. George Miller and in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Edward Kennedy.
  • (December) American Rights at Work, a national non-profit advocacy group, is founded to promote the freedom of workers to join unions and bargain collectively.
  • (March) The National Labor College (NLC) receives full accreditation from the Middle State Higher Education Commission, enabling it to grant bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
  • (June) The Coalition for Labor Union Women (CLUW) celebrates its 30th anniversary.
  • (November)  As part of the election year get-out-the-vote effort, some 225,000 union volunteers knock on millions of doors, make 10 million phone calls, and distribute 32 million leaflets.  
  • (April) The Employee Free Choice Act is reintroduced into the U.S. Congress as bipartisan legislation, winning support from 182 House members and 37 Senate co-sponsors by June 2005.
  • (September) Change to Win holds its founding convention in St. Louis, created among seven unions previously members of the AFL-CIO.
  • (August) The AFL-CIO and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) form a partnership to collaborate with local worker centers on immigration reform and other issues.
  • (November) During the 2006 elections, 205,000 union volunteers knock on millions of union members’ doors, make 30 million telephone calls in 32 targeted states and distribute 14 million leaflets in workplaces, with Democrats ultimately winning a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and achieving a 51-vote progressive majority in the U.S. Senate.
  • (December) The AFL-CIO and the Interfaith Worker Justice (IWG) board establish a new partnership to strengthen labor-religious ties and advance the core principles of social justice in the workplace.

     The United Steelworkers Union (USW) and the Sierra Club launch the Blue Green Alliance, a labor-environmental coalition to expand the number and quality of jobs in the clean energy economy.

  • (March) The U.S. House of Representatives passes the Employee Free Choice Act with a vote of 241-185.
  • (June) Republicans in the U.S. Senate block consideration of the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • (August) The AFL-CIO holds a presidential debate at Soldier Field in Chicago where 18,000 union members and their families turn out to see seven Democratic candidates debate.
  • (September) Following the retirement of Linda Chavez-Thompson, the AFL-CIO Executive Council unanimously elects Arlene Holt Baker as AFL-CIO Executive Vice President.
  • (December) The Industrial Union Council led a delegation of 21 North American union leaders to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC) in Bali, Indonesia.
  • (June) The AFL-CIO endorses Sen. Barack Obama for U.S. President.
  • (July) The United Steel Workers union (USW) joins with unions in Britain, Ireland, Canada, and the Caribbean to form the global union, Workers Uniting.
  • (July) Appearing at a steelworkers convention, then AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka delivers a widely acclaimed speech that directly addresses the issue of racism in the 2008 election.
  • (July) The AFL-CIO establishes the Union Veterans Council.
  • (November) During the 2008 Presidential elections, the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions mobilize 250,000 volunteers who made 76 million telephone calls and knocked on 14 million doors, sent out 57 million pieces of mail and distributed 29 million leaflets at worksites.
  • (January) The U.S. Department of Labor reported that union density in the U.S. had grown over the previous two years, with a net gain of 759,000 members in 2007 and 2008.
  • (January) Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored the rights of working women to sue over pay discrimination.
  • (February) Union members and allies deliver some of the 1.5 million signatures collected in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • (May) The AFL-CIO Working for America Institute creates the Center for Green Jobs to assist affiliates in applying for millions of dollars in grants in clean energy skill training projects.
  • (September) At the AFL-CIO’s 26th Constitutional Convention in Pittsburgh, Richard Trumka is elected president; Liz Shuler, a union activist from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is elected as Secretary-Treasurer and Arlene Holt Baker re-elected as Executive Vice President.
  • (September) UNITE HERE leaves Change to Win and rejoins the AFL-CIO.
  • (June) The AFL-CIO hosts the “Next Up” Young Workers Summit in Washington, D.C., and establishes a national youth mobilization effort as a top priority.
  • (October) The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) leaves Change to Win and rejoins the AFL-CIO.

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