Labor Unions | Civics: Links to History

Updated July 22, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Civics: Government and Economics in Action

Links to History: Labor Unions

  • Etching of Railroad Strike
    source: Private Collection, The Bridgeman Art Library International Ltd.
1869 One of the earliest and most influential labor organizations, the Knights of Labor is founded by Philadelphia tailors.
1877 The first nationwide strike stops trains across the country. About 100,000 railroad workers are involved. Federal troops are called out to break the strike.
1886 Samuel Gompers founds the American Federation of Labor.
1886 During a labor demonstration in Chicago, a bomb explodes and rioting ensues. Anarchists are singled out and convicted of inciting violence during the Haymarket Square riot.
  • Samuel Gompers
    source: Corbis/Bettmann
1892 Violence ends the Homestead steel strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania.
1894 The Pullman strike, involving 50,000 rail workers, ends in rioting and violence.
1905 The International Workers of the World (IWW), a radical union, is formed with the aim of overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with a socialist system.
1913 The U.S. government establishes the Department of Labor to protect the rights of workers.
1914 The Clayton Antitrust Act legalizes nonviolent strikes and boycotts.
1919 Over the course of the year, a record 4 million workers strike.
1935 The Wagner Act (also called the National Labor Relations Act) affirms the right of workers to unionize and requires employers to participate in collective bargaining.
1935 John L. Lewis breaks with the AFL and forms the Committee of Industrial Organization (CIO), later changing its name to the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
1935 The Taft-Hartley Labor Act limits some of the powers of unions and the circumstances under which they can strike.
  • Auto Workers Sit Down Strike
    source: Corbis/Bettmann
1937 United Auto Workers (UAW) sign a contract with General Motors after a successful sit-down strike in Flint, Michigan.
1938 The Fair Labor Standards Act establishes the minimum wage.
1949 An amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 outlaws child labor.
1955 The largest U.S. labor organization, the AFL, merges with the CIO, forming the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
1959 The Landrum-Griffin Act is passed to help eliminate union corruption.
1960 One third of all workers in the United States belong to a union.
1970 The postal worker strike, involving 180,000 strikers, becomes the United States' largest public employee walkout.
1981 President Ronald Reagan orders the replacement of striking air traffic controllers with nonunion workers.
1997 Over the last several decades, union membership has dropped considerably. Only 14 percent belong to unions.
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