This time line highlights important episodes in working-class history that shed light on working conditions, the rise of a national labor movement, and the role that wage earners played in the development of more democratic national policies.
(For a more comprehensive labor time line, please visit the Samuel Gompers Papers)
1834 -- The National Trades Union, the first attempt to form a national labor federation is organized in New York City. However, it does not survive the financial panic of 1837.
1840 -- President Martin Van Buren issues an Executive Order
establishing the 10-hour day for Federal employees on public works.
1842 -- In the case of Commonwealth v. Hunt
, the Massachusetts Supreme Court finds labor unions to be legal associations, not conspiracies.
1845 -- Sarah Bagley
, a weaver in Lowell, Mass., and president of the newly-organized Female Labor Reform Association
, leads the campaign to petition the Massachusetts legislature for the 10-hour day.
1847 -- New Hampshire becomes the first state to fix 10 hours as the legal workday.
1852 -- The Typographical Union, the first national union to endure through the 20th century, is organized.
1866 -- The National Labor Union
, a federation of trade assemblies, is established.
1868 -- Congress passes the first 8 hour law for laborers and mechanics employed by or on behalf of the federal government. However it is not effective until President U.S. Grant issues a proclamation
the following year protecting wage rates.
1869 -- The Colored National Labor Union
and the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor
1873 -- An economic collapse in 1873
leads to mass unemployment in 1874 (Read
Samuel Gompers' description).
1874 -- Unemployed workers in New York City demonstrate for relief in what became known as the Tompkins Square Riot
1877 -- National uprising
of railroad workers; Socialist Labor Party organizes.
1878 -- Knights of Labor holds First General Assembly.
1881 -- The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions
1882 -- First Labor Day parade
in New York City; Congress passes 10-year ban on immigration of Chinese labor.
1883 -- U.S. Senate conducts hearings
on "Relations Between Labor and Capitalism."
1886 -- American Federation of Labor
1887 -- Seven "anarchists" are charged with 1886 bombing
in Chicago's Haymarket Square and sentenced to death.
1891 -- The People's party is organized making the populist movement a national political force.
1892 -- Iron and steel workers union defeated in lockout at Homestead
1893 -- Stock market collapse leads to financial panic and major economic depression; Coxey’s Army of
unemployed marches on Washington and is attacked by police.
1894 -- Employees of the Pullman Palace Car Corporation organize local unions of the American Railway Union and walk off their jobs
on May 11 after members of their grievance committee are fired. Thomas H. Wickes, vice president of the Pullman Palace Car Corporation tells the strike committee in June that there is "nothing to arbitrate.
1895 -- Eugene V. Debs
is jailed in Woodstock Prison for violating 1894 Pullman Strike injunction; Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance
1897 -- Striking miners in Luzerne County, Pa. are shot by local sheriff and deputies in the Lattimer Massacre.
Congress passes Erdman Act providing mediation and voluntary
arbitration in rail disputes.
1899 -- Miners in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, strike. After strikers commandeer a train, attack the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mine in Wardner, and destroy machinery, federal troops are sent in and martial law is declared. Some 700 men are arrested, and troops remain in the district until Apr. 1901.
1902 -- Anthracite miners strike for 8 hours and increased wages, idling about 150,000 men. After operators refuse to negotiate with the UMW, President Theodore Roosevelt orders U.S. labor commissioner Carroll Wright to investigate.
1903 -- D. E. Lowe and Co. sues
United Hatters of North America for strike-related damages; the Citizens' Industrial Association
, a national body opposed to strikes, boycotts, and labor unions, is organized in Chicago ( Related Document
1905 -- Industrial Workers of the World
organizes in Chicago.
1906 -- AFL representatives present "Labor's Bill of Grievances"
to President Theodore Roosevelt.
1908 -- Buck's Stove and
Range Company ask Supreme Court of the District of Columbia to find Samuel Gompers
, John Mitchell
, and Frank Morrison
in contempt of court for violation of injunction against an AFL boycott. (Read their appeal
1909 -- Nineteen year old Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
, the IWW "Rebel Girl" organizer, arrives in Spokane to agitate for free speech;
20,000 New York City garment workers strike
and win union recognition in
1910 -- Explosion and fire
at the Los Angeles's Times
building kills twenty people. In April 1911, John McNamara , secretary-treasurer of the Structural Iron Workers, and his brother James , are arrested. In December James pleads guilty to a murder charge in the dynamiting case and John McNamara pleads guilty to conspiracy in dynamiting the Llewellyn Iron Works.
1911 -- Railroad shopmen in 28 cities strike the Illinois Central Railroad and the Harriman lines, but railroad officials obtain sweeping injunctions against them and rely on police and armed guards to escort strikebreakers to and from work. Violence erupts in New Orleans, San Francisco, and towns in Mississippi and Tennessee, among many other places.
1912 -- "Bread and Roses" textile workers strike
in Lawrence, Mass., for higher wages, overtime pay, and the elimination of a bonus system. IWW leader Joseph Ettor
chairs the strike committee, but mill owners refuse to meet with him or to submit the case to the state arbitration board.
1913 -- Northern Michigan copper miners strike
for 8 hours, higher wages, and union recognition. Before the strike is lost in Apr. 1914, 600 strikers are arrested for inciting to riot, 500 for violating an injunction against picketing, and the WFM's president, Charles Moyer, is shot, beaten and forced out of town; U.S. Department of Labor established.
1914 -- Ludlow Massacre
of 2 women, 11 children and 5 miners in Colorado coal miners’ strike.
1915 -- Joe Hill, the IWW organizer, is executed. His famous last words are reported to be: "Don't waste time in mourning. Organize. "
1916 -- Federal child labor law is passed. But before it becomes effective on Sept. 1, 1917, it is challenged and in June 1918, the U.S. Supreme Court declares it unconstitutional (Hammer v. Dagenhart).
1917 -- In Hitchman Coal and Coke Co. v. Mitchell, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirms a 1908 West Virginia federal district court's judgment that the United Mine Workers of America is an illegal combination under the Sherman Antitrust Act and upholds the legality of the "yellow dog" contract which forbids workers to join unions.
1918 -- Debs speaks in Canton, Ohio
, on the relation between capitalism and war; this leads to his arrest under the Espionage Act. In September he is tried, convicted, and sentenced to ten years. In April 1919 he is incarcerated first at a state prison in Moundsville, West Virginia, and then in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, a maximum security prison. He remains there until he is pardoned by President Warren G. Harding in December 1921.
1919 -- United Mine Workers' organizer Fannie Sellins, a widowed mother of four, is shot to death by coal company guards while leading strikers in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania. (View documents at the University of Pittsburgh's Labor Legacy site
1920 -- The Palmer raids, a drive to rid the country of "reds," begin under the auspices of the U.S. Dept. of Justice. On Jan. 3, the New York Times
reports that 650 are arrested.
1921 -- Employers meeting in Chicago launch the open-shop American Plan and pledge that they would not recognize or negotiate with union representatives.
1922 -- Railroad shop craft workers' strike
begins in July. Taking the side of employers, President Warren G. Harding declares it to be a strike "against the government." The strike is lost the following year.
1923 -- A citizen's committee in Harrison, Arkansas, imprison striking railroad workers
and kill one union officer.