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1881

  • Boilermakers and carpenters organize national unions.
  • Aug. 2-3: A national labor convention is held in Terre Haute, Ind.
  • Sept. 15: Call for an International Trade Union Congress at Pittsburgh is issued.
  • Oct. 31 - Nov. 14: Gompers publishes a series of articles on tenement-house workers in the New Yorker Volkszeitung.
  • Nov. 15-18: Founding convention of the Federation of Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) is held in Pittsburgh. It favors the enactment of employer liability, compulsory education, uniform apprenticeship, and child and convict labor laws. (View document)

1882

  • Wire weavers organize.
  • Chinese Exclusion Act makes the immigration of Chinese laborers into the U.S. unlawful for a period of ten years.
  • Johann Most, a Bavarian-born anarchist, arrives in the United States where he publishes Die Freiheit. In 1883 he organizes the American Federation of the International Working People's Association, also known as the Black International.
  • Aug. 1882: The Women's National Labor League organizes in Washington, D. C., in response to the exclusion of women appointees to the departments of Interior and War.
  • Sept. 5: New York City Central Labor Union sponsors the first Labor Day parade.

1883

  • Custom tailors, railroad trainmen, and wood carvers organize national unions.
  • Canadian Labor Congress is organized in Toronto.
  • Feb.: The U.S. Senate Committee on Education and Labor, chaired by Sen. Henry Blair, begins hearings on the relations between labor and capital. Trade unionists, KOL representatives, employers and social reformers all offer testimony.
  • July 19-Aug. 11: The Brotherhood of Telegraphers, KOL District Assembly 45, unsuccessfully strikes the Western Union Telegraph Co.
  • Aug. 15, 18, 27: Gompers testifies before the Education and Labor Committee of the U.S. Senate.

1884

  • Laurence Gronlund publishes The Cooperative Commonwealth.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics is established as part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
  • Oct: FOTLU passes a resolution fixing May 1, 1886, for the general adoption of the 8-hour day.

1885

  • Miners and mine laborers organize.
  • The Foran Act, prohibiting the importation of contract labor, is passed. Martin Foran, past president of the Coopers Union, and a member of Congress from Ohio, sponsors it.
  • Jan.:  Eugene Debs serves one term in the Indiana General Assembly as a Democrat.
  • Mar. 9- 16: Railroad shopmen organized in the KOL successfully strike the Southwestern railroad system to protest wage reductions.

1886

  • Bakers, brewery workers, lithographers, and railway telegraphers organize national unions; KOL miners organize National Trade Assembly 135.
  • Jan. : Gompers begins one-year term as president of the New York State Workingmen's Assembly.
  • May 1: Workers throughout the country demonstrate for the 8-hour day
  • May 4: Bombing in Chicago's Haymarket Square kills one policeman and six bystanders.
  • Sept. 23: a coalition of Knights of Labor and trade unionists in Chicago launch the United Labor party, calling for an 8-hour day, government ownership of telegraph and telephone companies, and monetary and land reform. The party elects seven state assembly men and one senator.
  • Oct.: Gompers supports Henry George's campaign for mayor of New York City.
  • Dec. 8-11: The American Federation of Labor (AFL) organizes at Columbus, Ohio. The preamble reads "A struggle is going on in all of the civilized world between oppressors and oppressed of all countries, between capitalist and laborer."  Gompers is elected president.
    (View document)

1887

  • Barbers, building laborers, mule spinners, painters, pattern makers, ship pilots, and stonecutters organize national unions.
  • George McNeill, a printer and advocate of the 8-hour day, publishes The Labor Movement: The Problem of To-Day.
  • Oregon is the first state to pass legislation recognizing the first Monday in September as Labor Day.
  • June-Dec.: Gompers edits the Union Advocate, the AFL's first monthly journal.
  • Aug.: United Labor party convention meets in Syracuse.
  • Nov. 11: Haymarket defendants George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Albert Parsons, and August Spies are executed.
  • Dec. 17: Gompers begins his first major organizing trip for the AFL, visiting cities in New York, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, Minnesota, and Michigan. He returns to New York City in March 1888.

1888

  • Machinists and sheet metal workers organize national unions.
  • Utopian socialist Edward Bellamy publishes Looking Backward  which launches the Nationalist movement.
  • Oct. 9: United Hebrew Trades is organized in New York City. Morris Hillquit, a shirtmaker who would later become a lawyer and leader of the Socialist party, serves as corresponding secretary.
  • Dec. 11-15: Third annual AFL convention meets in St. Louis and launches the 8-hour campaign, targeting May 1, 1890, for the inauguration of the shorter workday.

1889

  • Boot and shoeworkers, letter carriers, plumbers, and printing pressmen organize national unions.
  • Terence Powderly publishes Thirty Years of Labor, 1859-1889.
  • The Second International organizes in Paris and sets May 1, 1890, as a day of international labor solidarity.
  • Aug. 14 : Some 100,000 workers on London's docks strike for increased wages and improved conditions. The strike is successfully settled on Nov. 4.
  • Oct. 25: Democrats and Republicans nominate Gompers to run for the state senate in New York's seventh district, but he declines.
  • Dec. 14, 1889: The AFL convention, meeting in Boston, votes to assess members to support 8-hour strikes.

1890

  • Coopers, pottery workers, and retail clerks organize national unions; KOL and trade union miners and laborers amalgamate to form the United Mine Workers of America.
  • In Germany, the General Commission of German Trade Unions is established.
  • Mar. 17: The AFL Executive Council selects the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners to lead the 8 hour movement. In April, carpenters throughout the country strike.  By May 1, some 46,000 carpenters in 137 cities achieve shorter hours.
  • July 2: Sherman Antitrust Act is signed into law.
  • Dec. 8-13, AFL convention, meeting in Detroit, refuses to seat Lucien Sanial, a prominent member of the Socialist Labor Party, as a delegate from New York City's Central Labor Federation.
  • Dec. 8, Ida Van Etten addresses the AFL convention on "The Condition of Women Workers Under the Present Industrial System."  

1891

  • Carriage workers, electrical workers, waiters, textile workers, and garment workers organize national unions.
  • May 11-12: The People's party, better known as the Populists, organizes in Cincinnati.

1892

  • Bookbinders, lace workers, metal polishers, seamen, stove mounters, street railway workers, and upholsterers organize national unions.
  • Debs resigns as secretary-treasurer of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, but continues to edit its journal.
  • Mary Kenney, a bindery worker in Chicago, is appointed AFL organizer for women workers. She serves about five months.
  • Apr.-July: Miners strike at Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. After strikers dynamite a concentrating mill at the Frisco mine July 11, the National Guard and federal troops are called out and martial law established on July 13. During the next five days, 600 miners and sympathizers are arrested. Thirteen are convicted of contempt of court and four of conspiracy. In December, the AFL convention votes $500 for the miners' defense and calls for a congressional investigation. Although the mines reopen with nonunion labor and the strike is lost, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the conspiracy convictions in Mar. 1893, the remaining indictments are lifted, and those still in custody are released.
  • July-Nov.: Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers strikes the Carnegie Steel Works in Homestead after the company proposes a wage reduction and shuts the plant down. On July 6, 300 Pinkerton agents arrive by barge to protect strikebreakers and reopen the mill, but strikers use gunfire and explosives to keep them from landing. On July 12, Pennsylvania National Guardsmen arrive to protect strikebreakers and they remain in Homestead until October. The strike is called off on Nov. 20 and workers -- except those blacklisted by the company -- return to work on the company's terms.
  • July 23: Anarchist Alexander Berkman tries to kill Henry Clay Frick, chairman of the board of the Carnegie Steel Works. He is convicted on Sept. 19 and sentenced to 22 years in jail.
  • Oct. 31: Gompers invites Debs to speak at the AFL convention and suggests the topic, "Federated Unions; the Hope of Its Advocates, and Its Possibilities." Debs declines, citing illness.
  • Nov. 8-11: Workers in New Orleans paralyze the city in a 3-day general strike that crosses race and skill lines. Between 20,000 and 40,000 workers in 42 unions demand shorter hours, wage increases, and the preferential union shop. After strike leaders meet with the governor, a settlement is reached that improves conditions but concedes the employers' right to deal with workers as individuals.

1893

  • Longshoremen and stage employees organize national unions.
  • May: Western Federation of Miners organizes in Butte, Montana.
  • May 5: Stock market collapses and precipitates major financial depression that lasts though 1897.
  • June 20: American Railway Union organizes in Chicago with Debs as president.
  • Aug. 22: Gompers and other trade unionists meet with NYC mayor Thomas Gilroy to press for a municipal public works program to relieve unemployment.
  • Aug. 28: Gompers addresses the International Labor Congress at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
  • Sept. 27: The International Typographical Union renews a strike against the Los Angeles Times and begins a boycott that runs intermittently from 1896 to 1908. A local anti-Times committee encourages out-of-town firms to stop advertising in the paper, and in 1903, persuades William Randolph Hearst to start a rival paper, the Los Angeles Examiner. Although the ITU keeps up the fight into the 1920s, the Times remains nonunion.

1894

  • Switchmen organize a national union.
  • A federal law recognizes Labor Day as an official holiday for federal workers, establishing it as a national holiday.
  • William Hope "Coin" Harvey publishes Coin's Financial School, a treatise supporting the free coinage of silver.
  • Mar.: American Federationist,  the AFL's monthly journal, begins publication.
  • Mar. 25-May 1: In Massillon, Ohio, Coxey's Army begins its march to Washington, D.C., to persuade Congress to fund a public works program for the unemployed.  Marchers arrive on Apr. 29, but on May 1 police prevent Coxey from speaking at the Capitol and attack crowds that gather to hear him.
  • May 11: Pullman strike erupts. On June 26, the American Railway Union boycotts Pullman cars and on July 2, an injunction is issued against ARU leaders including Eugene Debs. On July 4 federal troops arrive in Chicago.   Persuaded that the strike is already lost, the AFL votes not to endorse a general strike on July 12.
  • June 11-12: Representatives from the AFL, Knights of Labor, populists, railroad brotherhoods and various trade unions hold a unity conference in St. Louis but fail to overcome their differences.
  • Dec. : The AFL convention elects Andrew Furuseth, of the Seamen, and Adolph Strasser, of the Cigar Makers, to serve as a legislative committee in Washington, D.C., to secure seamen's legislation.
  • Dec. 14-15: The AFL convention debates whether or not to endorse a political program that favors independent political action and the collective ownership of the means of production. Although a number of planks are accepted, the program as a whole is defeated.
  • Dec. 17: John McBride, president of the United Mine Workers, unseats Gompers as AFL president.

1895

  • Actors, leather workers, and tobacco workers organize national unions.
  • National Association of Manufacturers is organized.
  • Apr.-July: Gompers tours the South and Midwest as an organizer for the United Garment Workers.
  • June-Nov.: Eugene Debs is jailed in Illinois' Woodstock Prison for violating the 1894 Pullman strike injunction.
  • Sept.: The General Confederation of Labor is organized in France.
  • Sept 2-7: Gompers and P. J. McGuire, of the Carpenters Union, are delegates to the British Trade Union Congress in Cardiff.
  • Dec. 13: With Daniel DeLeon as leader, the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance is established in New York City to organize trade unions committed to the Socialist Labor Party.  Because these unions competed with established AFL unions, they alienated both socialists and trade unionists.
  • Dec. 14: Gompers is elected president of the AFL, a position he retains for the rest of his life.

1896

  • Bridge and structural iron workers and steam engineers organize national unions.
  • June 19: Western Federation of Miners strike begins in Leadville, Col., after mine managers refuse to raise wages.  By Sept., violence erupts and dynamite explosions lead to riots, assaults and death, and the arrival of the militia.  In the course of the strike, which ended in defeat the following spring, WFM leader Ed Boyce breaks with Gompers over the question of strike benefits and AFL policy.  
  • July 27-Aug. 1: The International Socialist Workers' and Trades Union Congress meets in London.

1897

  • Meatcutters organize a national union.
  • Jan. : AFL headquarters move to Washington, D.C., and Frank Morrison takes office as secretary.  
  • June 17-21: Social Democracy of America organizes in Chicago under the leadership of Eugene Debs. It plans to establish the national Co-operative Commonwealth in Washington state.
  • July 4-Sept. 11: United Mine Workers of America strike in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
  • Sept. 10: Striking miners in Luzerne County, Pa., are shot and killed by the sheriff and deputies in the "Lattimer massacre." Gompers covers the trial for the New York World  in February 1898.
  • Dec. 20-22: The National Building Trades Council is organized in St. Louis.

1898

  • Piano and organ workers, stationary firemen, team drivers, and tin plate workers organize national unions; Western Federation of Miners withdraws from AFL.
  • Jan 17-May 20: New England textile workers strike.
  • Feb. 28: The U.S. Supreme Court upholds constitutionality of Utah 8-hour law  (Holden v. Hardy).
  • May 10: The Western Labor Union organizes in Salt Lake City.   It favors industrial organization and independent labor party politics.
  • June 1: The Erdman Act is passed, providing for voluntary mediation or arbitration of railroad disputes and prohibiting contracts that discriminate against union labor or release employers from legal liability for injuries.
  • June 11: The Social Democratic Party is organized as a "class conscious, revolutionary, socialist organization." Eugene Debs and Victor Berger are members of the Executive Board.
  • June 18: Act establishing the U.S. Industrial Commission is signed into law.
  • Aug. 20: Gompers addresses the National Conference on Foreign Policy of the United States at Saratoga Springs, NY. As part of a committee of conference participants, he presents a series of resolutions to President William McKinley.
  • Dec. : AFL convention formally endorses equal pay for equal work for women workers and authorizes Executive Council to support the campaign for voting rights for citizens of the District of Columbia.

1899

  • Wood, wire, and metal lathers organize a national union.
  • AFL Executive Council establishes a legislative committee to press the AFL's goals in Congress.
  • Santiago Iglesias helps organize the Federacion Libre de los Trabajadores de Puerto Rico (Free Federation of the Workers of Puerto Rico).
  • The Liga General de Trabajadores (General League of Cuban Workers) is organized.
  • Jan. 24-26: General Federation of Trade Unions of Great Britain and Ireland organizes in Manchester.
  • Apr. 22: Gompers begins an organizing trip to the west, visiting cities in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. On May 2, while he is speaking in Des Moines, he learns via telegram that his daughter, Rose, has died. After he returns to New York City, he travels to Washington, D.C., and then resumes his trip, stopping in Salt Lake City, Leadville, Denver, Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago, among other western cities. He returns to Washington at the end of June.
  • Apr. 23: Miners in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, strike. On Apr. 29, strikers commandeer a train, attack the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mine in Wardner, and destroy machinery. Federal troops are sent on Apr. 30 and martial law is declared on May 3. Some 700 men are arrested, and troops remain in the district until Apr. 1901.
  • Dec. 20: AFL convention endorses a constitutional amendment to give women the right to vote.
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