- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 1947 The Taft-Hartley Labor Act limits some of the powers of unions and the circumstances under which they can strike.
- 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.
- 1965 Mexican American labor leader Cesar Chavez garners national attention for the plight of farm workers by spearheading what becomes a five-year California grape pickers strike. Chavez's union, the NFWA, primarily made up of Mexican Americans, joined forces with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), primarily made up of Filipino Americans, in undertaking the successful strike.
- 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.
The Teamsters and Service Employees unions announced their withdrawal from the AFL-CIO. The split is considered organized labor's worst crisis since 1935, when the CIO split from the AFL. A few days later, another one of the country's largest unions, the United Food and Commercial Workers, also withdraws.
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