top of page

U.S. Labor History

Rosie The Riveter Works On B-17 Flying Fortress
We Want the 40 Hour Week
No Strikes - Vote NO
Samuel Mackay Napanee - Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere
Solidarity Forever
Lawrence Textile Strike a.k.a - the Bread and Roses Strike
FlexJobs Honors Labor Day and American Workers
Industrial Revolution - child labor attrocities
A Worker Unity March
Great Flint Sit-Down Strike (1937-38) - Strikers Quit Auto Plants - Operations to Resume

The Labor Movement in the U. S. has a Turbulent History

From the time that the American Colonies were established (in the early 1600s) there were labor struggles between workers and land owners. Indentured servants as well as slaves were used to make the rich richer. The United States of America was founded by Revolutionists who fought for their independence against an Imperialistic Power. Similarly, the stories of American Labor struggles have a sometimes radical and turbulent history that pitted working class people against Industrialists, Corporate Management and “Robber Barons” who used industrial spies, hired goons, police (local, state and federal), judges, a sometimes hostile press, propaganda and politicians (including mayors, governors and even some Presidents of the United States) to fight against worker rights.

Despite incredible odds against the American workers who engaged in labor struggles - their efforts won many benefits most people have no idea of, or simply take for granted today. Some of the notable benefits that have been earned during the history of American Labor struggles are:

Fair Wages, Seniority Rights, Union Recognition, Anti-Child Labor Laws, the Labor Day Holiday, Unemployment Compensation, Workplace Safety and Health Laws (OSHA), Minimum Wage, the 40 Hour Workweek, Pension Plans…

Labor History Timeline: 1607 – 1999 - (Colonial America and the United States)

Significant Events in United States Labor History

Recent and Current Events in the U. S. Labor Movement

* Supreme Court deals blow to unions, rules against forced fees for government workers (Published: 6/27/2018)

​​​* The U.S. labor shortage is reaching a critical point (Published: 7/5/2018)

* ‘Not your father’s labor market’: Hiring is strong, but workers still aren’t seeing big raises (Published: 7/6/2018)

* Employment Situation Summary - Bureau of Labor Statistics (Published: 7/6/2018)

* Labor and Technology Reporting: Two Concentric Circles (Published: 7/11/2018)

* Ending the Dead-End-Job Trap (Published: 7/12/2018)

* Guatemalan Immigrant Luisa Moreno Was Expelled From the U.S. for Her Groundbreaking Labor Activism - The little-known story of an early champion of workers’ rights receives new recognition (Published: 7/26/2018)

* The number of workers on strike hits the highest since the 1980s - (October 21, 2019)

* ‘Google is no longer listening’: four fired workers file charges against tech giant - (December 3, 2019)

* Death on the Job: Why do so many US workers fall to their deaths?  - (January 20, 2020)

* Actors' union creates 'landmark' rules for filming sex scenes - (January 30, 2020)

* Neuro-Surveillance and the Right to be Human at Work - (February 15, 2020)

* UAW leader who likely died of COVID-19 helped create middle class, friend says - April 2020


* Ex-UAW President Williams set to plead guilty in union embezzlement scheme - September 9, 2020


* North Carolina Nurses’ Union Victory Is One for the History Books - September 29, 2020

* How a Scrappy Group of Tech Workers Formed One of the Only Unions in the Industry - October 7, 2020

COVID-19 Crisis: Workers and the Labor Movement

Notable People in United States Labor History

Acronyms, Definitions and Terminology related to the Labor Movement in the United States

Historic Labor Movement Posters 

Historic Labor Movement Buttons 

Detailed Stories about Various Episodes in U.S. Labor History

Indentured Servitude in Colonial America

First of all it is important to define what an indentured servant was during the Colonial America era. Indentured servants first arrived in America in the decade following the settlement of Jamestown by the Virginia Company in 1607. The idea of indentured servitude was born of a need for cheap labor. The earliest settlers soon realized that they had lots of land to care for, but no one to care for it. With passage to the Colonies expensive for all but the wealthy, the Virginia Company developed the system of indentured servitude to attract workers. Indentured servants became vital to the colonial economy.

The timing of the Virginia colony was ideal. The Thirty Year's War had left Europe's economy depressed, and many skilled and unskilled laborers were without work. A new life in the New World offered a glimmer of hope; this explains how one-half to two-thirds of the immigrants who came to the American colonies arrived as indentured servants. Servants typically worked four to seven years in exchange for passage, room, board, lodging and freedom dues. While the life of an indentured servant was harsh and restrictive, it wasn't slavery. There were laws that protected some of their rights. But their life was not an easy one, and the punishments meted out to people who wronged were harsher than those for non-servants. An indentured servant's contract could be extended as punishment for breaking a law, such as running away, or in the case of female servants, becoming pregnant. For those that survived the work and received their freedom package, many historians argue that they were better off than those new immigrants who came freely to the country. Their contract may have included at least 25 acres of land, a year's worth of corn, arms, a cow and new clothes. Some servants did rise to become part of the colonial elite, but for the majority of indentured servants that survived the treacherous journey by sea and the harsh conditions of life in the New World, satisfaction was a modest life as a freeman in a burgeoning colonial economy.

In 1619, when black Africans came to Virginia (now known as the "20 and Odd Negroes" that were captured by English privateers from a slave ship heading to Spanish colonies) there were no slave laws in place and they were initially treated as indentured servants, and given the same opportunities for freedom as white indentured servants. However, slave laws were soon passed – in Massachusetts in 1641 and Virginia in 1661 – and any small freedoms that might have existed for blacks in the English colonies were taken away.

As demands for labor grew, so did the cost of indentured servants. Many landowners also felt threatened by newly freed servants demand for land. The colonial elite realized the problems of indentured servitude. Landowners turned to African slaves as a more profitable and ever-renewable source of labor and the shift from indentured servants to racial slavery had begun.



The Southern Colonies

Indentured Servants In The U.S.

Indentured Servitude in Colonial America

Black Legion

During the 1930’s, a political organization called the Black Legion splintered from the Ku Klux Klan. Their membership numbers were estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000. They were active in the Michigan and Ohio areas of the United States. The Associated Press described the organization on May 31, 1936, as a group of loosely federated night-riding bands operating in several States without central discipline or common purpose beyond the enforcement by lash and pistol of individual leaders' notions of "Americanism." Twelve men associated with the Black Legion kidnapped and murdered Charles Poole, a Works Progress Administration worker. Their arrests and convictions led to the disbanding of the organization and its reign of terror.




The Black Legion - Where Vets and the Klan Met


The Black Legion Rides - by George Morris - 1936

Great Sit-Down Strike in Flint, Michigan

The Great Sit-Down Strike in Flint, Michigan (December 30, 1936 thru February 11, 1937) was a very important event in American history. Worker determination and community mobilization forced major corporations to address worker rights. Solidarity brought workers together to the point that they were not acting as individuals - they were part of an organization. One of the doctrines of the times was “Get Wise Organize!” Read the following paper that explores various aspects of this historical event and find out how workers took on the government, police, corporate thugs and negative propaganda and won one of the most important struggles in American Labor History.




Sit-Down For Dignity




With Babies and Banners: Story of the Women's Emergency Brigade (1979)


Flint Sit Down Strike – Part 1


Flint Sit Down Strike – Part 2


The Great Sit-Down – Yesterday’s Witness in America


Bold Flint Sit-Down Strike Has Lessons for Today


Flint Sit Down Strike (1936-37) - UAW History

Molly Maguires

The Molly Maguires were a secret society in 19th century Ireland and were active in the United States (although that has been debated for over 100 years.) The "Mollies" are mostly known for their activism against the repression of coal mine industry management and ownership in the Pennsylvania coal region area. After a series of often violent conflicts, twenty suspected members of the Molly Maguires were convicted of murder and other crimes and were executed by hanging in 1877 and 1878. The history surrounding the Molly Maguires remains mysterious and is part of local Pennsylvania lore.




The Legend of the Molly Maguires


Who Were the Molly Maguires?




The Molly Maguires: The Life Of A Tragic History


Jail in Jim Thorpe, PA with 'ghost' hand – The Molly Maguires

Child Labor in the Industrial Revolution

Child labor refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful. During the Industrial Revolution (19th and 20th centuries) many children aged 5 through 14 mainly from poorer families worked in agriculture, home-based assembly operations, factories, mining and in services such as news boys. Some worked night shifts lasting 12 hours.




Child Labor in the United States




The Fight to End Child Labor

bottom of page