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The Labor Movement in the U.S.

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ImageWith the Labor Day holiday Kicking off the month of September, The Black Voice News will run a series on the labor movement in the United States.  Week one will focus on the history/timeline of the labor movement. Week Two will highlight education in the movement, Week Three focuses on the sacrifices in the struggle, and Week Four focuses on the positives of being in a union and benefits of being a union worker. Functioning as legally recognized representatives of workers in numerous industries, the most prominent unions are found among public sector employees such as teachers and police.
Activity by labor unions in the United States today centers on collective bargaining over wages, benefits, and working conditions for their membership and on representing their members if management attempts to violate contract provisions. American unions remain an important political factor, both through mobilization of their own memberships and through coalitions with like-minded activist organizations around issues such as immigrant rights, trade policy, health care, and living wage campaigns.  If you would like your union activities highlighted in this series, contact BVN Editor Lee Ragin at leeragin@blackvoicenews.com 


Labor History Timeline


The Supreme Court rules that a maximum-hours law is unconstitutional.


San Francisco Streetcar Workers Union is crushed after 25 workers are killed and hundreds wounded in battles with strikebreakers; San Francisco and Los Angeles women trade unionists form the Wage Earners Suffrage League.


Los Angeles Times building bombed by Ironworkers national secretary-treasurer John McNamara and his brother James; 20 workers die.


The McNamaras, on advice of their attorney, Clarence Darrow, confess guilt ; confession four days before election ruins labor/Socialist candidate Job Harriman's bid for Los Angeles mayor; LA stays open shop town for another quarter century; California Legislature passes workers comp and eight hour day for women laws.


Massachusetts adopts the first minimum-wage act for women and minors.


California's Wheatland Hop Riot begins with protest against horrible working conditions on Durst ranch, leads to statewide witch hunt against IWW members and other labor activists; the U.S. Department of Labor gets the power to act as mediator and to appoint commissioners of conciliation in labor disputes.


The Clayton Act passes, limiting injunctions in labor disputes. Picketing and other union activities declared legal.


Preparedness Day Bombing: labor activist Tom Mooney convicted on perjured testimony of setting off a bomb; "Defend Tom Mooney" a labor demand until Governor Culbert Olson pardons him in 1939; S.F. Riggers and Stevedores dock strike fails; the Adamson Act establishes an eight-hour day for work on railroads. The law is enacted to eliminate a threatened nationwide railroad strike.


California Legislature passes Criminal Syndicalism Act, on the books until 1968, providing sweeping anti- union powers to law enforcement agencies; California teacher union locals form the California State Federation of Teachers.


John L. Lewis is elected president of the United Mine Workers of America, at the age of 40, taking control of the largest labor union in the nation.


U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Clayton Act does not legalize boycotts and does not protect unions against injunctions against them for restraint of trade.


Marine and Transport Workers Industrial Union (IWW) strikes the west coast, briefly shutting down harbors before being brutally repressed.


Several Hollywood unions sign first Studio Basic Agreement; the Railway Labor Act requires employers to bargain collectively and bars discrimination against employees for joining a union. It sets provisions for settling railway labor disputes through mediation, voluntary arbitration and fact-finding boards.


U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Railway Labor Act prohibiting employers from interfering or coercing workers choosing bargaining representatives.


The Davis-Bacon Act passes, providing for payment of prevailing wage rates to laborers and mechanics employed by contractors and subcontractors on public construction.


The Anti-Injunction Act passes, prohibiting some federal injunctions in labor disputes and outlawing "yellow-dog" contracts - agreements where an employee agrees not to join a union. Wisconsin adopts the nation's first unemployment insurance act. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected president, as the country endures its fourth year of depression.


International Ladies Garment Workers Union, led by organizer Rose Pesotta, runs successful strike of mostly Latina garment workers in Los Angeles; 20,000 cotton workers strike throughout California's central valleys; the National Industrial Recovery Act passes, guaranteeing the right of employees of companies with government contracts to organize and bargain collectively. Later declared unconstitutional.


San Francisco General Strike: the key event of modern west coast industrial unionism, led by longshoremen and sailors; Alameda County workers go out too, including streetcar drivers, calling for the municipalization of the privately-held streetcar company; general strikes in other cities.


The National Labor Relations Act, also known as The Wagner Act, establishes the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. The federal Social Security Act passes the same year. Unemployment insurance program is authorized by the act.


The Anti Strikebreaker Act makes it unlawful to bring in strikebreakers from outside the state; the Public Contracts Act establishes a minimum wage, the eight hours a day and a 40 hours week on government contracts. Includes child and convict labor provisions, health and safety requirements; the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor votes to expel all labor members who claim affiliation with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO, which is being led by the UMW president John L. Lewis.


California CIO Council formed by several unions disagreeing with AF-of-L focus on craft unionism; CIO unions organize on industrial basis, and are committed to civil rights; 99-day maritime workers strike in California is a sharp contrast to the violence of the 1934 maritime and General Strikes; U.S. Supreme Court rules the National Labor Relations Act constitutional.


Culbert Olsen becomes the first Democrat to be elected Governor in the 20th century in California, with broad support of newly powerful unions; the Fair Labor Standards Act provides for a 25¢ minimum wage and time-and-a-half for hours worked in excess of 40 hours a week; John L. Lewis, seeking to organize steelworkers, secures a labor contract with the president of the world's largest steel company, United States Steel, but the smaller companies that collectively were known as "Little Steel" brutally fought steelworkers. Scores of deaths and injuries occurred as the United Steelworkers of America struck at Little Steel plants across the industrial northeast.


California Governor Culbert Olsen fulfills campaign promise and frees Tom Mooney


Thousands of workers at North American Aviation in southern California go on a wildcat strike, only to have it broken up by federal troops.


Shipyards in Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, Sausalito and Vallejo employ 240,000 union workers around the clock during World War II; aircraft factories and shipyards in Los Angeles and San Pedro; African-American workers struggle for inclusion in AFL Boilermakers Union.


The Committee on Fair Employment Practices is created by President Roosevelt. The intent is to eliminate discrimination in war industries and in government for reasons of race, creed, color or national origin. This comes about after A. Philip Randolph, of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Cars Porters, makes clear that he will organize a national March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom, unless the Administrations acts on the issue of employment discrimination. Exactly 20 years later, Randolph leads the March on Washington, at which a minister by the name of Martin Luther King gives an address that captivates the nation.


Jurisdictional conflict between IATSE and other unions lead to series of strikes by militant Conference of Studio Unions in Hollywood; studio bosses successfully pit one group of unions against another; beginning of Red Scare in Hollywood, the state and nation.


Oakland General Strike: California voters reject Proposition 11, which would have created a Fair Employment Practices Act.


Longest farmworker strike to that time: National Farm Labor Union Local 218, led by Ernesto Galarza, vs. DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation; doesn't end until 1950; the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act passes over President Harry Truman's veto. It rolls back protections contained in the NLRA for worker militancy.


ILWU leaves CIO rather than be ejected for "Communist domination." Ten other CIO unions are kicked out; the Fair Labor Standards Act is amended to prohibit child labor.


California union membership hits all-time peak as percentage of the non-farm labor workforce: 40.8%


AFL and CIO unions in California join with community groups to create a coalition for a Fair Employment Practices Act, chaired by Oakland labor and civil rights leader C. L. Dellums.


The American Federation of Labor merges with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, to form the AFL-CIO, the world's largest labor federation.


California AFL and CIO unions join in grassroots effort to defeat Oakland Tribune publisher William Knowland in his bid for Governor, and to stop Knowland's "Right to Work" Proposition 18; California AFL and CIO unions reunite in the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.


California Governor Edmund G. ("Pat") Brown signs the Fair Employment Practices Act; the national Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act becomes law. Protects rights of union members by requiring reporting of union business practices and safeguarding union election procedures.


ILWU signs Mechanization and Modernization Agreement, which pioneers the tradeoff of members' job security for the employers' right to introduce labor-saving equipment.


The Manpower Development and Training Act passes, requiring the federal government to deal with unemployment resulting from automation and technological changes. Executive order grants federal employees the right to bargain collectively.


The Equal Pay Act is signed. It prohibits different wages based upon worker's sex under the Fair Labor Standards Act.


The Civil Rights Act is signed into law. Title VII bars discrimination; The Economic Opportunity Act becomes law, providing work and education programs, loans to low-income farmers, businesses and other community anti-poverty programs.


United Farm Workers Organizing Committee formed by merger of Cesar Chavez's National Farm Workers Association & the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, during the Delano grape strike in California.


Amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act extend minimum wage protection to 10 million workers previously excluded.


California Legislature passes Meyers-Milius-Brown Act, legalizing collective bargaining for public sector workers (except public education), in response to series of actions organized by mostly social workers organized by SEIU; the national Age Discrimination Act becomes effective, making it illegal for employers, union, and employment agencies to discriminate in hiring and discharge against persons 40 to 65 years old.


Hawaii becomes the first state to allow state and local government employees the right to strike; President Nixon signs the Occupational Safety and Health Act, authorizing the Secretary of Labor to establish safety and health standards at work.


The Employee Retirement Income Security Act becomes law, regulating all private pension plans and, to a limited extent, private welfare plans.


Rodda Act passes in California, legalizing collective bargaining for public education employees, after a decade of strikes and organizing by teachers; the Trade Act of 1974 passes. Designed to help workers who lose their jobs because of imports.


The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is amended, raising compulsory retirement for most workers from 65 to 70. Eliminates age 70 mandatory retirement wage for federal workers; President Jimmy Carter signs the Civil Service Reform Act, providing an independent appeal process, protection against abuse in the merit system and incentive for good and skilled management.


First Comparable Worth strike in United States, conducted by AFSCME Local 101 in San Jose; women achieve pay equity in city government jobs; President Ronald Reagan warns the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) that he would fired every member if they struck. They did and he did, resulting in the termination of all 10,000 federal air traffic controllers.


The Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) establishes local partnership from private and public employers who receive federal funds for job training and employment. Replaced the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA).


First AFL-CIO sponsored Union Summer, in which hundreds of young activists are trained and then placed with union organizing drives.


California's Industrial Welfare Commission overturns state regulations for overtime pay after an eight hour day. California workers now only receive time-and-a- half after forty hours work in a week.


Voters defeat Proposition 226 in California, known to union members as the "Paycheck Deception Act," which was designed to cripple unions' ability to spend money on politics and legislative action.


Governor Gray Davis and the state Legislature bring back daily overtime provisions repealed by the Industrial Welfare Commission appointed by former Governor Pete Wilson; southern California home care workers vote to join SEIU, which negotiates a contract covering 74,000 workers, the largest unit brought into the labor movement in fifty years; the AFL-CIO votes to support amnesty and to end employer sanctions for employing immigrants illegally in the country. 1905

The Supreme Court rules that a maximum-hours law is unconstitutional.

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