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History of workers' strikes in America

Stacker Logo By Michele Zipkin of Stacker | Slide 1 of 31: Before the U.S. was even a nation, labor strikes drove significant social and economic change. From the founding of the first major U.S. labor union, the Knights of Labor, to the development of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), labor unions have helped employees stand up to the companies they work for in order to secure higher wages, safer working conditions, and bigger benefits. Although the frequency of strikes and positive outcomes have fluctuated over the years, walkouts are still vehicles through which American workers can try to pressure management into offering better pay rates and improvements in working environments.

Some periods of U.S. history saw higher incidents of labor stoppages than others, such as the years directly following World War I and World War II. Strikes in the U.S. became more prevalent during these periods than in other times, with wages and union recognition typically at the heart of the labor conflicts that arose in industries like mining and automobiles.

But strikes aren't just a thing of the past. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 20 major labor strikes occurred in 2018. That represents the highest number of strikes in a single year since 2007 when the country began its descent into the Great Recession. Most of these strikes involved workers in the education, health care, and social service sectors.

Funding for American public schools and compensation for teachers have been long-standing issues, as is apparent from the string of teachers' strikes throughout the decades. The year 2018 saw a surge of teacher walkouts, starting with the West Virginia teachers' strike in which 20,000 public school professionals demanded better pay and more affordable health care. Teachers in Arizona, Colorado, and other states followed suit, all fighting for higher wages. Most recently, teachers in Los Angeles walked off the job in pursuit of similar reforms, such as smaller class sizes, more support staff, and a pay increase.

Read on to learn about some of the largest and most important labor strikes in American history, from the 1619 Jamestown Polish craftsmen strike to 21st-century strikes in the automotive, communications, and education fields. Data is compiled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, publications like The Wall Street Journal and Fortune, as well as the AFL-CIO.

You may also like: 30 victories for workers' rights won by organized labor over the years

Strikes aren't just a thing of the past

Before the U.S. was even a nation, labor strikes drove significant social and economic change. From the founding of the first major U.S. labor union, the Knights of Labor, to the development of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), labor unions have helped employees stand up to the companies they work for in order to secure higher wages, safer working conditions, and bigger benefits.

Although the frequency of strikes and positive outcomes have fluctuated over the years, walkouts are still vehicles through which American workers can try to pressure management into offering better pay rates and improvements in working environments.

Some periods of U.S. history saw higher incidents of labor stoppages than others, such as the years directly following World War I and World War II. Strikes in the U.S. became more prevalent during these periods than in other times, with wages and union recognition typically at the heart of the labor conflicts that arose in industries like mining and automobiles.

You may also like: 30 victories for workers' rights won by organized labor over the years

But strikes aren't just a thing of the past. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 20 major labor strikes occurred in 2018. That represents the highest number of strikes in a single year since 2007 when the country began its descent into the Great Recession. Most of these strikes involved workers in the education, health care, and social service sectors.

Funding for American public schools and compensation for teachers have been long-standing issues, as is apparent from the string of teachers' strikes throughout the decades. The year 2018 saw a surge of teacher walkouts, starting with the West Virginia teachers' strike in which 20,000 public school professionals demanded better pay and more affordable health care. Teachers in Arizona, Colorado, and other states followed suit, all fighting for higher wages. Most recently, teachers in Los Angeles walked off the job in pursuit of similar reforms, such as smaller class sizes, more support staff, and a pay increase.

Read on to learn about some of the largest and most important labor strikes in American history, from the 1619 Jamestown Polish craftsmen strike to 21st-century strikes in the automotive, communications, and education fields. Data is compiled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, publications like The Wall Street Journal and Fortune, as well as the AFL-CIO.

Click ahead for the history of workers' strikes in America.

© Ben Shahn // Picryl

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