Our Labor History Timeline

Jason Cheng

Throughout our history, the labor movement has accomplished a lot. If you get weekends off or overtime pay, thank the union members who fought for those rights. None of our movement’s achievements would have happened without the effort, organization and advocacy of our brothers and sisters. But injustice still runs amok. We must look to the past not only for inspiration, but for the tools we need to continue the fight. The roots of the problems we face today can be found in our past. So can the beginnings of the solutions we need for our future.

The labor history timeline highlights the key events and the people who helped bring about radical changes in the workplace and society.

Power concedes nothing without demands | Frederick Douglass

The Labor Movement and Gender Equality

Some of the earliest organizing efforts in the United States were young women working at mills. From that point forward, the labor movement has played a central role in the advancement of women’s rights.

1834 First turnout of “mill girls” in Lowell, Massachusetts, to protect wage cuts

1843 Lowell Female Labor Reform Association begins public petitioning for 10-hour day

1871 After her dress shop is destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones begins working as a labor organizer

1903 Women’s Trade Union League formed at the AFL convention

1909 “Uprising of the 20,000” female shirtwaist makers in New York strike against sweatshop conditions

1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York kills nearly 150 workers

1912 Bread and Roses strike begun by immigrant women in Lawrence, Massachusetts, ended with 23,000 men, women and children on strike and with as many as 20,000 on the picket line

1933 Frances Perkins becomes the U.S. secretary of labor, the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Cabinet

1963 Equal Pay Act bans wage discrimination based on gender

1974 Coalition of Labor Union Women founded

2009 President Barack Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored the rights of working women to sue over pay discrimination

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