A Memorial Day steel workers strike in Chicago turned violent when tensions between demonstrators and police peaked. The police threw tear-gas bombs into the crowd and opened fire on the demonstrators. Ten people were killed and dozens more injured.
As the Depression dragged on, bitter labor-management warfare erupted. In 1934, 1.5 million American workers went on strike. Auto and steel workers and longshoremen became involved in violent strikes. In Minneapolis, police shot sixty-seven striking Teamsters. In August, textile workers staged the largest strike the country had ever seen. 110,000 workers struck in Massachusetts, 60,000 in Georgia. While some of the strikes aimed at higher wages, fully a third demanded union recognition.
Labor unrest forced the federal government to step into labor relations and forge a compromise between management and labor. Under the Wagner Act of 1935 (the National Labor Relations Act), the federal government guaranteed the right of employees to form unions and bargain collectively. It also set up the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which had the power to prohibit unfair labor practices by employers.
Laborers from the National Farm Workers Association and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee initiated the Delano grape strike and boycott. The strike continued into 1966, when the NFWA and AWOC merged to become the United Farmworkers Organizing Committee. The UFOC was led by César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and others. The strike and boycott ended in 1970 when the UFOC secured three-year contracts with grape growers.
In response to falling steel prices, Henry C. Frick, the general manager of Andrew Carnegie’s steel plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania, cut wages and attempted to quash the workers’ Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. The workers protested, and Frick closed the mills and refused to negotiate with the union, declaring that he would only deal with individual workers. The workers tried to appeal to Carnegie, who had defended unionization, but Carnegie made himself unavailable. The workers voted to strike, and Frick hired a private...
Pullman Palace Car Company workers initiated a boycott of Pullman train cars through the American Railway Union. The boycott, observed by 150,000 members of the American Railway Union, stopped rail traffic in and out of Chicago and affected rail traffic across the country. The US Attorney General issued an injunction against the striking workers, and President Grover Cleveland sent federal forces to protect trains being run by non-union strikebreakers. Pro-union mobs destroyed trains and buildings, leading to the jailing of union and strike...
Labor agents were facilitators of black migration during the Jim Crow era. Labor agents were paid by northern industrialists to recruit southern blacks to work in factories in the North. Though labor agents helped bring black workers to the North, many African Americans eventually returned to the South after finding work and living conditions in the industrialized North untenable.
The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, a private security force, was often hired to put down strikes during the labor disputes of the late nineteenth century. Most famously, the Pinkerton Agency clashed with strikers at Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead steel plant outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1892.