About 45,000 Verizon (NYSE: VZ) workers have walked off the job after their contract expired and management and union failed to reach a deal. While 45,000 sounds impressive, it doesn’t come close to some of the biggest strikes in American history.
Tensions between labor and management often cause work stoppages known as strikes. Management has always wanted more work for as little pay as possible. Labor has always wanted what it considers fair compensation.
The current Verizon strike takes place a few years after the company reached its apex in terms of market penetration and as its landline business began to slow. But labor strife has always been greatest just as industries have reached their peaks, enjoying great financial strength and employing large numbers of workers.
The earliest large strikes, although perhaps not the largest, were at textile companies that handled the finishing of cotton and other raw goods from the South. Most of these companies were based in the labor-heavy Northeast and Midwest.
From there, the labor movement migrated to railroads and mining and steel companies. Until Andrew Carnegie, steel had not been a huge industry. The use of steel expanded with the needs and growth of the shipping industry, as well as automobiles and other manufactured consumer and commercial goods. Eventually, steel strikes became some of the more violent ones.
The rise of the automobile caused the next great labor disputes as workers fought for better conditions in the huge factories of the Midwest. As transportation moved from ground to air, airlines became among the largest employers in the country, and the industry’s most variable cost.
The history of the American strike helped to eventually create the nation’s great middle class.
The ten biggest strikes in American history (in chronological order):