1) Great Southwest Railroad Strike
> No. of strikers: 200,000
> Period: March to September, 1886
> Affected area: Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Texas
By the end of the 1800s, the American railroad was expanding quickly. In 1886, the Knights of Labor went on strike at the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads, owned by robber baron Jay Gould. Hundreds of thousands of workers across five states refused to work, citing unsafe conditions and unfair hours and pay. The strike suffered from a lack of commitment from other railroad unions, the successful hiring of nonunion workers by Gould and from violence and scare tactics. Eventually, the strike failed and the Knights of Labor disbanded soon afterwards.
2) The Pullman Strike
> No. of strikers: 250,000
> Period: May 11 to mid-July, 1894
> Affected area: Chicago, Illinois
Facing 12-hour work days and wage cuts resulting from the depressed economy, factory workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company walked out in protest. The workers were soon joined by members of the American Railway Union (ARU), who refused to work on or run any trains, including Pullman-owned cars. Soon enough, 250,000 industry workers joined in the strike, effectively shutting down train traffic to the west of Chicago. The strike ended when President Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to Chicago on July 6, 1894. However, widespread sympathy for the workers’ cause promoted prounion sentiment across many areas of the country.
3) Great Anthracite Coal Strike
> No. of strikers: 147,000
> Period: May to October, 1902
> Affected area: Eastern Pennsylvania
At the turn of the last century, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) began a strike that threatened to create an energy crisis. Seeking better wages and conditions, the union went on strike in eastern Pennsylvania, an area that contained the majority of the nation’s supply of anthracite coal. As the winter of 1903 approached President Theodore Roosevelt became concerned that a heating crisis could develop and attempted to intervene — unsuccessfully. Industrialist and financier J.P. Morgan believed the strike could threaten his businesses and made a deal with the union. The UMWA’s initial demands were for a 20% wage increase. They wound up with a 10% raise.
4) Steel Strike of 1919
> No. of strikers: 350,000
> Period: September 1919 to January 1920
> Affected area: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Following World War I, United States Steel Corporation workers represented by the American Federation of Labor (AFL) organized a strike against poor working conditions, long hours, low wages and corporate harassment regarding union involvement. The number of strikers quickly grew to 350,000, shutting down nearly half of the steel industry. Company owners, however, invoked public concerns over communism and immigration as a way of turning public sentiment against the unions. This resulted in the strike’s failure and ensured an absence of union organization in the steel industry for the next 15 years.
5) Railroad Shop Workers Strike of 1922
> No. of strikers: 400,000
> Period: July to October, 1922
> Affected area: nationwide
In 1922, the railroad labor board announced that wages for railroad shop workers would be cut by 7 cents — a considerable sum at the time. In early July of that year, 400,000 rail shop laborers from a conglomeration of unions went on strike. The great American railroads responded, immediately employing nonunion workers to replace three-quarters of the empty positions. After the strike had lasted for some time, U.S. Attorney General Harry Daugherty persuaded a federal judge to ban all strike-related activities. The unions knew the ban put an end to their efforts and settled in October for a 5 cent pay cut and went back to work.