This 1877 cover of Harper's Weekly shows the blockade of engines at Martinsburg, West Virginia, in the Great Railroad Strike.
Workers have been fighting for better pay, workplace safety, schedules they could live with, and more power on the job throughout American history—since before there was a United States of America. From the Polish craftsmen who went on strike for the right to vote in Jamestown in 1619 to the many campaigns going on today, labor struggle is an American tradition, and one that has shaped the world we live and work in. This Labor Day weekend, we're looking at some of that history, in pictures, from the Great Railroad Strike of 1877—in which tens of thousands took to the streets and governors and ultimately the president sent troops against them—to the fast food and Walmart workers striking and fighting against unbelievable odds today.
Los Angeles McDonald's workers strike in 2013.
There's a bumper sticker that reminds us about "the labor movement: the folks who brought you the weekend." And it did. But today, many workers' schedules continue to be at the mercy of their bosses, who require them to be available at any time on short notice for what might turn out to be only a few hours of work. The minimum wage is a poverty wage and the proportion of workers eligible for overtime has been chipped away, but many workers still don't get the wages they earn and are legally owed. Thousands of workers are still killed on the job every year. And inequality is sky high, and not going down unless and until workers build the power to fight it.
So come below the fold for more images of where we've been, where we are, and how workers have fought and continue to fight.
Garment workers staged the "Uprising of the 20,000" in New York City in 1909-1910. Just a year later, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire highlighted the conditions they faced.
Militiamen with fixed bayonets face off with strikers carrying American flags in the Lawrence Textile Strike, 1912.
Strikers guard a window entrance during the Flint sit-down strike, 1937.
The Memphis sanitation workers strike is most remembered for the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., but we cannot separate it from the history of labor struggle.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the United Farm Workers organized boycotts of agricultural products like lettuce and grapes. Farm workers continue to face low wages, terrible working conditions, and abuse on the job.
In 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for better pay, smaller classes, textbooks for their students, and more.
The American garment industry may not kill many American workers these days, but the death toll of the Triangle Fire was dwarfed by those of the Tazreen fire and the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, where many clothes are manufactured for American consumers.
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