Biggest Strike Waves in US History – 24/7 Wall St.

Special report

The state of the unions in America today is not encouraging for the labor movement. In 1983, the first year for which data are available, some 20.1% of the US workforce, or about 17.7 million people, belonged to unions. Last year, there were only about 14 million unionized workers, or 10.3% of the workforce.

Organized labor has been on the defensive for years as the economy has moved away from businesses employing traditional blue collar workers. twenty-seven states, mainly in the plains and the south, enacted right-to-work laws that reduced the power of unions. (These are the states with the strongest and weakest unions.)

The decline in union membership has undermined the weight of organized labor in America, but that hasn’t stopped workers, unionized or not, from going on strike. According to the Washington Post, after a “strike drought” that began in the 1980s, strikes are becoming increasingly common again – as illustrated by the 2021 “Striketober”, which saw an unusually high number of actions unions during the tenth month of the year. Overall in 2021 there were actions against John Deere, Nabisco and Kellogg’s, as well as strikes involving nurses in Chicago and Buffalo, college professors in Oregon and graduate students in New York, among others.

Strikes tend to come in waves, spurred by economic downturns and other factors. 24/7 Wall Street has created a list of the largest strike waves in US history, drawing on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as British and other online sources.

Click here to see the largest waves of strikes in US history

Many past actions for jobs ended in violence, such as the Pullman Strike of 1894, which claimed 30 lives, and labor peace remained elusive for corporations into the early 20th century. A number of strikes took place immediately after the two world wars, as many unions had postponed their demands until the end of the conflicts. Labor actions were undertaken by railway workers, steel and textile workers; minors; and postal workers – among many others. They protested low wages, unsafe working conditions, long working hours and management harassment, and demanded the right to bargain collectively. Similar concerns persist to this day. (These are the most dangerous jobs in America.)

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