The American Federation of Labor

The American Federation of Labor was founded by 26 craft unions on this date in 1886. Samuel Gompers, a Dutch-born Jew and head of the Cigar Makers’ International Union, was elected its president. The AFL was a breakaway movement, established by union activists who had grown disgruntled with the Knights of Labor (K of L), a […]

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Clara Lemlich Sparks an Uprising

Clara Lemlich made a spontaneous speech at Cooper Union on this date in 1909 that sparked the “Uprising of the 20,000,” an industry-wide strike of shirtwaist workers mobilized by the new International Ladies Garment Workers Union. “I want to say a few words!” shouted Lemlich, a 23-year-old garment worker, in Yiddish, following AFL leader Samuel Gompers’ […]

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The Tomato Queen

Tillie Ehrlich-Weisberg Lewis, who introduced the pomodoro tomato to California’s agricultural fields and built the fifth largest canning business in America, using workers of all races and ethnicities in her enterprise and marrying a labor organizer who sought to organize them into the American Federation of Labor, was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1896. […]

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March 6: Marches of the Unemployed

Half a million unemployed workers and their supporters marched in twenty-five cities across the U.S. on this date in 1930, in demonstrations that were led by the Unemployed Councils, which the Communist Party had organized the previous year. In Madison, Wisconsin, a demonstration at the capitol plaza by the Trade Union Unity League (a Communist […]

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May 1: General Strike, 1886

Samuel Gompers, a Dutch Jewish cigarmaker newly elected as head of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (soon to become the American Federation of Labor), led a one-day general strike of more than 200,000 workers across the country to demand the eight-hour working day. The one-day strike sparked more and more strike actions […]

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January 26: Organizing the Meat Cutters

The American Federation of Labor chartered the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union, consolidating seven unions, in Chicago on this date in 1897. Originally a craft union with more than fifty divisions of labor, by World War I the Amalgamated was forced to open its ranks to immigrants, migrating Southern Blacks, and women, in the face of […]

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November 24: The Cigar Makers Union

Samuel Gompers was elected president of the Cigar Makers’ International Union, Local 144, in New York on this date in 1875. The union had reorganized itself after two decades of struggle with a piecework system and the constant arrival of  immigrant laborers from Bohemia. During the economic crisis of 1877, a four-month lockout by the […]

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June 11: The 40-Hour Week

The 12,000-strong New York Furriers’ Union, a heavily Jewish union led by the hard-hitting Ben Gold, ended a half year of striking, lock-outs, police brutality, and red-baiting to win a contract on this date in 1926 that established the first guarantee in America of a five-day, 40-hour work-week, beyond which workers would be paid time-and-a-half. […]

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January 13: Last of the Red Hot Mamas

Sophie Tucker (Sonya Kalish), one of the most popular entertainers of early 20th-century America, was born in Tulchyn, Ukraine on this date in 1886. Her reputation in vaudeville was built as a “Coon shouter” in black-face, as male producers thought she’d be rejected as a “big mama” without it, but in 1909, when her trunks were […]

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November 23: The Uprising of the 20,000

More than twenty thousand Yiddish-speaking immigrants, mostly young women, launched an eleven-week strike in New York’s shirtwaist industry on this date in 1909 — the largest strike by women in American history. Assaulted by goons, arrested by cops, lacking a substantial strike fund, the young women endured winter picketing, hunger, and harsh treatment in the […]

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