The concept of the American strike helped create the nation's great middle class.
It was no easy process. In the early days of "collective bargaining," some of the biggest strikes in U.S. history were often violent and ineffectual.
Regardless, the ability to negotiate one's working conditions has evolved into an American worker's right in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.
Here are five of the largest strikes in U.S. history that paved the way for America's working class…
Five of the Biggest Strikes in U.S. History
Biggest Strikes in U.S. History No. 1: The Great Southwest Railroad Strike
American railroads were expanding quickly by the end of the 1800s. In 1886, the Knights of Labor went on strike at the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads, owned by robber baron Jay Gould. The protest officially began when a member of the Knights of Labor was fired for initiating a company meeting in Texas.
Unrest quickly spread to Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri. Hundreds of thousands of workers across the five states refused to work, citing unsafe conditions and unfair hours and pay.
After several incidents of "union violence," Gould requested military assistance from the governors of the affected states. The governor of Missouri mobilized the state militia. The governor of Texas mobilized both the state militia and the Texas Rangers. The governor of Kansas, however, refused after local officials reported no incidents of violence, despite claims by railway executives that mobs had seized control of trains and rail yards were burning.
Ultimately, this strike failed. While the railroad workers themselves protested, engineers and other industrial workers did not join in. And Gould managed to quickly hire nonunion workers. The Knights of Labor disbanded soon afterwards.
Biggest Strikes in U.S. History No. 2: The Steel Strike of 1919
Some 350,000 U.S. Steel Corp. employees, represented by the American Federation of Labor (the first federation of labor union in the United States) in Pittsburgh, went on strike from September 1919 to January 1920.
The protest halted almost half of the country's steel industry. Workers were sick of enduring long hours, poor working conditions, and low pay.
U.S. Steel extinguished the mess with an unexpected scare tactic – and violence that lead to multiple deaths…