10 Largest Strikes in History of U.S.

10 largest strikes in history of u.s.

10 largest strikes in history of u.s.

Welcome to a journey through the pages of history, where we unveil the powerful forces that have shaped America’s labor landscape. Today, we embark on an exhilarating deep dive into the 10 largest strikes in the history of the U.S. – those transformative moments when workers joined hands and raised their voices to demand justice and change. Brace yourself for gripping tales of resilience, solidarity, and triumph as we delve into these pivotal events that not only reshaped workplaces but also left an indelible mark on our nation’s progress. 

Get ready to be captivated by stories of courage and determination as we explore how ordinary people fought against all odds to redefine what it means to work in America – this is a saga you won’t want to miss!

What is the strike in history?

A strike is a widespread refusal by workers to report to work, frequently in protest. Throughout history, strikes have been used to accomplish a range of objectives, including better pay, benefits, and working conditions.

Weavers in London staged the first-ever strike in history in 1169 in a show of disapproval for the introduction of brand-new weaving machines. The first strike in American history occurred in 1768 when Boston shoemakers went on strike in opposition to a pay cut.

Workers have used strikes as a strong tool to further their objectives. Strikes have occasionally resulted in significant improvements to pay and working conditions. For instance, the National Labour Relations Act, which guaranteed employees the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining, was passed as a result of the West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike of 1934.

Strikes, however, can also have unfavorable effects. For instance, strikes can cause business disruption and job losses. Strikes have even sparked violence in some instances.

Strikes continue to be a crucial tool for workers to accomplish their objectives despite the risks. Workers can exercise their power and demand better treatment from their employers by going on strike.

The Great Railroad StrikeMarch 1886September 1886Knights of Labor200,000
The Pullman StrikeMay 1894July 1894American Railway Union250,000
The Great Anthracite Coal StrikeMay 1902October 1902United Mine Workers of America147,000
The Steel StrikeSeptember 1919January 1920American Federation of Labor350,000
The Railroad Workers’ StrikeJuly 1922October 1922Railroad Labor Board400,000
The Textile Workers StrikeSeptember 193423 September 1934United Textile Workers400,000
United Mine Workers of AmericaApril 1946May 1946United Mine Workers of America400,000
The Steel Strike of 1959July 1959November 1959United Steel Workers of America500,000
The US Postal StrikeMarch 1970April 1970National Association of Letter Carriers200,000+
UPS Workers Strike4th August 199719th August 1997Teamsters185,000
The 10 biggest strikes in history of U.S.

Overview of the 10 biggest strikes in history of U.S.

The United States has a long and storied history of workers going on strike to secure better working conditions and pay. Here is an overview of the 10 biggest strikes in U.S. history, organized by the number of workers involved:

1. The Great Railroad Strike

From March to September 1886, there was the Great Southwest Railroad Strike, which affected Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. There were about 200,000 strikers present. The Union Pacific Railroad and the Missouri Pacific Railroad, both of which were owned by robber baron Jay Gould, had been rapidly expanding across state lines when the Knights of Labour workers called a strike in 1886.

The strikers opposed unsafe working conditions, long hours, and meager pay. The tipping point came when railway employee Charles Hall was fired unfairly. Across the nation, from Texas to Illinois, during the strike, there were violent clashes between pro-labor crowds and company-hired security forces and police that resulted in at least nine fatalities and dozens of injuries. Unfortunately, the members of the other railway unions did not support the walkout, which was bad news for the strikers. In the end, the railway companies were successful by employing non-union workers, which diminished the influence of the labor union Knights of Labour.

2. The Pullman Strike

Approximately 250,000 factory workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike during the Pullman Strike in 1894, which lasted from May to July. Due in part to the weak economy, the workers had been enduring 12-hour workdays and lower pay. Under the leadership of Eugene Debbs, members of the American Railway Union, one of the first and largest labor unions, teamed up with the strikers and refused to operate or work on any trains that included Pullman-owned cars.

The National Guard killed up to 30 people as the Pullman strike turned violent after rioters wrecked hundreds of railcars. President Grover Cleveland enacted legislation in response to the Pullman strike, which ended in July 1894, to establish Labour Day as a federal holiday.

3. The Great Anthracite Coal Strike

147,000 coal miners who belonged to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) went on strike in Eastern Pennsylvania from May to October 1902, sparking the Great Anthracite Coal Strike. Since the largest supply of anthracite coal in the country is located in the Pennsylvania region where the striking workers are located, many people worried that the strike would cause a serious energy crisis. The miners demanded higher pay and better working conditions.

President Theodore Roosevelt finally stepped in during the winter of 1903 out of concern for a heating emergency should the miners not return to work. His attempts to negotiate were unsuccessful. A solution wasn’t found until banker and businessman J.P. Morgan intervened, concerned about how the strike would hurt his own companies. After initially demanding a 20% pay increase, the miners eventually settled for a 10% rise.

4. The Steel Strike

The American Federation of Labour (the first federation of labor unions in the U.S.), which represented 350,000 steelworkers in Pittsburgh who were employed by The United States Steel Corporation, participated in the steel strike in 1919. After years of long hours, low pay, harassment by employers, and subpar working conditions, the strikers brought the nation’s steel industry to a near halt. It lasted from September 1919 to January 1920.

In response, the U.S. Steel Corporation (X) used scare tactics to divert public opinion away from the strikers by associating them with communism and immigration issues. After the strike’s final failure, there were no union organizations in the steel industry for the following 15 years.

5. The Railroad Workers Strike

The 1922 Railway Shop Workers Strike, which took place from July to October, was joined by about 400,000 people. The workers walked out because the Railroad Labour Board cut their pay by 7 cents. Instead of negotiating, the railway companies hired people who weren’t in a union to replace three-quarters of the striking workers. During the strike, the National Guard and private security killed at least 10 workers in different places all over the country. Also, after the strikers agreed to a 5-cent pay cut, U.S. Attorney General Harry Daugherty convinced a federal judge to ban strike-related activities. Because of this, the workers went back to work.

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6. The Textile Workers’ Strike

400,000 people participated in the 1934 Textile Workers Strike. It occurred in September 1934 and affected the entire Eastern Seaboard. Workers in the textile industry were protesting long hours, low pay, and a lack of representation in the National Recovery Administration, a Roosevelt-created New Deal organization. Despite continuing for more than 20 days, the strike ultimately failed as a result of weak public support and an abundance of textiles in the South. None of the workers’ demands were satisfied, and many of them ultimately ended up on blocklists because they participated in the strike.

7. Strike of United Mine Workers of America

A total of 400,000 miners joined the United Mine Workers of America’s strike in 1946, which lasted from April to December. Over 26 states were affected by the strike, which came to be known as the Bituminous Coal Strike. Better pay, health benefits, and safer working conditions were among the demands of the strikers. With the union, President Truman attempted to settle, but his efforts were unsuccessful. He responded by fining the employees $3.5 million and pressuring them to accept a settlement, which ended the strike. In the end, the President and the strikers came to an agreement that satisfied their demands, resulting in The Promise of 1946, which was later codified in the Krug-Lewis Agreement and established health and welfare funds for miners.

8. The Steel Strike of 1959

The 1959 Steel Strike, which involved 500,000 workers, lasted from July to November. Members of the United Steelworkers of America went on strike to demand higher pay as profits skyrocketed. The managers of the steel company simultaneously sought to eliminate a provision in the workers’ contract that guaranteed jobs and hours. The nationwide strike finally came to an end in the union members’ favor, who saw an increase in pay and the contested contract provision left alone.

9. The U.S. Postal Strike

There were 210,000 strikers in the U.S. Postal Strike in March 1970. It was a result of what the workers felt were inadequate pay, unsafe working conditions, and scant benefits. The nationwide strike started in New York City. The United States Postal Service was prohibited from engaging in collective bargaining during Nixon’s administration. The workers disregarded the order and continued on strike, which halted mail delivery.

The Nixon administration responded by deploying the National Guard to deliver mail. The strategy failed, and two weeks later talks resumed. This time, the strikers’ demands, including an 8% rise, were satisfied. In addition, the workers restored their ability to bargain and negotiate.

10. UPS Workers’ Strike

The Teamsters took the initiative to start the UPS Workers’ Strike in August 1997. It was the largest strike of the decade and brought together about 185,000 delivery workers from across the country. Workers wanted their multiemployer pension plans to be protected, for their part-time jobs to become full-time, and for their wages to increase. With strong public backing, the strikers’ demands were met.


Strikes in the United States have increased in recent years. In 2022, there were 23 major strikes and lockouts, involving over 120,000 workers. This is a significant increase from the number of strikes in previous years. The recent trend of strikes is a sign that workers are becoming more willing to take action to improve their wages and working conditions. It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue in the future.

About Senior Reporter

With over more than 6 years of writing obituaries for the local paper, Senior Reporter has a uniquely strong voice that shines through in his newest collection of essays and articles, which explores the importance we place on the legacy.

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