The Gilded Age – The Civil War supercharged the engine of the industrial revolution. More people began to migrate to urban centers and work in factories. The industrial revolution also gave birth to a new class of super rich economic elite. These businessmen began to monopolize industries and markets to control prices and push down wages, leading to some of the nation's deadliest labor struggles.
The Pinkertons/The Molly Maguires (1876−1878) – In the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania, Irish workers allegedly formed a secret society called the Molly Maguires. As confrontations between strikers and mine owners became increasingly violent, a spy from the Pinkerton Detective Agency was hired to infiltrate the secret organization. This led to the arrest and hanging of twenty men. The trial was controversial due to state control of the proceedings being taken over by the mine and railroad owners. The mine owners tarnished the Workingman's Benevolent Society (WBA) miners union by equating them with the Molly Maguires, and used the incident to rid the mines of labor unions.
The Haymarket Riot (1886) – On Tuesday May 4, 1886, in Haymarket Square in Chicago, a bomb was thrown at a rally in support of strikers calling for an eight-hour workday. The gunfire that followed resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and four civilians. The event led to public hysteria. Although the bomber was never identified, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy. Supporters of the labor movement claimed that the men were convicted because of their political beliefs. Memorials for the event led to the beginning of May Day celebrations around the world.
The Homestead Strike (1892) – The Homestead strike was a major setback for the labor movement. The strike was spurred by Andrew Carnegie's plan to break the hold the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers Union held over his Pittsburgh area steel mills. Mill manager Henry Frick locked the workers out of the mill and planned to bring in strikebreakers. When Frick called in the Pinkerton Detective Agency it led to a gun battle with the strikers. Eventually the state militia came to support the mill owners. The failure of the strike led to the de-unionization of steel mills throughout Pennsylvania.
The Company Town/Company Script – In the company town, the workers' housing, as well as the local store, were owned and operated by the employer. The employee was often paid in company script that could only be spent at the company store. This made workers completely dependent on the company for survival, making striking or saving money to move for a better job, nearly impossible.
The Pullman Strike/Eugene Debs (1894) – The Pullman Car Company strike was led by Eugene V. Debs of the American Railway Union, and began in the company town of Pullman, IL. The strike expanded to become a nationwide conflict. When national railroad lines were closed down, federal troops were called in and violence broke out in many cities. Debs was convicted and imprisoned for violating a court injunction. In the aftermath of the conflict, Labor Day was made a national holiday as a means to appease members of the labor movement.
Big Bill Haywood/The IWW – This section will tell the story of the 1905 trial of Big Bill Haywood and the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWWʼs motto was ʻOne Big Unionʼ to include all races, genders, and both skilled and unskilled laborers. Haywood and the IWW organized the dramatic Lawrence Children's Exodus during a textile strike in Lawrence, Mass. In 1917, Haywood was convicted of espionage and sentenced to twenty years in prison.