The railroads were the crucible for organized labour in America: before the advent of the automobile, they afforded the only sizeable workforce with the mobility to orchestrate action at a regional or national level. The Great Railroad Strike (1877) resulted in over 100 workers’ deaths through violent suppression by militias and the National Guard, as well as widespread looting and damage. The Southwest Railroad Strike (1886) followed and in its wake the American Federation of Labour was formed, but the banner of most effective action passed to from railroads to mining. The Coal Strike (1902), organized by the Union of Mine Workers, gained the personal intervention of President Roosevelt and substantial improvements in conditions. The Great Depression spurred a fresh burst of militancy, with mass union affiliation and a spate of government-led labour reform, culminating in the National Labour Relations Act (1935). Ironically, such successes provoked steady decline in union membership post-1960.
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