Our History

History?  Yeah, we have that!  On-Site, Local, National or International- U.S.W. has walked the walk and continues to go the distance. 

1936: The Steelworkers Organizing Committee launches its first successful organizing drive in Minnesota, winning representation for workers at the U.S. Steel plant in Duluth. The mines on the Iron Range soon follow.

1930: Northwest Airlines pilots in Minneapolis organize a pilots council, which a year later becomes Council 1 of the new Air Line Pilots Association.

1920: Women get the right to vote when Congress adopts the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The victory follows decades of agitation by the “suffragettes,” led by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many others.

1920s: Lena Hill becomes the first black woman to practice law in Minnesota. She goes on to become the first female president of the Minnesota NAACP.

1917: The Minnesota Commission on Public Safety, created during World War I by the state Legislature, assumes near unlimited power and is hostile to organized labor.

1917: Thousands of people rally in support of workers employed by the Twin City Rapid Transit Company, but the workers’ strike is crushed with the help of the St. Paul Civilian Auxiliary and units of the State Home Guard. With the United States involved in the First World War, the strikers are condemned as unpatriotic.

1910: St. Paul Post Office clerks are the first to organize in Minnesota. 1910: Women represent 1 in 4 workers in the waged workforce. By 1930, they represent 3 in 10, and by 1940, they are 1 in 3. These numbers only refer to waged work, and do not count women who are employed in seasonal, temporary, or part time work.

1900: The Boot & Shoe Workers union organizes a Minneapolis plant in 1900 and two St. Paul plants in 1901.

1902: Charles James, African-American leader of the Boot & Shoe Workers, is elected president of the St. Paul Trades & Labor Assembly.

1903: Brewery workers organize in St. Paul.

1890: The Minnesota State Federation of Labor is formed. Its platform includes the 8-hour day; state inspection of mines and factories; free textbooks for all schoolchildren and state ownership of the railroads, telegraph and telephone system.

1886: Printers in Duluth organize, followed within a few months by the Cigar Makers.

1886: The Knights of Labor, the Northern Alliance, The Grange and the trades assemblies hold a joint convention in St. Paul. The convention calls for creation of a Bureau of Labor Statistics, arbitration of disputes, no child labor in factories or mines and no convict labor contracts.

1884: First shipment of iron ore from the Vermilion Range to the port of Duluth. The Mesabi Range ships its first ore to the port in 1892 and the Cuyuna Range in 1911. From 1900 to 1980, the Mesabi Range contributes about 60 percent of the country’s total iron ore output. The mines are worked mostly by immigrants; the dominant nationalities are Finnish, Swedish, Slovenian and Croatian.

1880s: From 1880 through the 1940s, immigrants change the face of America. Drawn by economic opportunity and fleeing war and political or religious repression in their homelands, waves of people from across the globe come to the United States. Mostly working class, they form the backbone of the U.S. economy but often face discrimination. Chinese are particularly singled out and are denied citizenship through the Chinese Exclusion Act, enacted in 1882.

1880's: The notion of “Employment at Will” starts to become the pervasive doctrine in American workplaces and remains so today. The central tenet of this doctrine is that workers have no right to their jobs. Rather, employment is simply viewed as an economic transaction between equal parties that can be terminated by either party for any reason or no reason. Today, the vast majority of U.S. workers who have no union are subject to “employment at will.” Only those with union contracts are protected against discipline, demotion or firing without cause.

1878, December 5: First organization of the Stonecutters Union in St. Paul.  

The Journeymen Stonecutters' Association of North America (JSANA) was a labor union representing workers involved in cutting and shaping stone for construction in the United States and Canada.

1878, May 2: The Washburn ‘A’ Mill — the largest flour mill in the United States at that time — explodes when flour dust in the air inside it ignites. The explosion claims 18 lives, decimates the surrounding area, and brings instant notoriety to Minneapolis. The tragedy leads to safety reforms in the milling industry, including the installation of ventilation systems. The ruins of the mill are now part of the Mill City Museum

1878: The Knights of Labor establish an assembly in Minneapolis; they form another the following year in Saint. Paul. The Knights of Labor are known for their inclusiveness (accepting women and African American members), but they also support the Chinese Exclusion Act. Their key demand is the 8-hour day.

1881: The first Knights of Labor assembly is established in Duluth.

1875:  Minnesotan Ignatius Donnelly helps found the National Greenback Party to challenge the rail and timber monopolies.  In the 1880's he gets involved in starting the People's Party (also known as the Populist Party) which champions the 8-hour day among other causes.  The People's Party protested the railroad companies corrupting government and advocated government regulation of the railroads. Donnelly had a key leadership role in this party.

1870:  The Minnesota Legislaure provides the first legal basis for cooperatives.  Among the first producer co-ops are barrel shops.  Most failed by the late 1880's, however, as sacks replaced barrels in the milling industry.

1868, July 9:  Congress ratifies the 14th Amendment, establishing that African americans are citizens.  It also provides all Americans with due process and equal protection under the law.

1870, February 3:  Congress ratifies the 15th Amendment, prohibits the federal government and the states from using a citizen's race, color or previous status as a slave as a qualification for voting.  However,  it still excludes all women from voting.  

1868:  About seventy-five Minneapolis and Saint Anthony Coopers (workers who make barrels) strike for 3-cents more pay per barrel, which would mean a $1.05 increase in their $20 weekly earnings; two Cooper leaders are arrested but the charges are later dropped.

1867:  German immigrants in Minneapolis establish a Workingman's Society to find jobs for Society members, the first mutual benefit group of its kind formed in Minnesota.

1865, December 6:  Congress adopts the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery.  The end to official slavery is perhaps the greatest labor victory in United States and Minnesota history.  Yet the struggle for equal rights was far from over; the same year, the Ku Klux Klan was formed.

1861:  The Minnesota Education Association (MEA) is founded in Rochester as a professional organization for teachers and administrators.  Their focus is providing a quality education for every child.

Education Minnesota was formed in 1998 when the Minnesota Education Association and the Minnesota Federation of Teachers merged. MEA, originally called the Minnesota State Teachers Association, started in 1861. MFT began as the Grade Teachers Organization in 1898.

1860:  Training schools for teachers open in Winona, Mankato and Saint Cloud.  For the first time, women are allowed to attend and train for a profession outside of the home.

The Winona Normal School was Minnesota’s first teacher-training school when it opened in 1860. The school fostered many innovations, including the state’s first “model school” program, a kind of laboratory school for training teachers. Over the years, the normal school evolved into a four-year state college and then into Winona State University.

1860, September 6:  In the summer of 1860, a slave named Eliza Winston is brought to Minnesota by her master, a Mississippi plantation owner.

1858, May 11:  Minnesota becomes the 32nd state.  The vast majority of the 150,000 inhabitants work as farmers, small business owners, mill workers, teachers, and in-home workers.

1856: Saint Paul printers organize the first union in Minnesota during a dinner to commemorate Benjamin Franklin's birthday.  It eventually becomes International Typographical Union Local 30.

1854: The Daily Minnesota Pioneer carries the first known report of a strike in Minnesota, by journeymen tailors in Saint Paul.  The outcome is unknown.