The years 1865-1940 were chosen for this project, as they coincide with most of the largest waves of labor activity within the United States, and the labor conditions of this span of time, perhaps apart from early reconstruction, were all impacted predominantly by the second industrial revolution.

Two separate stories within the Richmond working class persisted throughout this span of time; one of the black working class, and the other of the white working class. Into the 20th century, black and white workers were rarely ever seen working in the same settings, and white labor movements were often exclusive towards Richmond’s black population, even within organizations such the Knights of Labor that have been celebrated as places that both the black and white sections of the American working class could convene during its prevalence in the late 1800s. Due to both of these reasons, the black and white sections of Richmond’s working class each took up their own distinct forms of labor struggle during the second industrial revolution.

Upon the ending of chattel slavery, a vast array of measures was thrown at the American black population, including Richmond’s, to draw from them similar gains for the white ruling class as they had seen before the end of chattel slavery. Finding their way through the struggles of sharecropping, the sudden rapid growth of convict slavery, and general entry into society with no platform to build off of were the primary concerns for the black working class of Richmond. Consistently the worst off and most viciously exploited of Richmond’s working class population, labor struggle within the black working class often came abruptly and organically, all throughout the late 1800s and well into the mid-1900s. Richmond’s white working class saw large waves of labor organization throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, until the victory of the Bolsheviks in Russia saw the birth of the Red Scare in America, and labor activity among the white working class of America and Richmond soon dwindled. 

VA Labor Movements Today

While Virginia’s historic labor movements seem to each have come to premature ends to their short-lived reigns, if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have the foundations for the current labor fights ripping across our state right now. Richmond’s labor past has done just enough to engrave itself into Virginia’s cultural identity and now after some relative dormancy, the tradition of labor struggle is seemingly reborn. In this page, you can find access to routinely updated information as to union and other forms of labor organization currently active and growing in Virginia.

Union Efforts Public at Sodexo at the University of William and Mary

Sodexo Union Passes at the University of William and Mary

DMV Starbucks Workers On Strike

Nationwide Starbucks Strikes, Including in Virginia

The First Unionized Starbucks Stores in Virginia

Unionization Efforts at Christiansburg Target

The Push for Effective Collective Bargaining Measures in Prince William County

The Possibility of a Rail Strike Once Again

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