Trade unions have existed in the US since the first colonists arrived in the 1600s. Captain John Smith with his settlers of Jamestown colony expected more craftsmen to come from England. Working people came to Virginia in 1620. At that time, craftsmen wandered from one settlement to another along the Atlantic coast to make more money of their journey. Workers led America to its independence, through their presence at Tea Party in Boston and at the Continental Congress when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. In the late 18th century, craftsmen sought shorter hours, higher salaries, and better working conditions on strikes all over the country.
First labor unions were rather ineffective but they clearly indicated the pressure and abuse of working class. The early mechanization posed a variety of threats to people in the factories. Workers realized all the misery of their position, and actively joined local unions. The Nation Labor Union, which was a federation of local unions, persuaded the Congress to pass an 8-hours working day for workers across the country. The Union turned out not very strong either, and in 1869 it was succeeded by the Knights of Labor. The organization gained more than 750,000 members, but it shortly gained negative publicity and broke up.
Unlike the Knights of Labor that accepted all kinds of workers, the American Federation of Labor was created to protect skilled workers from beggary. The AFL organized regular strikes that were usually suppressed by the government. Later in the 20th century, the federal government developed better ways of intervention, such as the satisfaction of the workers’ demands. Labor strikes remained the main tool of pressure on the authorities through the 20th century.