Knights of Labor: An Early Labor Organization

Knights of Labor: An Early Labor Organization


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Many early efforts to organize workers in the United States saw their inception in Pennsylvania. As early as the 1790s, shoemakers in Philadelphia joined to maintain a price structure and resist cheaper competition. In the 1820s, a Mechanics Union was formed that attempted to unite the efforts of more than a single craft.The rise of industrial capitalism, with its widening of the gap between rich and poor, generated the union movement's transformation. One form of worker reaction occurred with the Molly Maguires of the western Pennsylvania anthracite coalfields; their modus operandi was intimidation and violence.In 1869, the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, which initially offered a more reasoned approach to solving labor problems, was established in Philadelphia. The Knights developed ornate rituals, drawn from Freemasonry,* to govern their meetings. They sought to include within their ranks everyone but doctors, bankers, lawyers, liquor producers and gamblers.The aims of the Knights of Labor included the following:

  • An eight-hour work day
  • Termination of Child Labor
  • Termination of the convict contract labor system (the concern was not for the prisoners; the Knights of Labor opposed competition from this cheap source of labor)
  • Establishment of cooperatives to replace the traditional wage system and help tame capitalism's excesses
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Government ownership of telegraph facilities and the railroads
  • A public land policy designed to aid settlers and not speculators
  • A graduated income tax.

In its early years, the Knights of Labor opposed the use of strikes; however, new members and local leaders gradually radicalized the organization. By the mid-1880s, labor stoppages had become an effective tool. The KOL won important strikes on the Union Pacific in 1884 and the Wabash Railroad in 1885. However, failure in the Missouri Pacific strike in 1886 and the Haymarket Square Riot of the same year quickly eroded the Knights' influence—although no member was implicated in the latter event. In the public mind, the eight-hour work day and other demands by the KOL had become radical ideas; to many, the terms "unionism" and "Anarchism" were synonymous.Labor leader Terence V. Powderly's organizing skills had brought the group's membership to more than 700,000 in the early 1880s, but by 1900 that number had dropped to approximately 100,000.Why did the Knights of Labor decline so precipitously? The Haymarket incident was certainly pivotal in that it transformed a skeptical public into vocal opponents of the group. Beyond that, however, the Knights suffered from mismanagement and internal divisions, especially the longstanding strife between the skilled and unskilled worker members. Finally, the rise of the American Federation of Labor offered an alternative that rejected radicalism and organized its members along craft lines.


*Despite its aim to be inclusive, the Knights of Labor made little headway toward organizing Irish-Americans. The primary reason was this ceremonial influence of Freemasonry, which was often highly anti-Roman Catholic. Irish-Americans were predominantly Catholic.


Knights of Labor

Summary and Definition of Knights of Labor
Definition and Summary: The Knights of Labor was an important American labor organization that was established in 1869 and led by Uriah S. Stephens. The Knights of Labor was originally founded as a secret organization of tailors in Philadelphia. The Knights of Labor played an important role in the development of the labor movement in the United States of America bringing together workers from different trades.

Knights of Labor for kids
Ulysses Grant was the 18th American President who served in office from March 4, 1869 to March 4, 1877. One of the important events during his presidency was the establishment of the Knights of Labor, an important American labor organization.

Knights of Labor History (KOL) for kids: Expansion and Change led by Terence V. Powderly
The Knights of Labor history moved to another level by 1877 achieving national importance. Increased interest in the organization was sparked by the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 which highlighted the grievances of workers. Membership expanded as other labor organizations, including those of the miners, disbanded. In 1878 the first national officers were appointed after a Knights of Labor convention in Reading, Pennsylvania. In 1879 Uriah Stephens resigned the position of Grand Master Workman and was replaced by Terence V. Powderly. Under the leadership of Terence V. Powderly the Knights of Labor underwent significant change. The secrecy surrounding the organization was abandoned, as were the secret rituals, and in 1883 the leader's title was changed to the less pretentious General Master Workman. The Knights of Labor became better organized with a stronger sense of purpose and their name changed to the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor. The Knights of Labor became a national organization open to all workers, regardless of their skills, sex, nationality, religion or race. The only occupations excluded from membership were gamblers, bankers, stockholders, lawyers, and saloonkeepers.

Knights of Labor Goals under Terence V. Powderly
The Knights of Labor goals under the leadership of Terence V. Powderly became more radical and were politically motivated. The aims and objectives of the KOL were to make demands for:

Knights of Labor goals: An eight-hour working day

Knights of Labor goals : Improved safety in factories

Knights of Labor goals : Compensation for on-the-job injury

Knights of Labor goals : To abolish child labor

Knights of Labor goals : Equal pay for equal work

Knights of Labor goals : Equal pay for women

Knights of Labor goals : To end the use of prison labor, which deprived other workers of jobs

Knights of Labor goals : Political reforms including the graduated income tax.

Knights of Labor goals : Government ownership of railroads and telegraph lines

Knights of Labor goals : A new land policy that benefited settlers rather than speculators

Knights of Labor Accomplishments
Terence V. Powderly and the Knights of Labor did not initially advocate strike action but this became common practice as the depression bit deeper and workers became more militant. The Knights of Labor accomplishments included winning the strikes against the Union Pacific Railroad in 1884 and the Wabash Railroad in 1885.

Knights of Labor Membership
The Knights of Labor membership started with just nine members. By 1880 it reached 28,000 members which swelled to 100,000 by 1885. In 1886 the membership saw a massive increase to 800,000 members in 1886 but after this time the number of members went into decline.

Knights of Labor for kids
The info about the Knights of Labor provides interesting facts and important information about this important event that occured during the presidency of the 18th President of the United States of America.

Knights of Labor and AFL (American Federation of Labor): Samuel Gompers
The problems encountered by the Knights of Labor were closely observed by Samuel Gompers, the leader of the New York City branch of the Cigarmakers' International Union who became the key organizer of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Samuel Gompers was extremely focused on achieving higher wages and improved working conditions for workers. In 1886, Samuel Gompers met with leaders from other unions who he persuaded to amalgamate in order to form the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Unlike the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) only represented skilled workers. The AFL believed in organized and strong negotiation tactics to obtain improved working conditions and wages for workers. The AFL also took a far less radical approach and their moderate, less politically motivated views and realistic goals proved popular and at the height of its success the AFL attracted over 3 million members.

Knights of Labor : Rise of Big Business and Corporations
For additional facts and info refer to the Rise of Big Business and Corporations involving the monopolies and trusts. Learn about the wealthy industrialists referred to as the Robber Barons and the Captains of Industry and discover facts about the Industrialization in America that led to Riots, Strikes and Unions.

Knights of Labor for kids - President Ulysses Grant Video
The article on the Knights of Labor provides an overview of one of the Important issues of his presidential term in office. The following Ulysses Grant video will give you additional important facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 18th American President whose presidency spanned from March 4, 1869 to March 4, 1877.

Knights of Labor - American Labor Organization

Knights of Labor - American Union Organization - Terence V. Powderly - Uriah S. Stephens - AFL - Knights Union - US History - Facts - Important Event - Definition - American - US - USA History - America - Dates - United States History - US History for Kids - Children - Schools - Homework - Important - Facts - History - United States History - Important - Events - History - Interesting - Knights Union - Info - Information - American History - Facts - Union - Historical - Important Events - American Workers Organization - Knights Union - Terence V. Powderly - Uriah S. Stephens - AFL - Knights


Knights of Labor

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Knights of Labor (KOL), the first important national labour organization in the United States, founded in 1869. Named the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor by its first leader, Uriah Smith Stephens, it originated as a secret organization meant to protect its members from employer retaliations. Secrecy also gave the organization an emotional appeal.

The organization’s original platform was partly ideological. Based on a belief in the unity of interest of all producing groups—shopkeepers and farmers as well as labourers—it proposed a system of worker cooperatives to replace capitalism. After the election of Terence V. Powderly as grand master workman of the national organization in 1879, the group abandoned its secrecy and mystical trappings and struck the word noble from its title. Because Powderly was unwilling to initiate strikes or use other forms of economic pressure to gain the union’s objectives, effective control of the organization shifted to regional leaders. Membership in the Knights grew after the railway strike in 1877, reaching a peak of 700,000 in 1886. At that time the Knights were the dominant labour organization in the United States.

The KOL’s influence declined sharply after 1886—a year marked by 1,600 strikes (some of them violent) and the deadly Haymarket Riot in Chicago. The resulting backlash against unionism, along with the dissatisfaction of many KOL members, led to the union’s demise and fostered the establishment of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in December 1886. The AFL focused on winning economic benefits for its members through collective bargaining. As a federation, it represented several national craft unions that each retained autonomous operations. The Knights, by contrast, represented both craft and unskilled workers in a single national union.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.


Feature The Early Labor Movement

The industrial revolution stands out as a time of great prosperity and expansion as America entered the modern era. But what were the pitfalls of such rapid growth and who turned out to be the victims of the country's success?

Between 1860 and 1910 the population of the US tripled, and so too did the industrial work force. New types of commercial enterprise sprung up to stand alongside the pre-Civil War textile factories.

Naturally the demand for workers was high, but in this time of heightened immigration the supply of laborers keen to make their way in a new country was even higher. This helped empower industry bosses and meant working conditions were far from ideal.

However there were many who were unwilling to accept the way big business was run, especially since it was making profit at the expense of the little people. The first organization acting as a federation to encompass American unions was the National Labor Union which truly came into force after the Civil War but was reasonably short-lived.

The largest union of the time was the Order of the Knights of St. Crispin. Representing the shoe industry, the Order attempted to halt the rising trend for the mechanical or unskilled production line which looked set to replace master cobblers.

Inevitably the march of progress prevailed and the faster, more efficient machines soon took their place in the industry. The Knights of Labor union founded in 1869 took the movement to a new level drawing a national membership.

The ethos of the Knights was to include anyone involved in production, which helped its numbers swell. The union was well organized under the control of Terence Powderly and enlisted politics to help fight its various causes.

Events took a turn for the worse in 1886 when the Haymarket riot saw the message of the Knights overshadowed by the death of a police officer in a bomb blast. Public opinion turned against the anarchist movement in general and the union collapsed.

It was only after the advent of the American Federation of Labor, set up by Samuel Gompers in 1886 and acting as a national federation of unions for skilled workers, that the labor movement became a real force to be reckoned with and took on more of the shape we see today.


Knights of Labor

Introduction: The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor were the most prominent labor organization of the 1880’s. Specifically, the organization grew between the end of the Depression and the beginning of the Great Upheaval (roughly 1879-1886) under the tenure of Grand Master Workman Terence V. Powderly. By the end of the 1880’s, their influence and membership dropped dramatically, and the last remnants of the Knights disbanded in 1949. Characterized by its oath-bound secrecy, its emphasis on autonomy of local Knights and non-violence, and its broad sense of solidarity, it is considered by many to be a failed experiment in the labor movement which did not capitalize on the action-mindedness of the Great Upheaval moment.

Background: The Knights of Labor were formed in 1869 by eight garment cutters in Philadelphia to replace the local union by Uriah Stephens. At the time, they were just a small part of the young modern labor movement which had materialized only within the last fifty years. The earliest unions were before industrialization and formulated out of the increasingly strained relationship between journeymen and masters in the skilled or artisan labor sector, a system reminiscent of the guild system. In the mid-1830’s, the General Trades’ Union allowed these wage earners to identify their shared grievances. As collective action picked up, employers felt the groups held too much power over individuals and maintained that economic demand, not employers themselves, truly decided wage levels.

The distinction between skilled and unskilled laborers was still made in the early 1870’s, yet changes created by industrialization placed the groups in greater contact, often in the factory. This opportunity to bridge the divide of the workers was part of the reason the Knights of Labor formed. The craft unions of previous times, composed almost solely of skilled workers, were ineffective. He saw the arrangement of labor and capital as a systemic problem that resembled the slavery of the past, and Stephens hoped for a brotherhood to provide education, mutual aid, and cooperation for challenging the labor-capital arrangement. Others, like the National Labor Union, had tried to organize a similar national and political movement starting in 1866, but the organization lost prominence after a number of disastrous political setbacks and the economic downturn of 1873.

Formation and Early Years: The secrecy of Knights of Labor membership was considered a positive feature of the group by some and only something to be tolerated by others. The union also banned politicians, lawyers, and physicians since they were considered of low moral character or at high risk of breaking secrecy. The lack of distinction between skilled and unskilled workers departed from the early labor models in hopes to take advantage of the new industrialized arrangement. The Knights, originally a local Philadelphia union, had spread throughout the area in its initial few years, especially in New Jersey and the coal-mining regions of Pennsylvania. After the 1873 Depression subsided and unemployment declined, previous unions were re-created under the auspices of the Knights of Labor.

In 1878, it was deemed necessary to have a General Assembly which invited representatives from all the local assemblies. Stephens was at the helm at this first General Assembly, but he resigned within two years. Interestingly enough, the general principles of the Knights had not been explicitly declared despite its structural formation. The secrecy of the organization was the main reason for this slowness to communicate the mission of the union. The initiation practices and secrecy of even the name of the Knights of Labor were altered by 1879 to eliminate some of the religious overtones partly to accommodate Catholics. While this was a step towards reconciliation, the tension between the Catholic hierarchy and the Knights would significantly persist for almost another decade.

By 1879, Terence V. Powderly took over the position of Grand Master Workman with a membership of 9,300 workers who were diverse by trade including garment-cutters, miners, shoemakers, machinists, locomotive engineers, stationary engineers, glass-workers, moulders, printers, coopers, blacksmiths, boiler-makers, nail-packers, teachers, and carpenters.1Powderly had helped found the Knights of Labor in the Scranton area in 1876.

After the Knights lifted a ban on political discussion following a railroad strike in 1877, Powderly helped organize the “Greenback-Labor Party” in hopes of contending for local political offices. He quickly rose to Master Workman for the Scranton Knights and successfully navigated a period of severe divisiveness due to members’ differences in ethnicity and religion. In 1878, he was elected mayor of Scranton for the Greenback-Labor party.

Powderly was not the only political success for the Knights of Labor. The organization, which now had spread to other regions of the United States, took a handful of other political offices in places like Maine and Massachusetts. Still, Powderly had made contact with many local assemblies and stood out to Knights of Labor leadership through his many various organizing activities. Such demonstrated commitment to the Order, even when his own local assembly membership had limited growth in 1879, complimented the recognition of Powderly’s other skills in writing and oration.

Under Grand Master Workman Powderly, the general assembly declared strikes an option of last resort and that the name and objects of the Order were made public in the early 1880’s. One of the more progressive moves of the Order at this time was declaring women to be admitted with equal standing as men. The ritualistic aspects of the Knights were also revised in hopes of increasing membership. The unexpected factor that appears to have boosted membership significantly was the strike victories in 1882 and 1885 that became associated with the Knights of Labor.

The Union Pacific Railroad had cut wages, yet through the aggressive leadership of Joseph R. Buchanan the original wages were restored. Buchanan reproduced the success in a number of other railroad strike incidents, all of which became associated nationally with the Knights of Labor despite their mostly local nature. The Knights of Labor had an explicitly anti-strike mentality, but the local autonomy of assemblies had allowed their name to become known as a powerful and assertive group, including financially, which could create sensational successes in assertive worker action. This hyped image was reinforced when local Knights called for help in an effort against notorious and unscrupulous railroad financier Jay Gould.

Newspapers across the country covered the story, and people of all trades were inspired by an immense confidence in the organization. Rumors ran wild that the membership was 2.5 million people and the treasury held 12 million dollars, and consequently, the number of new local assembly initiations was overwhelming to the national Knights of Labor. These new groups sang combative songs and hazardously took part in strikes, thinking the national organization could fuel a victory. Gould regrouped and easily defeated the largely unorganized strikes and assertive actions by local Knight assemblies. These failures were credited as defeats for the Order nationally even when no encouragement or approval had been given by Powderly or others in the executive board.

By 1886, there were an estimated 700,000 members in the Knights of Labor. While defeats had already begun, the Knights ultimate let-down to overenthusiastic supporters occurred in relation to the Haymarket Affair in Chicago. After a group of demonstrators were falsely convicted of setting of a bomb, many called for Powderly to challenge the authorities and assert the Knights of Labor power. Powderly had actually written to local assemblies to avoid the May 1 st strikes and actions which had led to the Haymarket Affair disaster. Both those who disagreed with Powderly about the strikes beforehand and those who called for support after the actions became detractors of Powderly and the Knights of Labor leadership.

While in the South there was still great numbers of the Order, many defected to more radical labor elements and groups which appealed to their skill more specifically, like the American Federation of Labor. Similar to the 1873 Depression, the Great Upheaval of 1886 brought in a period of declining employment stability for wage earners which had a negative effect on workers’ willingness to risk losing their jobs by joining or maintaining union membership. When Powderly lost re-election as Grand Master Workman in 1893, the Knights had fallen to a membership of roughly 75,000 and would never recover. By 1949, the last remnants of the Order would disband, and the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor would only have a presence in the history books.

Looking back on the mix of local autonomy and progressive solidarity which were staples of the Knights of Labor, a particularly significant moment was the 1886 General Assembly in Richmond, VA. A black delegate of District Assembly Number 49, Franklin J. Ferrell, introduced Powderly to the convention. In Richmond, the local assemblies were separated by color, despite the fact that there was an official ban on color discrimination by the Knights of Labor. District Assembly no. 49 was needed support for Powderly, yet earlier in the convention local hotels and other institutions had given Ferrell trouble. This created a tension which Powderly could have dealt with in many ways and for many reasons.

It is debatable if the true motivations for having Farrell involved significantly in the assembly were for Powderly’s political expediency or on principle. Some believe Powderly and the Knights practiced a disguised discrimination model. Still, the incident was certainly a unique moment in the history of the Knights, a movement of tenuous solidarity for people of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, there was very little progressivism in terms of inclusion of Asian immigrants, and Powderly was in favor of closing the borders in this regard.

Another significant moment for the Knights of Labor was the 1888 reconciliation between the Knights of Labor and the Catholic Church. The ritualistic and masonic-like elements, in addition to the radical nature of the group, were met with great suspicion by the Roman Catholic Church. While measures were taken to lessen the measures offensive to Catholics, most clerics were opponents of the Order, especially in Canada where an official stand was taken against the organization. Through work with Cardinal Gibbons, Powderly got Vatican approval for membership by Catholics. While the Knights were on the decline at this point, it was an important step for friendly relations between the Catholic Church and the labor movement as a whole, setting the stage for the next generation of labor-priests and religious.

Conclusion: The Knights of Labor rose to prestige quickly in the 1880’s, and Powderly was considered the voice of labor, the head of an organization that could deal blows to even the likes of Jay Gould. While the reasons for the decline of the Order are debated, the economic conditions of the time, like for the National Labor Union, appear to be a factor. Also, the high level of local assembly autonomy appears to be a major contributing factor to both the union’s increased and eventual decreased membership.

The Knights are considered a failed experiment in the labor movement and yielded very few lasting contributions, yet defection to other unions, like the American Federation of Labor, may suggest that the energy of the labor movement was shifted rather than lost. In any case, the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor stand as a significant organization in a unique moment in the young history of the labor movement in the United States.

1. “An Historical Sketch of the Knights of Labor” by Carroll D. Wright, The Quarterly Journal of Economics , Vol. 1, No. 2 (Jan. 1887): 149.

2. Labor in America, Fourth Edition, by Foster Rhea Dulles & Melvyn Dubofsky, Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1984: 133.

Grand Master Workman: Terence Powderly and the Knights of Labor by Craig Phelan, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

“Terence V. Powderly and Disguised Discrimination” by Herman D. Bloch, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 33(2), April 1974: 145-160.

The Making of American Exceptionalism: The Knights of Labor and Class Formation in the Nineteenth Century by Kim Voss, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Photo Sources:

Knights of Labor insignia – http://afge1504.org/page6d.php

Knights Founded – http://gallaghergblockgroup1.wikispaces.com/The+Great+Railroad+Strike+of+1877

Railroad Strikes – http://romitasx.tripod.com/id1.html

Ferrell Introduces Powderly – http://www.corbisimages.com/stock-photo/rights-managed/IH024307/engraving-of-knights-of-labor-assembly

3 Replies to &ldquoKnights of Labor&rdquo

will this tell me what the noble order of the knights of labor is and what they did my granddad was a member and his no.is 8497 located at Briefield Bibb c ala .
it was signed and seal of or assembly this 13th day of august 1887.

Dear Sue Tucker: The best information I can share with you is contained in the entry “Knights of Labor.” An intern helping me wrote it with information obtained from the files of the Catholic University. I suggest you contact their archivist to learn more. Good luck. Jack Hansan


Lists and guides to labor newspapers

The books on this page provide a great deal of information on trade union periodicals. In many you can look up the name of a union and see what journals it published, some even tell you the editors, number of pages, and advertising policies. The call numbers reflect those in the Tamiment Library and may not be applicable to your local library. The call numbers reflect those in the Tamiment Library and may not be applicable to your local library.

Z 7164 L1 N14 Naas, Bernard G. and Carmelita J. Sakr. American Labor Union Periodicals: A Guide to Their Location. Ithaca: Cornell University, 1956. Begun under the sponsorship of the Committee of University Industrial Relations Librarians, this acts as a union serial list with entries for over 1700 periodicals. While out of date for holdings and listing only twenty libraries, this guide does provide important information on each title in the traditional union list format. It is divided into two parts with separate indexes for each part. Part I includes periodicals of federations, national, and international unions and their locals Part II contains the periodicals of regional organizations in both the United States and Canada.

Z 7164 L1 R4 Reynolds, Lloyd George and Charles C. Killingsworth. Trade Union Publications: The Official Journals, Convention Proceedings, and Constitutions of International Unions and Federations, 1850-1941. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1944-45. 3 volumes. This is a subject index to journals and convention proceedings of fifty international union and federations from the collections at Johns Hopkins University, the first university library to make an exhaustive effort to collect union publications. The indexing is not exhaustive but does include letters to the editor. Volume 1 is in two sections. Part I clearly describes the project and what was or was not indexed. Part II is a listing by industry of unions. Volume 1 has its own indexes to unions and subjects covered in these two parts. Each union entry gives the basic directory information followed by an evaluative section on its history and publications. Volumes 2 and 3 are the subject index to the union publications using fifteen hundred subject headings. T providing detailed access to the journals. There is a glossary of headings, explanation of the citation system, and a list of the unions indexed and their code numbers. An important and unique source of information.

Z 7164 L1 W4 State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Labor Papers on Microfilm A Combined List. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1965. A list of labor papers published in the United States available on microfilm and is meant to complement Naas' American Labor Union Periodicals, a Guide to their Location (see above). Each entry is arranged by title (except where noted in parentheses) within a topical section: [national] unions (by union), state & local (by state and then city), socialist & communist, anarchist, liberal & reform, farmer organizations, and general periodicals. There are indexes and limited bibliographic information.

Z 7164 L1 A45 The American Labor Press: An Annotated Directory. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Public Affairs, 1940. Compiled at the University of Wisconsin as a WPA project, this directory lists 676 periodicals, including 30 from Canada. The titles are arranged by union federation (at this time, the AFL and CIO were separate organizations) including independent unions and cooperatives. It also includes union publications issued by left political parties and organizations, general labor publications, and finally a separate section for Canada. The information provided includes the size, average length, price, advertising policy, and more. This provides a brief but useful view of the field and has a short introduction by John R. Commons.

Z 6953.5 A1 H63 1987 v.1-3 Hoerder, Dirk. The Immigrant Labor Press in North America, 1840s-1970s: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Greenwood Press, c1987-. The Labor and Newspaper Preservation Project, based at the University of Bremen in Germany, has compiled an impressive guide to an important historical source. The selection criteria is complicated but ably explained. Basically, the bibliography covers both Canada and the United States but excludes the publications of French-Canadian, Chicano, and Puerto Rican residents. It also omits those from South America, Asia, and Africa due to the "refusal" of any North American foundation to participate in the project. Each entry contains an introductory essay with endnotes, and a bibliography of sources. The annotated listings provide extensive bibliographic information. The listings are by ethnicity within a geographic region of Europe. Volume 1 covers Northern Europe: Danes, Finns, Icelanders, Norwegians, and Swedes. Volume 2 is Eastern and Southern Europe: Albanians, Armenians, Bulgarians, Byelorussians, Carpatho-Rusyns, Czechs, Estonians, Greeks, Hungarians, Jews, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Slovaks, Ukrainians, and Yugoslavians. Volume 3 contains Southern and Western Europe: "Dutch-Speaking Peoples," English and Scots, "French-Speaking Peoples," "German-Speaking Peoples," Irish, Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, and Welsh. Each volume ends with a combined title index. The "Speaking Peoples" sections also have their own indexes. The introductory essays are valuable in their own right making this an important and irreplaceable source


The Present

Strength and Solidarity, 1970 to Present

About half a million Texans belong to unions in 1990. Unions affiliated with the AFL­CIO Federation account for about 90 percent of the Texas unionists, with independent unions ac­counting for the remaining 10 percent.

Union membership, of course, is a function of the demand for workers. Geographically, that means union membership in Texas is most con­centrated along the heavily industrialized Gulf Coast. The numbers of union members dimin­ishes as you move westward, just as the popula­tion does, because manufacturing and industry drops off, replaced by rural agricultural activity.

Also, the highest percentage of worker organi­zation generally occurs where a pattern of indus­try-wide bargaining is found-oil and petro­-chemical manufacturing, for instance, as well as railroads, automobile manufacturing, and tele­phone communications. These industries tend to be unionized no matter where they are located geographically.

But union members can be found throughout Texas across a broad spectrum of the economy, in many different kinds of occupations. One easy way to divide the categories is to refer to them as the service sector, the construction industry, heavy industry, the auto and aerospace indus­tries, oil and petrochemical manufacturing, other manufacturing, and agricultural farm workers.

An increasing number of union members are employed in the service industries, such as communications, transportation, and govern­ment. Throughout Texas, you will find union telephone workers, letter carriers, postal workers, bus drivers, railroaders, and airline employees.

For example, almost all non-supervisory employees of the Bell Telephone companies are union members-almost 33,000 of them in Texas.

A good example of unionism in the transporta­tion industry is the maritime trades along the port cities of the Texas Gulf Coast. The maritime trades, including seafarers, inland boatmen, and longshoremen, are heavily organized, with about 12,000 in Texas.

Government (public sector) employees make up a very large number of union members in the state, and the number is growing. Federal em­ployees at military bases, for the IRS, and for other federal agencies account for 22,000 or so members.

State, county, and city government employees also belong to unions. Although not permitted by state law to sign binding collective bargaining contracts, they still have "working ageements" with governmental bodies. Many such members are employed in sanitation work, hospitals, school maintenance, street repair, and so on. Additionally, many union craftsmen such as electricians are employed either directly or indirectly through contractors by state and local governments. All together, more than 25,000 public workers belong to unions, not counting fire fighters, bus drivers, and teachers.

Among fire fighters in Texas towns and cities, more than 8,500 of them are union members, and the number is increasing. Also, several thousand police officers in Texas cities, including Houston, are organized. All major city bus systems have union drivers, and most of the terminal and maintenance personnel are organized.

Teachers in Texas are "organized" in various ways. Most do not belong to a union many of them belong to "associations." Still, about 70,00,000 teachers and educational workers belong to the Texas Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.

The service sector occupations include union members in some areas that would surprise people. For instance, there are about 1,200 stage and theatre workers in the state, and similar numbers of insurance clerks, office workers, journalists, television and radio artists and broadcasters, and musicians.

Retail clerks and meat cutters who work for major national chain stores also make up a sig­nificant number of union workers in Texas. About 32,000 such workers are covered by union contracts.

In the construction industry, about half of large commercial construction is done under union contracts. Large manufacturing facilities and power generating plants are built by union workers, as well as most schools, universities, and public buildings.

The largest unions in the construction industry are the carpenters, electricians, operating engi­neers, plumbers and pipefitters, laborers, boiler­makers, painters, bricklayers, plasterers, sheet metal workers, roofers, asbestos workers, and lathers and elevator constructors. Together, they account for about 50,000 members.

In heavy industry, both oil refining and steel production are heavily organized, with more than 20,000 members in oil refining and about 7,500 in steel work.

In the auto and aerospace industries, most concentrated in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, about 33,000 workers belong to unions. The workers include members of the machinists, auto workers, and transport workers unions.

The chemical industry, another Texas giant, is about 50 percent organized, while the rubber industry is unionized more completely, from production workers to test-drivers.

A number of other manufacturing and service industries have substantial numbers of union workers, though the percentage of workers organized is less than half. Included in this group are the forest products industry, paper products, food processing, asbestos, plastics, brick, glass, stone, cement, containers, electrical equipment, machinery, and printing.

Another important category of unionism in Texas is agricultural farm workers. Union growth in this category, especially in the South Texas region, has been difficult despite many attempts by farm workers over the years. Farm workers in the Rio Grande Valley have not yet succeeded in negotiating union contracts, largely because they are not covered by laws providing for union elections, as other workers are.

As for the future of unionism in Texas, as indus­try rebounds and as service workers and public sector employees become increasingly aware of the many benefits of unionism, a steady growth in the numbers of union members is expected.


Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Uriah Stephens (1821-82) founded the Knights of Labor, the first national industrial union in the United States, in Philadelphia in December 1869 and led the organization until he resigned his post as Grand Master Workman in 1879.

Born in Cape May, New Jersey, Stephens desired to become a Baptist minister, but quit his studies during the Panic of 1837. Stephens moved to Philadelphia in 1845 and became a tailor. Stephens joined the Garment Cutters’ Association of Philadelphia, created in 1862, and by 1869 became a leader of the organization. While attempting to reorganize the failing Garment Cutters’ Association, Stephens and eight other Philadelphia garment cutters dissolved the organization on December 9, 1869, and immediately formed a secret organization which they named the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor on December 28, 1869. Stephens was elected Master Workman in January 1870.

Stephens aspired to unite all wage-earners into a single organization regardless of skill, race, or sex and stressed the importance of solidarity within the ranks of labor in order to meet the power of capital. He did not limit the organization’s goals to increased wages and lower hours, but believed that workers should strive to build co-operatives to gradually replace the prevailing capitalistic system. Because of this outlook the slogan for the organization became "an injury to one is the concern of all." To sustain the organization, Stephens insisted on a high level of secrecy and fraternalism, which remained within the organization until he resigned as Grand Master Workman in 1879. Replaced by Terrance V. Powderly (1849-1924), Stephens grew alienated from the organization that he founded until he died in 1882. Members of the Knights attempted to raise funds to erect a monument in memory of Uriah Stephens following his death, but were unsuccessful. Stephens was originally buried in Philadelphia’s Odd Fellows Cemetery, but his remains were moved to Mount Peace Cemetery in 1951, where they now reside in an unmarked grave.

Terence V. Powderly

Terence Powderly (1849-1924) was a prominent American labor leader, who served as both mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania (1878-84) and Grand Master Workman of the Knights of Labor (1879-93) in the late nineteenth-century.

Born to poor Irish immigrants in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, Powderly began working for the Delaware and Hudson Company (D&H) at the age of 13. After four years of working numerous jobs for the company, Powderly began a machinist apprenticeship at age 17. Shortly after completing this apprenticeship Powderly was fired by the D&H, so he left Carbondale and moved to Scranton in 1869. Powderly joined and quickly became the leader of the local assembly of the Machinist and Blacksmiths International Union (M&BIU) in Scranton. Fired again during the Panic of 1873 Powderly became determined to fight for the cause of labor.

In 1874 Powderly joined the Knights of Labor and on October 14, 1876, he created Local Assembly 222 in Scranton. After a violent encounter between the state militia and labor during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, Powderly decided to enter politics. In December 1877 Powderly was chosen by the Greenback-Labor party as their candidate in the February 1878 Scranton mayoral race. Powderly defeated his opponent by 524 votes. Riding this momentum Powderly replaced the newly resigned Uriah Stephens as Grand Master Workman of the Knights of Labor the following year. Powderly eliminated the secrecy of the Knights in 1882 and oversaw the expansion of membership in the organization to more than 750,000 by the summer of 1886. Knight membership declined after 1886 due in part to internal disunion following the Haymarket Square bombing, opposition from capital and competition from the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Powderly was ousted from the Knights in 1893 and within two years of leaving the organization had once again gone underground.

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Knights of Labor

The Knights of Labor, the first national industrial union in the United States, was founded in Philadelphia on December 9, 1869, by Uriah Stephens (1821-82) and eight other Philadelphia garment cutters. Intended to overcome the limitations of craft unions, the organization was designed to include all those who toiled with their hands. By mid-1886 nearly one million laborers called themselves Knights, making the organization the largest and most influential labor union in nineteenth century America.

Uriah Stephens founded the Knights of Labor, the first national industrial union in the United States, in Philadelphia in December 1869 and led the organization until he resigned his post as Grand Master Workman in 1879. In this 1886 Kurz & Allison lithograph (seen in full in the media gallery), Stephens is honored as the “Founder of the Knights of Labor.” (Library of Congress)

Originally called the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, the Knights began as a replacement for the failed Garment Cutters Association of Philadelphia. To sustain the organization, Stephens insisted on a high level of secrecy and fraternalism. Not referred to by name until 1879, the organization chalked symbols on sidewalks and buildings to call meetings. For example, the symbol 8 = 415/1 meant Local Assembly (LA) No. 1 would meet on April 15, at 8 o’clock.

Stephens aspired to unite all wage-earners into a single organization regardless of skill, race, or sex. The organization excluded liquor dealers, lawyers, bankers, and professional gamblers. Stephens stressed the importance of solidarity within the ranks of labor in order to meet the power of capital. He did not limit the organization’s goals to increased wages and lower hours, but believed that workers should strive to build co-operatives to gradually replace the prevailing capitalistic system. Because of this outlook the slogan for the organization became “an injury to one is the concern of all.” Despite this lofty goal early membership in the Knights consisted primarily of skilled, male workers. Even LA 1, Stephens’ garment cutters assembly, admitted only garment cutters and no women. Women were not initiated into the Knights until 1882.

Philadelphia Had Most Assemblies

Between December 1869 and April 1875 the Knights made few gains outside of the city. During that time eighty-five local assemblies were established, seventy within the Philadelphia region. After the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 membership expanded and the first national officers were initiated after a convention in Reading, Pa., in 1878. In 1879 Terence V. Powderly (1849-1924), a native of Carbondale, Pa., replaced Stephens as Grand Master Workman after Stephens resigned the position. Powderly, who also served as the socialist mayor of Scranton from 1878-84, led the Knights until 1893.

Powderly eliminated the secrecy of the Knights and membership grew to more than 750,000 by the summer of 1886. From 1879 to 1886 the Philadelphia region maintained a high national percentage of Knight membership and established a meeting house across the street from Independence Hall at 505 Chestnut Street. The Knights in the city also participated in numerous actions on behalf of labor, such as organizing a successful shoemakers strike, striking in sympathy with female carpet makers in 1884, and formulating a local assembly of Italian barbers in 1886.

Terence Powderly was a prominent American labor leader, who served as both mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania (1878-84) and Grand Master Workman of the Knights of Labor (1879-93) in the late nineteenth century. This image depicts Frank J. Farrell introducing Powderly at the tenth annual convention of the Knights of Labor. (Library of Congress)

The Knights declined after 1886, due in part to internal discord in the aftermath of the disastrous violence that erupted during a labor protest in Haymarket Square in Chicago strong opposition from capital and competition from the trades unions of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In 1893 the Knights removed Powderly as its national leader and staggered into the twentieth century after Daniel DeLeon’s failed attempted to make the Knights a Marxist organization. When DeLeon and his followers left the organization in 1895, Knight membership declined and the organization went back into secrecy. Despite its decline, the influence of the Knights continued into the twentieth century. In 1903 labor organizer Mary “Mother” Jones (1837-1930), who was inspired to fight for labor while attending Knights meetings in Chicago in the 1870s, came to Philadelphia to encourage striking textile workers in the Kensington district.

Patrick Grubbs is a Ph.D. student of American labor history at Lehigh University.

Copyright 2013, Rutgers University

Related Reading

Fink, Leon. Workingmen’s Democracy: The Knights of Labor and American Politics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

Foner, Philip. History of the Labor Movement in the United States: From Colonial Times to the Founding of the American Federation of Labor. New York: International Publishers, 1947.

Laurie, Bruce. Artisans into Workers: Labor in Nineteenth-Century America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.

Levine, Susan. Labor’s True Women: Carpet Weavers, Industrialization, and Labor Reform in the Gilded Age. Philadelphia: Temple University, 1984.

Phelan, Craig. Grand Master Workman: Terence Powderly and the Knights of Labor. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Weir, Robert E. Beyond Labor’s Veil: The Culture of the Knights of Labor. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.

Collections

Knights of Labor Constitution, reports, and other publications, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia.

Places to Visit

Terence V. Powderly Historical Marker, N. Main Avenue and Mears Street, W. Scranton, Pa.


Knights of Labor: An Early Labor Organization - History

Lawrence Textile Strike, 1912. Library of Congress.

The ideas of social Darwinism attracted little support among the mass of American industrial laborers. American workers toiled in difficult jobs for long hours and little pay. Mechanization and mass production threw skilled laborers into unskilled positions. Industrial work ebbed and flowed with the economy. The typical industrial laborer could expect to be unemployed one month out of the year. They labored sixty hours a week and could still expect their annual income to fall below the poverty line. Among the working poor, wives and children were forced into the labor market to compensate. Crowded cities, meanwhile, failed to accommodate growing urban populations and skyrocketing rents trapped families in crowded slums.

Strikes ruptured American industry throughout the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Workers seeking higher wages, shorter hours, and safer working conditions had struck throughout the antebellum era, but organized unions were fleeting and transitory. The Civil War and Reconstruction seemed to briefly distract the nation from the plight of labor, but the end of the sectional crisis and the explosive growth of big business, unprecedented fortunes, and a vast industrial workforce in the last quarter of the nineteenth century sparked the rise of a vast American labor movement.

The failure of the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 convinced workers of the need to organize. Union memberships began to climb. The Knights of Labor enjoyed considerable success in the early 1880s, due in part to its efforts to unite skilled and unskilled workers. It welcomed all laborers, including women (the Knights only barred lawyers, bankers, and liquor dealers). By 1886, the Knights had over 700,000 members. The Knights envisioned a cooperative producer-centered society that rewarded labor, not capital, but, despite their sweeping vision, the Knights focused on practical gains that could be won through the organization of workers into local unions.

An 1892 cover of Harper’s Weekly depicting the Homestead Riot, showed Pinkerton men who had surrendered to the steel mill workers navigating a gauntlet of violent strikers. W.P. Synder (artist) after a photograph by Dabbs, “The Homestead Riot,” 1892. Library of Congress.

In Marshall, Texas, in the spring of 1886, one of Jay Gould’s rail companies fired a Knights of Labor member for attending a union meeting. His local union walked off the job and soon others joined. From Texas and Arkansas into Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois, nearly 200,000 workers struck against Gould’s rail lines. Gould hired strikebreakers and the Pinkerton Detective Agency, a kind of private security contractor, to suppress the strikes and get the rails moving again. Political leaders helped him and state militias were called in support of Gould’s companies. The Texas governor called out the Texas Rangers. Workers countered by destroying property, only winning them negative headlines and for many justifying the use of strikebreakers and militiamen. The strike broke, briefly undermining the Knights of Labor, but the organization regrouped and set its eyes on a national campaign for the eight-hour day.

In the summer 1886 the campaign for an eight-hour day, long a rallying cry that united American laborers, culminated in a national strike on May 1, 1886. Somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 workers struck across the country.

In Chicago, police forces killed several workers while breaking up protestors at the McCormick reaper works. Labor leaders and radicals called for a protest at Haymarket Square the following day, which police also proceeded to break up. But as they did, a bomb exploded and killed seven policemen. Police fired into the crowd, killing four. The deaths of the Chicago policemen sparked outrage across the nation and the sensationalization of the “Haymarket Riot” helped many Americans to associate unionism with radicalism. Eight Chicago anarchists were arrested and, despite direct evidence implicating them in the bombing, were charged and found guilty of conspiracy. Four were hanged (and one committed suicide before he could be). Membership in the Knights had peaked earlier that year, but fell rapidly after Haymarket: the group became associated with violence and radicalism. The national movement for an eight-hour day collapsed.

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) emerged as a conservative alternative to the vision of the Knights of Labor. An alliance of craft unions (unions composed of skilled workers), the AFL rejected the Knights’ expansive vision of a “producerist” economy and advocated “pure and simple trade unionism,” a program that aimed for practical gains (higher wages, fewer hours, and safer conditions) through a conservative approach that tried to avoid strikes. But workers continued to strike.

In 1892, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers struck at one of Carnegie’s steel mills in Homestead, Pennsylvania. After repeated wage cuts, workers shut the plant down and occupied the mill. The plant’s operator, Henry Clay Frick, immediately called in hundreds of Pinkerton detectives but the steel workers fought back. The Pinkertons tried to land by river and were besieged by the striking steel workers. After several hours of pitched battle, the Pinkertons surrendered, ran a bloody gauntlet of workers, and were kicked out of the mill grounds. But the Pennsylvania governor called the state militia, broke the strike, and reopened the mill. The union was essentially destroyed in the aftermath.

Still, despite repeated failure, strikes continued to roll across the industrial landscape. In 1894, workers in George Pullman’s “Pullman Car” factories struck when he cut wages by a quarter but kept rents and utilities in his company town constant. The American Railway Union (ARU), led by Eugene Debs, launched a sympathy strike: the ARU would refuse to handle any Pullman cars on any rail line anywhere in the country. Thousands of workers struck and national railroad traffic ground to a halt. Unlike nearly every other major strike, the governor of Illinois sympathized with workers and refused to dispatch the state militia. It didn’t matter. In July, President Grover Cleveland dispatched thousands of American soldiers to break the strike and a federal court had issued a preemptive injunction against Debs and the union’s leadership. The strike violated the injunction, and Debs was arrested and imprisoned. The strike evaporated without its leadership. Jail radicalized Debs, proving to him that political and judicial leaders were merely tools for capital in its struggle against labor.

The degrading conditions of industrial labor sparked strikes across the country. The final two decades of the nineteenth century saw over 20,000 strikes and lockouts in the United States. Industrial laborers struggled to carve for themselves a piece of the prosperity lifting investors and a rapidly expanding middle class into unprecedented standards of living. But workers were not the only ones struggling to stay afloat in industrial America. Americans farmers also lashed out against the inequalities of the Gilded Age and denounced political corruption for enabling economic theft.

Two women strikers on picket line during the “Uprising of the 20,000,” garment workers strike, New York City, 1910. Library of Congress.


Difference Between Knights of Labor and AFL

Knights of Labor vs AFL

Knights of Labor and AFL (American Federation of Labor) are different labor unions that were present in the United States.

The AFL was a formal federation of labor unions whereas the Knights of Labor was much more a secretive type. One of the main differences between the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor is that the former one was more radical.

The formation of Knights of Labour can be traced to the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, a secret union formed in 1869 by Uriah Smith Stephens and James L. Wright. Once Terence V. Powderly came to the leadership after Stephens, the organization got national recognition. This union became popular among the coal miners of Pennsylvania during the 1870’s economic depression. It was after this that the Knights of Labor established itself as a leading labor union. They had their greatest victory in the Union Pacific Railroad strike (1884) and the Wabash Railroad Strike (1885). The Knights of Labor had put forth many demands like legislation for ending convict labor and child labor.

Doctors, bankers, stockholders, Asians, Chinese, and lawyers were not included in the Knights of Labor as they were considered unproductive members in the society. Though the union flourished as a leading labor union, its membership declined because of mismanagement, autocratic structure, and unsuccessful strikes.

It was after the decline of the Knights of Labor that the American Federation of Labor gained popularity. The AFL was launched in Columbus, Ohio in 1886. Socialists like Peter J. McGuire and Gompers were behind the formation of the AFL. But in the later years, the union saw a policy shift towards conservative politics. The American Federation of Labor adopted the philosophy of “business unionism,” which emphasized the contribution to profit and national economic growth.

1. One of the main differences between the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor is that the former one was more radical.
2. The AFL was a formal federation of labor unions whereas Knights of Labor was much more a secretive type.
3. The formation of Knights of Labor can be traced to the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, a secret union formed in 1869 by Uriah Smith Stephens and James L. Wright.
4. The AFL was launched in Columbus, Ohio in 1886. Socialists like Peter J. McGuire and Gompers were behind the formation of the AFL.


Modern Labor Organizations

Labor unions have lost power in the United States over the years and, today, union membership varies by sector.

Learning Objectives

Analyze the current state of labor unions

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Today, most labor unions in the United States are members of one of two larger umbrella organizations.
  • Unions have become an issue in the 2008-10 economic crisis, with the two of the largest automakers receiving $85 billion in loans in order to stay viable.
  • Union membership had been declining in the United States since 1954. In 2007, the labor department reported the first increase in union memberships in 25 years and the largest increase since 1979.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent survey indicates that union membership in the has risen to 12.4% of all workers, from 12.1% in 2007. For a short period, private sector union membership rebounded, increasing from 7.5% in 2007 to 7.6% in 2008. However, that trend has since reversed.

Key Terms

  • National Labor Relations Act: An act to diminish the causes of labor disputes burdening or obstructing interstate and foreign commerce, to create a National Labor Relations Board, and for other purposes.

What Are the Major Labor Unions?

Today, most labor unions in the United States are members of one of two larger umbrella organizations:

  • The American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) or
  • The Change to Win Federation, which split from the AFL-CIO in 2005-2006.

Both organizations advocate policies and legislation favorable to workers in the United States and Canada, and take an active role in politics favoring the Democratic party but not exclusively so.

The AFL-CIO is especially concerned with global trade and economical issues.

How Are Labor Unions Regulated?

  • Private sector union members are tightly regulated by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), passed in 1935.
  • Public sector unions are regulated partly by federal and partly by state laws.

What is the State of Labor Union Membership Today?

Union membership had been declining in the United States since 1954. In 2007, the labor department reported the first increase in union memberships in 25 years and the largest increase since 1979.

Most of the recent gains in union membership have been in the service sector, while the number of unionized employees in the manufacturing sector has declined. Most of the gains in the service sector have come in West Coast states like California where union membership is now at 16.7%, compared with a national average of about 12.1%.

Historically, the rapid growth of public employee unions since the 1960s has served to mask an even more dramatic decline in private-sector union membership. Although most industrialized countries have seen a drop in unionization rates, the drop in union density (the unionized proportion of the working population) has been more significant in the United States than elsewhere.

In general the public sector unions have shown robust growth rates because wages and working conditions are set through negotiations with elected local and state officials. In such settings, the unions’ political power thus comes into play. Unlike corporations, the local government cannot threaten to move elsewhere, nor is there any threat from foreign competition.

How Does the Public View Labor Unions?

Public approval of unions climbed during the 1980s much as it did in other industrialized nations, but declined to below 50% for the first time in 2009 during the Great Recession.

It’s not clear if this is a long-term trend or a function of a high unemployment rate, which historically correlates with lower public approval of labor unions.

One explanation for loss of public support is simply the lack of union power. No longer do a sizable percentage of American workers belong to unions or have family members who do. Unions no longer carry the “threat effect:” the power of unions to raise wages of non-union shops by virtue of the threat of unions to organize those shops.

Unions have become an issue in the 2008-10 economic crisis with the two of the largest automakers receiving $85 billion in loans in order to stay viable. Some conservatives have blamed the near bankruptcy on unions and their costly labor agreements, including pension and health plans that put the U.S. automakers at a disadvantage to foreign companies. Others point out that the United Auto Workers has made extensive concessions to the car companies over the last 20 years in order to help the companies remain competitive, and allege that the automakers’ recent troubles are better ascribed to other factors.

How Did Ronald Reagan’s Influence Union Membership?

Most unions were strongly opposed to Reagan in the 1980 presidential election.

On August 3, 1981, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) union—which had supported Reagan—rejected the government’s pay raise offer and sent its 16,000 members out on strike shutting down the nation’s commercial airlines. They demanded a reduction in the work week to 32 from 40 hours, doubling of wages, a $10,000 bonus, and early retirement.

Federal law forbade such a strike, and the Transportation Department implemented a backup plan (of supervisors and military air controllers) to keep the system running. The strikers were given 48 hours to return to work, otherwise they would be fired and banned from ever again working in a federal capacity.

A fourth of the strikers came back to work, but 13,000 did not. The strike collapsed, PATCO vanished, and the union movement as a whole suffered a major reversal, which accelerated the decline of membership across the board in the private sector.


Watch the video: The Industrial Economy: Crash Course US History #23


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