The Origins of Organized Labor Essay

Submitted By wshugart
Words: 634
Pages: 3

With the rise of industrial society and the demoralization of the American factory worker came a need for unions of workers who could band together to protect their jobs, their professions, and themselves. Three of the earliest labor unions that arose were the National Labor Union, the Knights of Labor, and the American Federation of Labor. These organizations had distinct philosophies, strategies, and qualties. The National Labor Union was the union comprised of the widest variety of workers. Regardless of gender or race, all workers were welcome into the union. The main goals of the National Labor Union were to establish a federally-controlled Department of Labor, instill an eight-hour work day, and for an end to convict labor. Additionally, the NLU desired wage protection for American-born workers in the form of immigration restriction, particularly against Chinese immigrants (the Chinese were seen as the main group responsible for dwindling wages in America). This labor union was only involved in one strike, which was against American foundry owners. The strike was a complete failure, and as a result, William H. Sylvis, the leader of the NLU, asked political reformists for help. His sudden death in 1869 brought about the doom of the NLU, which was not seen after 1872. The Holy Order of the Knights of Labor was the second large-scale union to arise in American society, founded in 1869 by a group of tailors from Philadelphia. Their leader was Uriah H. Stephens. This group was open to any and all wage earners, which meant that highly skilled and/or paid professions, such as doctors, stockbrokers, lawyers, and gamblers, were excluded from membership. They called for equal pay for females as well as the end of child labor. Additionally, the Knights of Labor insisted upon income tax, with wealthier and higher-wage workers paying more. The Knights of Labor underwent a major shift in power from Uriah Stephens to Terence Powderly, who brought new philosophy to the union in the form of an anti-strike mindset. This created rifts among the unionists, but the new philosophy was abandoned in the form of an incident in which massive amounts of Knights of Labor workers brought the railroad tycoon Jay Gould to his knees. This was the first strong, large-scale union victory in the United States. However, the anti-strike philosophy kept dividing the union, and eventually unauthorized strikes began to erupt.