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Worker organization and the struggles of unions

Prior to the Civil War, there were limited efforts to create an organized labor movement on any large scale. With the majority of workers in the country working independently in rural settings, the idea of organized labor was not largely understood. But, as economic conditions changed, people became more aware of the inequities facing factory wage workers. By the early 1880s, even farmers began to fully recognize the strength of unity behind a common cause.

Models of organizing: the knights of labor and american federation of labor

In 1866, seventy-seven delegates representing a variety of different occupations met in Baltimore to form the National Labor Union (NLU). The NLU had ambitious ideas about equal rights for African Americans and women, currency reform, and a legally mandated eight-hour workday. The organization was successful in convincing Congress to adopt the eight-hour workday for federal employees, but their reach did not progress much further. The Panic of 1873 and the economic recession that followed as a result of overspeculation on railroads and the subsequent closing of several banks—during which workers actively sought any employment regardless of the conditions or wages—as well as the death of the NLU’s founder, led to a decline in their efforts.

A combination of factors contributed to the debilitating Panic of 1873, which triggered what the public referred to at the time as the “Great Depression” of the 1870s. Most notably, the railroad boom that had occurred from 1840 to 1870 was rapidly coming to a close. Overinvestment in the industry had extended many investors’ capital resources in the form of railroad bonds. However, when several economic developments in Europe affected the value of silver in America, which in turn led to a de facto gold standard that shrunk the U.S. monetary supply, the amount of cash capital available for railroad investments rapidly declined. Several large business enterprises were left holding their wealth in all but worthless railroad bonds. When Jay Cooke&Company, a leader in the American banking industry, declared bankruptcy on the eve of their plans to finance the construction of a new transcontinental railroad, the panic truly began. A chain reaction of bank failures culminated with the New York Stock Exchange suspending all trading for ten days at the end of September 1873. Within a year, over one hundred railroad enterprises had failed; within two years, nearly twenty thousand businesses had failed. The loss of jobs and wages sent workers throughout the United States seeking solutions and clamoring for scapegoats.

Although the NLU proved to be the wrong effort at the wrong time, in the wake of the Panic of 1873 and the subsequent frustration exhibited in the failed Molly Maguires uprising and the national railroad strike, another, more significant, labor organization emerged. The Knights of Labor (KOL) was more able to attract a sympathetic following than the Molly Maguires and others by widening its base and appealing to more members. Philadelphia tailor Uriah Stephens grew the KOL from a small presence during the Panic of 1873 to an organization of national importance by 1878. That was the year the KOL held their first general assembly, where they adopted a broad reform platform, including a renewed call for an eight-hour workday, equal pay regardless of gender, the elimination of convict labor, and the creation of greater cooperative enterprises with worker ownership of businesses. Much of the KOL’s strength came from its concept of “One Big Union”—the idea that it welcomed all wage workers, regardless of occupation, with the exception of doctors, lawyers, and bankers. It welcomed women, African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants, of all trades and skill levels. This was a notable break from the earlier tradition of craft unions, which were highly specialized and limited to a particular group. In 1879, a new leader, Terence V. Powderly, joined the organization, and he gained even more followers due to his marketing and promotional efforts. Although largely opposed to strikes as effective tactics, through their sheer size, the Knights claimed victories in several railroad strikes in 1884–1885, including one against notorious “robber baron” Jay Gould, and their popularity consequently rose among workers. By 1886, the KOL had a membership in excess of 700,000.

Questions & Answers

Which country etablished the first colonies in the americas
Alex Reply
which part of the America's? what year?
Jamestown = England. if I had to guess that's the one you are looking for
Spain. area of new Mexico I think.
the first encounter with Americans in this te Indian was Christopher Columbus from spain bt he not establish a colony and the first colony was Britain in Jamestown I think
in what ways did westward expansion provide new opportunities for women and african americans?\
cavausier Reply
What source did the Roman Catholic church have
robbie Reply
Please clarify: do you mean what sources do they made their authority on?
impact of coming of Portuguese in kenya
Brian Reply
impact of coming of portuguese
impact of coming of portuguese
What was the first problem that Franklin Roosevelt dealt with during his "First Hundred Days"?
Bryan Reply
The Great Depression
worst cover up! they should feel dumb! they we're trapped in, on both sides of the East and West borders of the Islamic forces, Columbus was desperate and started voyage due to the events of his time!
Which of the following protests was directly related to federal policies, and thus had the biggest impact in creating a negative public perception of Hoover presidency
Steven Reply
the Bonus Army
what mistakes did Britain mak the lost them the colonies
Victor Reply
tax without representation
they did not give the colinies any representation
they also imposed taxes ,such as the stamp Act, on those it is unwise to offend; lawyers, business men and other men of influence
the american revolution
Angelica Reply
what started the American revolution
immediate cause: British tried to seize weapons stored by local militia which led to a confrontation
the British handling of the situation was quite inept and they allowed things to escalate out of control.
hi...can you state benefit of U.S constitution
Chimi Reply
bill of rights
it provided a political framework which provifed stability while at the same time permitting freedoms which allowed the American people to flourish
bill spelled out rights so there wpuld be no confusion
Among the major cause of American civil war, can I have a brief account on social cause?
Rinchen Reply
The issue of slavery between South America and North America that lead to the American Civil War
not sure what you mean by "social" causes. Do you mean things like differences between Northern ers & southerners?
The N & S developed very differently. This led to clashing outlooks and agendas. Slavery was the "irepressible conflict" that made compromise impossible.
what was the purpose of Operation Valkyrie?
Matthew Reply
I have no idea
that was the WWII attempt by German officers to overthrow Hitler.
which culture developed the writting system in the western hemisphere?
cierra Reply
the phoenicians
loops I mean the Maya
Treaty of Greenville
The Reply
By this treaty Indians gave up some land in exchange for am annuity of money & supplies. It followed Battle of Fallen Timbers, a decisive victory of US troops over Indian tribes organized into the Western Confederacy. It marks the beginning of modern state of Ohio.
Please keep in mind that it is not allowed to promote any social groups (whatsapp, facebook, etc...) or exchange phone numbers or email addresses on our platform.
QuizOver Reply
Columbus didn't discover ish. He stole America from the Natives
LovingN Reply
Who was Nat Turner? What was the cause and impact of the Nat Turner Rebellion?
what is marcantlisim and its ultimate effects?
Explain the concept of salavery how it developed and what were the subsequent consequences?
The definition of the term "discovery" is to find something that; A. was lost or B. You were previously unaware of. By this definition (B) Columbus certainly DID discover a new continent that we now call America.
mercantilism was an economic philosophy. it held that the goal of a nation was to establish a favorable balance of trade, largely through accumulating a large supply if gold.

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Source:  OpenStax, U.s. history. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11740/1.3
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