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The Growth of the American Labor Movement

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The Growth of the American Labor Movement. Philip Dray: Labor Historian. The Changing American Labor Force. National Labor Union. The National Labor Union ( NLU ) was the first national labor federation in the United States.

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The Growth

of the


Labor Movement

national labor union
National Labor Union
  • The National Labor Union (NLU) was the first national labor federation in the United States.
  • Founded in 1866 and dissolved in 1873, it paved the way for other organizations, such as the Knights of Labor and the AFL (American Federation of Labor).
  • It was led by William H. Sylvis.
  • The National Labor Union sought to bring together all of the national labor organizations in existence, as well as the "eight-hour leagues" established to press for the eight-hour day, to create a national federation that could press for labor reforms and help found national unions in those areas where none existed.
  • The new organization favored arbitration over strikes and called for the creation of a national labor party as an alternative to the two existing parties.

Management vs. Labor

“Tools” of Management

“Tools” of Labor

  • “scabs”
  • P. R. campaign
  • Pinkertons
  • lockout
  • blacklisting
  • yellow-dog contracts
  • court injunctions
  • open shop
  • boycotts
  • sympathy demonstrations
  • informational picketing
  • closed shops
  • organized strikes
  • “wildcat” strikes

Knights of Labor

Terence V. Powderly

An injury to one is the concern of all!


Goals of the Knights of Labor

  • Employers are the new “slave power”
  • Eight-hour workday.
  • Worker-owned factories.
  • Abolition of child and prison labor.
  • Increased circulation of greenbacks.
  • Equal pay for men and women.
  • Safety codes in the workplace.
  • Prohibition of contract foreign labor.
  • Abolition of the National Bank.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877

  • Protest pay cut.
  • Militia units called in.
  • Theme: National power to be used not to protect former slaves, but to guarantee the right to property.

Haymarket Riot (1886)

McCormick Harvesting Machine Co.


Haymarket Affair

  • Wage reductions
  • Violence in streets
  • Company introduces new machines reducing the need for iron moulders’ skills
  • Rally held to protest killings, bomb thrown killing policeman, sparking additional violence.

How the AF of L Would Help the Workers

  • Skilled worker.
  • Represented workers in national legislation.
  • National strike fund.
  • Evangelized the cause of unionism.
  • Prevented disputes among the many craft unions.
  • Mediated disputes between management and labor.
  • Closed shops.

Homestead Steel Strike (1892)

Homestead Steel Works

  • Management tires of union demands
  • Open Shop Created
  • Union blockade
  • Conflict:
    • Death of 7 workers and 3 Pinkertons
    • Militia called in.
  • Theme:
    • Denial of economic independence & democratic self-gov’t

Union: The Amalgamated Association of Iron & Steel Workers


Pullman Cars

A Pullman porter

the pullman strike of 1894
The Pullman Strike of 1894
  • Strike protests wage reduction
  • Solidarity! – Railway Union refuses to handle trains w/ Pullman cars.
  • Ct. Injunction
  • Federal troops occupy rail centers – conflict.
  • Supreme Court upholds jailing Eugene V. Debs.

The Pullman Strike of 1894

Government by injunction!


President Grover Cleveland

Conservative Presidents of the Gilded Age turn their backs on labor, using federal power to support big business.


The Socialists

  • Vs. capitalism & Private Control
  • Problem  unequal wealth distribution
  • Problem  inevitable concentration of ownership in fewer and fewer hands
  • Want  GOV’T. control to ensure fairer distribution of the benefits of wealth.
  • Necessity of class conflict
  • Clear Marxists Bent
  • Difference  Peaceful vs. violent upheaval

Eugene V. Debs

socialism vs communism
Socialism vs. Communism
  • From James D. Forman’s 1974 book, “Fascism.”
    • Democratic socialism, favoring government ownership of the principal means of production, found gradual acceptance in the more advanced and industrialized nations through persuasion and the ballot box rather than by force and violence. Communism, with its revolutionary programs directed toward the same economic ends as democratic socialism, addressed itself to the bloody overthrow of capitalism everywhere, but it met with little success where the parent system was firmly planted.

Anarchists Meet on the Lake Front in 1886

  • Government unfairly restricts freedom of workers.
  • “New Order” needs to be achieved that represents the laborers.

“Big Bill” Haywood of theIWW

  • Violence was justified to overthrow capitalism.
union struggles
Union Struggles
  • AFL opposed by National Association of Manufacturers & the radical IWW. IWW:
    • Class conflict
    • Worker takeover
  • Manufacturer Assoc:
    • Spies
    • Injunction
    • Yellow Dog Contracts.
  • Lack of UNITY damages possibility of success.

The “Formula”

unions + violence + strikes + socialists + immigrants = anarchists

social gospel vs gospel of wealth
Social Gospel vs. Gospel of Wealth
  • Social Gospel:
  • Freedom & spiritual development require equalization of wealth and power.
  • Unregulated competition opposed to Christian brotherhood.
  • Attempt to combat poverty, & achieve better working class housing.
  • Religion reaching out to labor.
  • Gospel of Wealth:
  • Wealth shows God’s favor
  • Accumulating wealth is a Christian duty.
  • Uplifting poor misguided.
  • Inequality is inevitable and good