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APUSH: Labour Unions in the Gilded Age

Presentation explaining labour unions, their methods, and their effectiveness at their goals during the Gilded Age.
by

Gregory Meyer

on 17 January 2013

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Transcript of APUSH: Labour Unions in the Gilded Age

Labour Unions in the Gilded Age by Gregory Meyer The Gilded Age was a time of great change and success for many. However, labour conditions had dwindled to nothing in the process - necessitating an organized response. The Knights of Labour The Knights of Labor was a union that stepped in to fill the power void left by the recently-toppled National Labor Union. From their beginnings in 1869 until 1881 they remained a secret society, fighting unfair treatment under the veil of stealth. Goals for Improvement The Knights of Labour had a similar goal to almost all unions at the time - establish a precedent for how workers should be treated, no matter the person. Strategies Knights of Labour Established Knights of Labour go Public Haymarket Square Bombing 1869 1881 1886 Did you know that the Knights had a cool handshake, rituals, and even passwords to keep their identities safe? They were, like, spies or something! The Knights were unique in that their whole idealogy of unionization was entirely colourblind; whites, blacks and even the dreaded immigrants were accepted with open arms - it was clear that they were only trying to help the situation. The Knights' strategies were interesting at the time. Refusing to meddle in politics directly but still jockeying for reform, they favored a system of arbitrated industry. Barring only those deemed unproductive by them (gamblers, lawyers, bankers, etc), their numbers soared to over 90,000. Part One Part Two Utilizing the standard toolset for unions (strike, large discussions), the Knights constantly attempted to motivate social and economic reform (improving safety and health codes) while using their labour as a bargaining chip. Success of the Knights Although the Knights did enjoy initial success and end up getting many reforms their way, it was in 1886 that they would fall. Part One Initially, the Knights found themselves met with great success; winning strikes for an 8-hour workday and even a strike against Jay Gould's Wabash Railroad, things were looking up as membership skyrocketed to over 750,000 people. Part Two Unfortunately for those in the Knights, the fall would come just 5 years after they went public in 1886. Unwisely involving themselves in May Day strikes (of which about half failed), the climax of their plight was in Chicago. Many Knights were collected in Chicago to protest and the police were closing in. Unfortunately, anarchists were also present. As could be guessed, the anarchists threw a bomb, framing the Knights and ensuring their fall from favour. The American Federation of Labour The American Federation of Labour was a Union formed right when the Knights fell. Its founder, Samuel Gompers, organized it as a federation composed of many unions where the AFL was the director. Goals for Improvement Not safe for socialism Definitely someone you want to have as a friend The part where you die Riding for a fall Foiled only by Frenchmen People whine for a better place Over 9,000 Not safe for Sun Tzu Not your average Knights Illuminati or Hack? This won't open any doors The AFL, like all other unions, strived for worker's rights and safety on the job. Unlike other unions, the AFL (but like the Knights of Labour) decided that it was too good for politics. Gompers' idea for the union was to promote better conditions and pay. Nothing specific, just, "more." Probably his biggest goal, however, was to force unions upon those who didn't want to be part of one. Strategies Not socialism, that's what The AFL favored a much more sneaky, yet modest, approach to fixing the situation. Instead of favoring the strikes many other unions did, the AFL organized massive efforts composed of lots of unions in a coalition. Utilizing purely economic moves and no political moves (even less so than the Knights), they focused on what was bad at the moment and how to go about fixing it. Primarily wielding walkouts and boycotts as tools, strikes were less common than usual but still a large part of the job. The Success of the AFL Inductive reasoning in the 1800s and 1900s While the AFL still lives on today as the AFL-CIO, it still had some shortcomings. Approximately half of its strikes were failures and despite their progress towards their goals the employers still held the power in the equation. Trying to represent the many with only the skilled (talented tenth, anybody?), they failed in that right. Critics were accurate to name the AFL the labour trust. However, they did stay true to their lack of political action despite tough pressure from corporations. Perhaps their largest failure was the fact that union membership remained at a disappointing 3% of the workforce. Conclusion No ice cream here, kiddo Both the AFL and the Knights were rather effective at their purpose - uniting the working population in the face of a problem. Successfully striking to gain rights, safety, and a general amount of freedom, these unions could be described as successful at their job.
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