Knights of Labor

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Knights of Labor,

American labor organization, started by Philadelphia tailors in 1869, led by Uriah S. Stephens. It became a body of national scope and importance in 1878 and grew more rapidly after 1881, when its earlier secrecy was abandoned. Organized on an industrial basis, with women, black workers (after 1883), and employers welcomed, excluding only bankers, lawyers, gamblers, and stockholders, the Knights of Labor aided various groups in strikes and boycotts, winning important strikes on the Union Pacific in 1884 and on the Wabash RR in 1885. But failure in the Missouri Pacific strike in 1886 and the Haymarket Square riotHaymarket Square riot,
outbreak of violence in Chicago on May 4, 1886. Demands for an eight-hour working day became increasingly widespread among American laborers in the 1880s.
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 (for which it was, although not responsible, condemned by the press) caused a loss of prestige and strengthened factional disputes between the craft unionists and the advocates of all-inclusive unionism. With the motto "an injury to one is the concern of all," the Knights of Labor attempted through educational means to further its aims—an 8-hour day, abolition of child and convict labor, equal pay for equal work, elimination of private banks, cooperation—which, like its methods, were highly idealistic. The organization reached its apex in 1886, when under Terence V. Powderly its membership reached a total of 702,000. Among the causes of its downfall were factional disputes, too much centralization with a resulting autocracy from top to bottom, mismanagement, drainage of financial resources through unsuccessful strikes, and the emergence of the American Federation of Labor. By 1890 its membership had dropped to 100,000, and in 1900 it was practically extinct.


See P. S. Foner and R. L. Lewis, ed., Black Worker: The Era of the Knights of Labor (1979).

Knights of Labor


(Noble Order of Knights of Labor), a mass organization of American workers in the last third of the 19th century. It played an important role in the development of the labor movement in the United States.

Founded in 1869 by a group of garment workers headed by Uriah Stevens, it operated as a secret organization until 1878. The Knights of Labor represented the first attempt to organize the American working class on a national scale. It brought together workers from various trades, particularly the unskilled, and also included nonproletarian and petit bourgeois elements. The organization pursued limited goals, such as creation of producers’ cooperatives and mutual aid societies and struggle for “fair” labor conditions. As a secret order, it had complex ceremonies and rituals.

The assumption of an open, legal status helped the Knights of Labor transform itself into the most influential labor organization in the United States. Its approximately 10,000 members in 1879 grew to more than 700,000 in 1886. The Knights of Labor led a number of successful strikes during this period. However, its influence and size declined after 1886, when its leaders turned away from the class struggle. In 1893 it had only around 70,000 members and by the end of the century had virtually ceased to exist.

References in periodicals archive ?
With the help of the Austin-based 78th District Assembly of the Knights of Labor, they did just that.
For example, unions and Knights of Labor assemblies disappeared following the defeat of strikes in Leadville, Colorado, and unions multiplied temporarily during the ship-building boom in Bath, Maine, during World War I.
Funcken in Berlin, Ontario, that the Knights of Labor and similar organizations had a well-known purpose, namely to get better terms from employers for inadequately paid working men; that they had no oath of secrecy; and that their object was not to overthrow either the Church or the State.
Between the mid-1880s and 1905, several thousand people from this new working class joined the Knights of Labor and a few other trade unions, but despite many, often violent, strikes, poor leadership and company enmity prevented any significant gains.
At present he is working on an article concerning the Knights of Labor in the East Liverpool ceramics industry.
But where the German Furniture Workers Union, the Knights of Labor and the Amalgamated failed, the Brotherhood succeeded in recruiting thousands of these Dutch immigrants.
When the alliance joined with the Knights of Labor in 1889, these issues were discussed on a broader basis and became the major radical demands of the last decade of the century.
As leader of the cigar maker' union, he took the union out of the Knights of Labor, an industrial union, and established the American Federation of Labor, a federation of craft unions, in 1886.
The first chapter, "Dreaming of What Might Be: The Knights of Labor in Canada, 1880-1900," uses Sam Bradd's sketchy cartooning style and plenty of typed text by Carleton, Smith, and Folvik to tell this story of a movement that, while flawed, is still inspiring.
They focus only glancingly on the rise of the Knights of Labor, who would win 31 percent of the city's mayoral vote in 1886.
29,1888, from Cardinal Giovanni Simeoni of the Vatican's Propaganda Fide to Baltimore Cardinal James Gibbons, permitting Catholics to join the Knights of Labor.
Under the aegis of the Knights of Labor, Jackson Ward politicians and dissident white workers created an independent "Workingmen's Reform" ticket that swept the city council in 1886.