Organized Labor


Organized Labor Essay, Research Paper

Organized labor, during the period from 1875 to 1900, was not as

successful in improving the position of workers as one was hoping it

would be. There are many results that arose from these organized

labor attempts that prove how unsuccessful they actually were. These

results include the collapse of many labor unions such as, NLU,

Knights of Labor, and ARU, the failure of many strikes such as, the

Great Railroad Strike, the Haymarket Riot, and the Pullman Strike,

and the techniques used by management to defeat labor.

The National Labor Union, otherwise known as NLU, was

organized following the time of the Civil War. This labor union was

created by William Sylvis. The NLU had a couple of main goals. One

goal was to return to the ways of early America; the time when

workers controlled the average workday and could actually make a

decent living and not have to work their heart and soul out for

pennies a day. They demanded eight hour work days, on average,

eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we

will . They wanted equal opportunities for craft workers, skilled and

unskilled workers, and even reformers. The only exclusions were

those involved with banks, defending (lawyers), and the disbursement

of liquor. At their height, more than 600,000 people were involved

with this union, making it the first largest national union. By the

early 1870 s, the NLU had created their own political party, a third

party. But, to much disappointment, in the elections of 1872, they

lost, heavily. With the Panic of 1872 and the Depression in the

mid-1870 s, the NLU collapsed. The Knights of Labor was established

in 1871 by Uriah Stephens, a Protestant. Many were drawn to this

organization. These Knights were led by Terence V. Powderly and was

open to any variety of the working class. In 1878, they fought for

equal pay for women and even let them become members. These

Knights wanted the same effects as the NLU, but were said to be

sober, respectable, conservative, modest, non-opportunistic, lawful,

respectful, and educated . They rarely supported strikes. Preferably,

they focused on the frenzy in politics for graduated income tax,

consumer and producer cooperatives, and used only boycotts and

arbitration. Even though they despised strikes, in the mid-1880 s,

they feuded with many railroad companies. Following this, the

Knights had more than 700,000 members. They, too, failed do to

loses in the strikes. The American Railway Union was organized by

Eugene V. Debs in 1893. This was an industrial union. Debs was not

in favor of violence and even ordered tat there be none used. The

ARU was involved and supported the strike against the handling of

Pullman cars. As quickly as the were involved in the Pullman Strike,

the group was put under injunction for the disruption and threatening

of the federal mail as directed by President Cleveland.

Many strikes that occurred during this time added to the failure

of the organized labor unions. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 was

the first nationwide strike in history. The Baltimore and Ohio

Railroads cut the wages of the workers dramatically. This ignited the

creation of the ARU. In Martinsburg, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, as well as

Baltimore and Ohio, strikers stopped passage to trains and uncoupled

locomotives. The strikes were attempted to be broken up by the

police, militia, and even federal troops. A large number of strikers

were killed and much property was destroyed. The Haymarket Riot

began in Chicago. It was in protest to the killings of many workers by

the police on May 1st at the McCormick strike. On May 4th, at a rally,

anarchists were called to give speeches in support of the strikers. The

riot began after seven policemen were killed when someone threw a

bomb into the crowd. This riot caused many labor unions to become

known as associated with radical and violent tactics which hurt the

labor movement. The Pullman Strike was do to wages being cut, and

the cost of rent and prices of materials being high. Railroad passages

were blocked and traffic was disabled. The ARU helped the strike by

boycotting trains with Pullman cars. But, when all was said and done,

riots broke out and the Attorney General used court orders to stop this

strike and protect the mails.

Management tried every way to stop labor unions. One

technique was the Yellow Dog Contract. These contracts state that

anyone interested in re-employment by the Western Union company

must leave any type of organization that tries to adjust circumstances

of employment. Employees would be fired if they were to join any

type of union. Another technique was the use of Pinkerton

detectives. These were spies and protected strikebreakers sent out by

the company to uncover newly coming rebellions by workers.

Whatever the tactics, whatever the results, organized labor was

a failure. Unions collapsed, strikes failed, and management did

everything in their power to stop the working class from rising. Most

of the attempts and actions made were failures from the start, and

those that showed any promise turned out to be even.

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