external image unions.gifexternal image unions.gifUnions and Strikes

With the rise of industrialization and many workers taking up factory jobs, businesses began cutting corners in order to turn a higher profit and take advantage of their relatively cheap unskilled labor force. Individual workers had no power to oppose factory management and subsequently faced occupational hazards, long workdays, low wages, and almost no job security. However, factory workers realized, that by banding together and negotiating as a group, they could receive better pay and better working conditions. Factories, afraid of unions lowering their profit margins, would immediately fire any workers who were suspected of working together or unionizing. Nevertheless, unions sprang up all over the country to fight for worker's rights. Trade Unions organized together into national unions to fight for change. The most prominent unions were able to successfully negotiate realistic and attainable goals. Most negotiations were a result of the ongoing strikes that labor unions would establish to organize the negotiations. The major Labor Unions were: The National Labor Union (NLU), The Knights of Labor, and the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

external image Coal.JPG?format=jpg National Labor Union -
Founded in 1866, the National Labor Union was the first national unions in the United States to accept everyone, regardless of race or gender. The National Labor Union was led by William H. Sylvis. The National Labor Union wanted to bring together all of the local labor unions. The most important goals of the National Labor Union were raising wages, improving working conditions, and most importantly, creating an 8 hour workday. The national labor union favored arbitration over strikes and eventually was able to secure the 8 hour workday for federal employees. However, the National Labor Union was relatively short-lived as it dissolved in 1873.

Knights of Labor -
The Knight's of Labor was another union formed in the 19th century. Founded in 1869, the Knights accepted blacks, women, and most other groups, although they did support the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Knight's of Labor supported equal pay for women, an end to child labor, and an income tax. The Knights of Labor's leader, Terence Powderly, preferred arbitration to strikes, although the Knights of Labor eventually organized and used strikes to try to accomplish their goals and objectives.

American Federation of Labor -

Unlike the National Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor tried to accomplish less radical goals. The American Federation of Labor was specifically for skilled workers and the AFL used it's huge membership to win rights and better conditions from employers. The AFL was one of the most powerful unions, because it was comprised of many skilled workers who focused on gaining small concessions rather than trying to go for radical change all at once.

Throughout the late-19th century, there were many strikes that were created to differences between labor unions and factory owners. People who were not in labor unions viewed them as very radical and increasingly violent. This view caused many labor unions to shut down. The most prominent strikes were the Railroad Strike of 1877 and the Haymarket Square Riot.

Railroad Strike of 1877 - Employees of the Baltimore and Ohio railroads established a strike as soon as their company began to lower wages for the second time due to economic downturn. Because the strike caused a pause in mail delivery, the United States President, Hayes, was able to intervene by calling the US Army to end the unfortunate strike. "This was the first major post-Civil War strike" according to notes on Labor Unions and Labor Strikes.

The Haymarket Square Riot of 1886 - Workers at McCormick Harvisting Machine Co. began a strike hoping to achieve a shorter work day. The "scene was peaceful" until police officers attacked the stikers according to the mayor's instructions. Out of nowhere, a bomb was thrown into the masses which ended up killing seven police men and more than sixty others. The police blamed the Knights of Labor and attacked. Four other members were killed. Finally eight leaders of the Knights of Labor were put on trial - seven were convicted of conspiracy to murder, four ended up being hanged November 1887, three were pardoned, and one committed suicide. After this incident, the Knights of Labor were blamed unfairly and later dissolved.


1. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=503
2. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h750.html
3. Labor Unions and Labor Strikes Worksheet
4. Brinkley, Alan. American History: A Survey