The History of Organized Labor
The first national labor unions were formed during the 1850’s. These groups of workers were the typesetters, iron molders, hat finishers, stonecutters, and cigar makers. Locomotive engineers formed a union in 1863 and conductors formed a union in 1868. In 1866, the National Labor Union began in Baltimore. The National Labor Union was many different unions all under the leadership of William Sylvis. They eventually got Congress to pass an eight hour work day for Federal workers. When Williams Sylvis died in 1969 the National Labor Union fell apart and only 10 of the 30 unions remained.
A union of shoemakers formed in 1867. They were called The Knights of St. Crispin, but because of new machines that could make the shoes, the union ended after 10 years. The Knights of Labor began in 1869. Membership was opened to all people no matter what race, sex, or profession. By the 1880’s the Knights of Labor had almost 750,000 members, but that number began to decline after the Haymarket Square Riots. The Haymarket Square Riots was when The Knights of Labor were accused of throwing a bomb that killed some police officers. The union fell apart because of the enormous amount of negative publicity they received from the Haymarket Square Riots.
In 1886, The American Federation of Labor was founded by Samuel Gompers. It was a union for skilled workers only. In 1894, the Pullman Strike occurred at the Pullman plant in Chicago. The American Railroad Union went on strike because of the handling of the Pullman’s parlor and sleeping car that were on the railroads. 125,000 railroad workers were on strike but eventually the Supreme Court voted with an injunction to end the strike. Another well-known strike occurred in 1902. This strike was the United Mine Workers. More than 100,000 miners from Pennsylvania started a strike on May 12 and kept the mines closed for the whole summer. President Theodore Roosevelt took charge on...