Knights of Labor

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Terence V. Powderly (1849-1924) led the Knights of Labor, a powerful advocate for the eight-hour day in the 1870s and early 1880s. Under Powderly's leadership, the union discouraged the use of strikes and advocated restructuring society along cooperative lines.

The Knights of Labor was a labor organization established in 1869. It served as an umbrella organization for other unions that joined it.

The Knights of Labor's founder was Uriah Stevens. At first, the Knights of Labor was a secret organization, but Terence Powderly ended the group's secrecy upon assuming control of the organization in 1879. Membership grew quickly, reaching approximately 700,000 members by 1886.

The Knights of Labor was a rather inclusive group. It sought to unite together all "producers." Producers included anyone that constructed a physical product in the course of their workday. The Knights of Labor welcomed factory workers and business owners into its ranks. The group rejected "nonproducers"—people who did not engage in physical labor, such as bankers, lawyers, and academics. The Knights of Labor sought to create a united front of producers versus the nonproducers. The organization even allowed women and African Americans to join its ranks. Together, the producers sought an eight-hour workday, an end to child labor, better wages, and improved working conditions in general. Under Powderly's leadership, the organization also sought to instill morality in its members, including providing support for the temperance movement.

The Knights of Labor sought to attain their goals primarily through boycotts and peaceful negotiations. Powderly generally opposed strikes, believing that they only led to bloodshed and increased tensions. Other Knights of Labor leaders preferred utilizing strikes. After the Haymarket Square Riot in Chicago, Illinois, in 1886, the Knights of Labor declined as an effective organization. Powderly resigned as the organization's head in 1893, unable to bring the organization's membership together on how best to fight for improved conditions.

Within Ohio, the Knights of Labor gained an impressive following. In 1880, the organization only had eight hundred members within the state. By 1887, seventeen thousand Ohio workers belonged to the group. Several successful strikes during the mid 1880s led to the Knights of Labor's growth. As the strikes proved successful, more workers flocked to the union movement. Interestingly, due to the Knights of Labor's opposition to strikes, the organization experienced declining membership by the late 1880s and the early 1890s. Many of the Knights of Labor's disgruntled members joined the American Federation of Labor, a new labor group organized in Columbus, Ohio, in 1886.

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