LABRST 1A03 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Torys, Samuel Gompers, Terence V. Powderly

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Rise and Fall of the Knights of Labour (Part One)
Different Kind of Organization
Knights wanted to mobilize workers not just about things going on in the
When they get going they bring in people from all sorts of different places
Attract people who are interested in different kinds of organizations
Started as secret protestant organization
Most famous: Masons
Started in 1869 in Philadelphia
Rise and Fall
Terence Powderly
o Becomes president in 1879
o Changed organization
o Was Catholic so did not want to be secret anymore
o Under his leadership they become very open to almost all workers of
different backgrounds
o Under his leadership things start to grow in US and Canada
o By 1884 people were starting to pay attention to Knights of Labour
o Great Southwestern Railway Strike: Knights of Labour win and get a
better deal for their workers (1885)
Great Upheaval
o Win in 1885 leads to many more members
o Membership could have doubled but had to turn people away because
couldn’t keep track of all people wanting to sign up
o Interest does not last that long
o Not that good at tracking members
o In total there were about 3 millions people who joined Knights of
Labour at some time
Broad and Flexible
o If you worked, were interested in representing you
o Not as strict/rigid as trade unions
o Trade unions did not welcome workers from different trades
o Knights wanted to organize as broadly as they can
o Flexible: whatever works they are okay with
Mixed Assemblies
o Basic units of organizing
o A lot of assemblies were trade assemblies (lots of workers in one
trade would form an assembly)
o Mixed assemblies were workers from different trades
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Small Town Organizing
o Worked for small towns because would not have enough workers in a
single trade to make assembly for that trade
o Could make assembly out of all workers in town
o Knights were successful in small and large areas
o Made them even bigger threat because were not limited to one place,
spreading very quickly and opening opportunities
Ideals and Values
Humanity and Work
o Most fundamental that all workers had in common was shared sense
of humanity
o Wanted humanity to be expressed on the job
o Work was not degrading, not dehumanizing
o Most of time called this “Brotherhood”: no matter what your
background was the Knights were interested in organizing you
o Allowed African American and Aboriginal people to join
o Were not worried if were unskilled or skilled worker
o Wanted a more cooperative society than competitive society
o Did not want imperialism
Preserving Morality
o Knights were big on insisting economic issues were moral issues
o Ex. When workers are getting laid off because companies are making
large profits, is that moral?
o Big issues: who gets large amounts of open land in the West
o Family values was a cause of the left
o Want to preserve family
o Family is always apart: father away working, kids in school, mother at
o Portrayed employers who split up families as immoral (ex. employers
who sent fathers away)
o Adamant that family unit was foundation of society
Protection of Women
Breadwinner’s Wage
o Protection of women meant protecting them from having to work
o Breadwinners wage: wage efficient enough to provide for the whole
family without anyone else having to work
o Knights said men should be able to make a Breadwinner’s wage to
keep women and girls from having to work
o Said that industrial workplaces are rough, nasty places that women
are too delicate to work in
Organizing Woman
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