Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor

Labor Unions like the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor were created to help workers of the 19th century but no one could predict labor unions to be so wayward. Labor unions failed to gain acceptance with the public because their erratic and unstable attempts to help the workers of American ended up doing more harm than good. Labor unions of the 19th century caused vendetta, damage, and violence among workers and business owners alike. The idiom ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ is a fair way to describe the labor unions and their shaky foundation of improving the working conditions of America.

This primarily means that where there are too many people trying to do something, they make a mess of it. In Doc D, the cartoon depicted the nation’s view on “organized” labor. The accuracy of the cooks fighting over a pot of “labor interest broth” shows exactly how labor unions handled problems they were faced with. There were also many arguments on eligibility and work-ethic. The American Federation of Labor was a very tight group that did not allow women or blacks. This created a big controversy since the Knights of labor did. Another tiff was that over work ethic.

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The public viewed the AFL as slackers and believed they didn’t work as hard since they were the ones to suggest shorter work days and better wages as opposed to a reasonable 8-hour day and living wages proposed by the KOL. These disputes ultimately led up to the damage of the unions and their “good intentions”. The damage caused by the labor unions was far less violent than anticipated. Even though labor unions wanted safer working areas and good pay, it still reduced job opportunities and cost millions of dollars worth of property damage.

Strikes were a popular way to get your word out while still being peaceful. Although most strikes ended in violence like the general strike in Baltimore (Doc E), they were intended to get the unions’ point across. Most strikes did end in death which proved that unions, even though having good intentions, still ended up being the cause of so many deaths. One death caused by a strike was the death of the Knights of Labor. Violence was the dividing line between the Knights of Labor and the American federation of Labor.

The KOL were fine with violence and did it frequently while the AFL preferred to go the more peaceful route and have moderate, less violent strikes and boycotts even though they didn’t always succeed. “It is idle to talk of a peaceful strike. None such has ever occurred” (Doc H); stated by Judge Jenkin towards the end of the Gilded Age. There was no effect in talking about peace when strikes were occurring everywhere. Judges called them unlawful and declared that all strikes bring violence. It was unavoidable.

The Haymarket riot of 1886 was one of the biggest violent strikes in the Gilded Age. 0,000 strikers in Chicago and suddenly violence erupts resulting in several deaths which only caused more violence and the death of eight police officers and 10 rioters. In a matter of four years the KOL’s members dropped from 800,000, to 100,000.

Violence always ended in tragedy. The union labors, although with benevolence, still ended up doing more harm than good. They brought vendetta among businesses, damage to America, and violence between its citizens. Labor unions never gained full acceptance from the public and were doomed for failure.

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Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor. (2016, Nov 24). Retrieved from