Purpose of Lesson: This lesson can be used to introduce students to the three main labor organizations that rose during the industrial period of the United States: the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World
Objectives: At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:
Historical and Methodological Context for the Lesson:
At the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century, American workers debated how they could best defend their interests in the face of powerful national corporations. One of the most contentious questions that faced them was whether labor should agitate for higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions, or for more fundamental transformations in the nation's economy. Another source of controversy was whether unions should try to organize whole industries (what are called industrial unions) or organize particular skilled crafts (craft unions).
At stake in these debates was the very meaning of the labor movement: Whom to organize? How to organize them? What to do once they are organized? Playing key roles in providing their own answers to those questions were three labor unions: the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World.
1. Distribute the chart to be completed individually, in small groups or as a class. If possible, it may be helpful to have other texts, such as Henry Pelling's American Labor or James E. Bruner's Industrialism: The American Experience, on had for additional information.
2. Distribute the primary documents
TO THE PUBLIC:
The alarming development and aggressiveness of great capitalists and corporations, unless checked, will inevitably lead to the pauperization and hopeless degradation of the toiling masses.
It is imperative, if we desire to enjoy the full blessings of life, that a check be placed upon unjust accumulation, and the power for evil of aggregated wealth.
This much-desired object can be accomplished only by the united efforts of those who obey the divine injunction, "In the sweat of they face shalt thou eat bread."
Therefore we have formed the Order of Knights of Labor, for the purpose of organizing and directing the power of the industrial masses, not as a political party, for it is more - in it are crystallized sentiments and measures for the benefit of the whole people, but it should be borne in mind, when exercising the right of suffrage, that most of the objects herein set forth can only be obtained through legislation, and that it is the duty of all to assist in nominating and supporting with their votes only such candidates as will pledge their support to those measures, regardless of party. But no one shall, however, be compelled to vote with the majority, and calling upon all who believe in securing "the greatest good to the greatest number," to join and assist us, we declare to the world that are our aims are:
In order to secure these results, we demand at the hands of the State:
And we demand at the hands of Congress:
And while making the foregoing demands upon the State and National Government, we will endeavor to associate our own labors.
“Whereas a struggle is going on in the nations of the civilized world, between the oppressors and oppressed of all countries, a struggle between capital and labor which must grow in intensity from year to year and work disastrous results to the toiling millions of all nations, if not combined for mutual protection and benefits. The history of the wage workers of all countries is but the history of constant struggle and misery, engendered by ignorance and disunion, whereas the history of the non-producers of all countries proves that a minority thoroughly organized may work wonders for good or evil. It behooves the representatives of the workers of North America in congress assembled, to adopt such measures and disseminate such principles among the people of our country as will unite them for all time to come, to secure the recognition of the rights to which they are justly entitled. The various trades have been affected by the introduction of machinery, the subdivision of labor, the use of women's and children's labor and the lack of an apprentice system, so that the skilled trades are rapidly sinking to the level of pauper labor. To protect the skilled labor of America from being reduced to beggary and to sustain the standard of American workmanship and skill, the trades unions of America have been established.”
The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.
We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.
These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.
Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."
It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.
Ask students to read the organizations' founding documents to identify and compare the ideological principles, goals and tactics of each of these organizations. Pick out particular vocabulary that helps document the assessment. Without making value judgments, ask students to identify any practical problems they might see with the organizations' goals or ideals.