American Federation of Labor and Industrial Workers of the World

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“American Federation of Labor and Industrial Workers of the World”

The American Federation of Labor was an association of trade unions starting 1886, rising out of an earlier Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions founded in 1881. The AFL's president, Samuel Gompers, was convinced that unions open to workers of all types of skills within a given industry,called industrial unions,were too undisciplined to withstand the tactics that both government and management had used to break American unions in the past. The answer, was craft unions, each limited to the skilled workers in a single trade. According to Gompers's "pure and simple unionism," labor should not waste its energies fighting capitalism; I ts sole task was to hammer out the best arrangement it could under the existing system, using strikes, boycotts, and negotiations to win better work conditions, higher wages, and union recognition. The AFL refused to ally itself with the Socialist party or with independent labor parties. Instead, Gompers argued that labor should "reward its friends and punish its enemies" in both major parties. After 1908, the organization's tie to the Democratic party grew increasingly strong, but the AFL continued to concentrate on political protection for unions, rather than seeking social change through legislative action. By 1904, the AFL maintained 1.7 million members. Its membership declined between 1904 and 1914 in the face of a concerted open-shop drive by management but rose again during World War I, when unions were given considerable government protection. By 1920 the AFL had nearly 4 million members. After the war, however, business resumed its union-busting activities, and the AFL lost ground throughout the 1920s. By the time the New Deal opened the door again to organized labor, the AFL--now led by William Green, was facing increasing dissension within its ranks. Craft unions had proved ineffective as a way of organizing the huge industries, such as auto,...
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