Critical Review - Knights of Labour

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“The Bonds of Unity: The Knights of Labor in Ontario, 1880-1890” Written by: Gregory S. Kealey and Bryan D. Palmer
Reviewed by: Cindy Kambeitz

This article is presented as a thorough history of the Knights of Labor in Ontario, Canada's most industrialized province, in the late nineteenth century. It examines the rise and fall of the Knights, an organization which embodied a late nineteenth century working class vision of an alternative to the developing industrial capitalist society. Surveying the massive organizational successes of the knights of Labor in Ontario, it argues that for a brief moment in the mid 1880s the Knights built a movement culture of resistance to industrial capitalist society that held out the notion of a different form of social organization. One built on co-operation, democracy and producers power. As such, Kealey and Palmer claim the movement influenced the working class culture of that time like no other. Through general remembrance statements, the article attributes the “enthusiasm” for the Knights of Labor movement in part to the fascination in ritualism, secrecy and symbolism surrounding the order. The movement’s structure is explained to have given the worker a feeling they were involved in more of a cultural crusade than a conventional trade union, denoting a feeling of brotherhood and change. Or as noted by John Peebles, former mayor of Hamilton “a crusade for purity in life generally”.1 The article examines the various occupations involved in the movement as the Knights drew a range of workers together, increasing their bargaining power and providing them with a pride in their work.  Examples of their traditions were analyzed - secret societies and fraternal brotherhoods, using pageantry and oaths to strengthen their influence. The article does indeed present the Knights as representing a movement culture, in that they articulated a social alternative, based around “qualitative shift in the orientation of the...
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