Knights of Labour

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IS IT FAIR TO DISMISS THE KNIGHTS OF LABOR AS HOPELESS DREAMERS WHO ACCOMPLISHED LITTLE?

Nahean Nazmul (0862852)
Labour Studies 1A03 Spring/Summer 2012
Prof. David Goutor

Great success often comes from previous failures. Without failure, greatness can be impossible to attain. For this and many other reasons, it is unfair to view the Knights of Labor as hopeless dreamers who accomplished little. Instead, this paper will express the way in which the Knights of Labour contributed to a greater social blueprint; a blueprint that helped shape future generations. The impact that the Knights of Labour have had on society can be seen through three main criteria. The first of these criteria was their ability to set a clear example of what did and didn’t work for labor unions. [9]Many of the present leading labour unions are direct consequences of the Knights of Labor movement. The second impact on society the Knights had was because they were also the first monumental organization to strive for many commodities that we as labourers take for granted today. [3]The third and final important impact the KOL (Knights of Labor) had was their distinction of promoting equality. The promotion of equality was a catalyst in making the North American society a fairer place for its residents. These three major impacts made by the KOL help explain why they as a labour union were much more than hopeless dreamers. They were visionaries of a greater social blueprint and their impact can be felt in many aspects of today’s labour market.

[5]The ‘Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor’ were originated in 1869. [5]They were centrally concerned with protecting and enhancing the nobility of labour. [3]The organization rejected socialism and radicalism, which limited their use of strikes and instead offered a more reasoned approach to solving labour problems. While challenging labour union norms such as strikes and other radical behaviours, the KOL believed that its forerunners had failed because they limited their membership. [5]For this reason, the Knights proposed to organize both skilled and unskilled workers as well as blacks and women. [3] By 1886, the Knights’ membership peaked at nearly 700,000, making it America’s largest, and one of the worlds most important labour organizations of the century. [5]A group of painters from Hamilton met with the Knights in 1881, and helped form the first “local assembly” of the organization in Canada. The Knights became not only the great hope of workers in Canada and the United States, but also the great hope of workers in many other countries.

The Knights were influential because of their ability to set a clear example of what did and didn’t work. [3]They attempted a “bold project bringing the conventional goals of a political party, a fraternal lodge, and a trade union under a single umbrella.” [7]They also formulated labour politics that included a working class that was as diverse as possible. This multi-faceted, diverse working class had a certain culture that opposed late-nineteenth-century bourgeois hegemony. To a degree, the KOL were successful in these ventures. [3]The multitude of members allowed the Knights to win important strikes such as the Union Pacific in 1884 and the Wabash Railroad in 1885. [5]The success of their strikes gave great hope to many countries around the world who were struggling with similar issues.

[3]Ironically, what didn’t work for the Knights was also due to its broad inclusivity. The task of managing and satisfying the membership of hundreds of thousands of skilled and unskilled workers proved to be a difficult one. [6] Due to their diverse membership, the Knights were unable to offer certain incentives that their more specialized counterparts could offer. Nonetheless, it was a blessing in disguise. Many successive labour unions were founded because of failures of the KOL. [2]The AFL (American Federation of Labor) for example was founded by...
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