History of Labour in the United States - Vol. 2

By John R. Commons; David J. Saposs et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
SECRET BEGINNINGS

Employers' opposition to trade unions during the period of depression, 195. Necessity for secrecy, 195. Beginning of the Knights of Labor, 196. Uriah S. Stephens, 197. Assembly 1 of Philadelphia, 197. "Sojourners," 198. Ritual and principles, 198. Additional assemblies, 199. District Assembly 1, of Philadelphia, 199. District Assembly 2, of Camden, New Jersey, 199. District Assembly 3, of Pittsburgh, 199. Recruiting ground of the Knights, 200. Strikes and strike funds, 200. Rivalry between District Assembly 1 and District Assembly 3, 200. The issue of secrecy, 201. Attitude of the Catholic Church, 201. The Junior Sons of '76 and their call for a national convention, 201.

THE business depression of 1873 to 1879 was a critical period in the American labour movement. The old national trade unions either went to pieces, or retained a merely nominal existence. Employers sought to free themselves from the restrictions that the trade unions had imposed upon them during the years preceding the crisis. They consequently added a systematic policy of lockouts, of blacklists, and of legal prosecution to the already crushing weight of hard times and unemployment. Speaking of this period, McNeill says "a great deal of bitterness was evinced against trades union organisations, and men were blacklisted to an extent hardly ever equalled,"1 so that it became "very difficult to find earnest and active members who were willing to serve on committees."2

It became clear that the "open union" was not an effective means of combatting the tactics of capital. Hence "labor leaders met silently and secretly,"3 and advocated an organisation "hedged about with the impenetrable veil of ritual, sign grip, and password," so that "no spy of the boss can find his way in the Lodgeroom to betray his fellows."4 By the require

____________________
1
McNeill, Labor Movement: The Problem of To-day, 154.
2
Ibid., 398.
3
Quoted in the Pittsburgh National Labor Tribune, Oct. 8, 1880, from a speech by William M. Davis, state secretary of the Ohio Miners' Union.
4
Ibid., July 9, 1881, from the Chicago Progressive Age.

-195-

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