History of Labour in the United States - Vol. 2

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

CHAPTER XI
THE FAILURE OF CO-OPERATION, 1884-1887

Attitude towards co-operation of the several component elements of the Knights of Labor, 430. The inheritance from the sixties, 430. Powderly's attitude, 431. Co-operation in the early eighties, 431. Centralised cooperation, 432. Change to decentralised co-operation, 432. Statistics and nature of the co-operative enterprises, 433. Sectional distribution, 434. Co-operation among the coopers in Minneapolis, 434. The General Cooperative Board, 435. John Samuel, 435. Difficulties of the Board, 436. Participation by the Order, 436. The failure of the movement, 437. Its causes, 437. The lesson for the future, 438.

ALTHOUGH strikes and boycotts undoubtedly were the chief recruiting activities of the Knights, the deliberately planned policy of the Order, as a whole, was directed chiefly to co-operation. Occupying, as it did the foreground in the official programme of the Order, co-operation had also the additional merit of being well suited to the period of industrial depression when strikes were failing. The new and unskilled membership, though interested only in industrial warfare against employers, had no desire to quarrel with the official philosophy of the organisation to which it looked for economic salvation.

The active champions of co-operation, however, came from the older membership. Among these, first in importance were the machine-menaced mechanics, notably the machinists and shoemakers, whose national trade organisations of the sixties and seventies had disappeared. They furnished the national leaders, such as Powderly, formerly a member of the machinists' and blacksmiths' national union, and Beaumont and Litchman, former members of the order of the Knights of St. Crispin. They also supplied the official philosophy of the Order. In their control they formed in every way the connecting link between the movement in the eighties and that of the trade unions of the sixties. The trade unionist of the sixties had been by nature a small employer rather than a wage-earner. He had not only aspired to become an employer in the future, but, in

-430-

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