The Replacement of the Knights of Labor by the International Longshoremen's Association in the Port of Boston

By McLaughlin, Francis M. | Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

The Replacement of the Knights of Labor by the International Longshoremen's Association in the Port of Boston


McLaughlin, Francis M., Historical Journal of Massachusetts


The growth of the Knights of Labor as a national labor organization in the United States was meteoric, but its life was exceedingly short. Between 1879 and 1885-87 its membership grew from less than 10,000 to more than 700,000, and by 1890 it had declined to 100,000. In his popular history of American labor, Thomas Brooks concludes that "before the Gay Nineties had expired, the Noble Order was all but dead."1 This common picture of the growth and decline of the Knights obscures the fact that the organization retained a substantial membership in some labor markets into the early decades of the 20th century.

A striking example was the freight transportation industry in Boston, where District Assembly 30 of the Knights was the dominant labor organization among railroad freight handlers and longshoremen until just prior to the outbreak of World War I. This seemingly solid position in the Boston transportation industry crumbled almost overnight in 1912, when a strike by Boston longshoremen was resoundingly defeated. The strike began on January 5, 1912, when the entire work force of more than 2,500 longshoremen struck in pursuit of higher wages.2 On February 13, they returned to work empty handed.3 On April 15, over 1,500 of these longshoremen abandoned the Knights of Labor,4 and the Boston Longshoremen's Provident Union5 and joined the International Longshoremen's Association.6 Within a few months most of the remaining longshoremen followed suit. In February, 1913, the International Longshoremen's Association in Boston signed its first contract with the longshoremen's employers. This contract specified that only members of the International Longshoremen's Association would be employed on the Boston docks.7 The International Longshoremen's Association was thus firmly established as the sole collective bargaining representative of Boston longshoremen.

This paper will show that the longshoremen's experience in this strike led them to abandon the Knights of Labor and move en masse to the International Longshoremen's Association. The strategy followed by the longshoremen in the strike coupled with lack of support from their brother Knights in District Assembly 30 helps explain the strike's failure. Both the strategy chosen, and the lack of support from their brother Knights followed from the Knights' long-standing commitment to peaceful labor management cooperation - a commitment that characterized the industrial relations philosophy of Terrence Powderly who led the Knights in its period of greatest national importance.

In December 1911, the Longshoremen's Trade Council proposed to the Steamship Agents' and Stevedores' Conference an increase in the hourly wage from 30 cents to 40 cents for day work, and from 40 cents to 50 cents for night work.8 This included the provision that the new rate schedule would include much of the work that long had been done under higher special schedules.9 In support of their proposal, the longshoremen argued that the rate of pay for day work had been unchanged since 1882,10 and that increases in the cost of living had made it difficult for them to support their families on their average earnings.11They claimed that wages were higher in many other ports, and that although Boston wages were identical to New York wages, it was cheaper to handle cargo in Boston because gangs were smaller.12 This demand for higher wages appeared to be the only issue with which the longshoremen confronted their employers.

The employers disputed the claim that wages had not been increased since 1882. They responded that wages for many cargoes had been increased, and that the wage for night work was raised in 1909.13 They denied the charge that Boston wages were lower than in many other ports.14 They did admit that longshore gangs were larger in New York, but claimed that New York gangs did more work, so that cargo handling costs were the same in both ports. John Thomas, an employer spokesman, and an agent for five steamship lines operating in Boston, claimed that wages were higher in Boston than in any other port on the Atlantic coast except New York. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Replacement of the Knights of Labor by the International Longshoremen's Association in the Port of Boston
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.