The Knights of Labor
THE DEMISE OF the National Labor Union in 1872 did not discourage further attempts to form a national federation of labor that would effectively promote the interests of the working class. Although disillusioned by their experiences with the National Labor Union, the national trade unions came together in July, 1873, in an Industrial Congress, which confined itself to trade-union problems and devoted little attention to financial reform, co-operation, and independent political action. The new organization was hailed with enthusiasm by the trade unions. "Every representative was a bona fide worker, as is evidenced by the unanimity with which all great questions were settled," wrote a leading union journal. "None of the clap-trap of the ward politician was vented; in fact it would not have been permitted.... The declaration of principles...can be indorsed by every bona fide workingman."1
In spite of its auspicious beginnings, the Congress was short-lived, for two months after its inception the panic of 1873 inaugurated a long depression. There was a meeting the following year, at which time the name "Industrial Brotherhood" was adopted. The platform included many trade-union demands, but the greenback panacea also played a major part at this convention. The national trade unions, however, were in no condition to implement any program, and only one national union was represented at the final meeting of the Brotherhood in 1875.
The depression, beginning with the panic of 1873 and lasting almost five years, proved to be a disaster insofar as organized labor was concerned. The embryonic labor movement was in no position to weather the stress of economic depression, highlighted by increasing unemployment, wage reductions, and the systematic repression of labor organizations by employers. Consequently, many trade unions went out of existence, and even those better able to withstand the crisis emerged from the depression with greatly decreased membership. Of the national trade unions, numbering approximately thirty prior to the panic of 1873, only eight or nine remained by 1877. The Cigar Makers International Union had slightly____________________