The Path of Traditional Labor Politics
BEFORE THERE COULD BE effective national political activity by organized laboring men in the United States, there first had to be enduring union organizations. Strong, stable labor unions in the nation have been a development of the twentieth century. It is not surprising, therefore, that it has been only in the comparatively recent past that the political desires of trade union leaders have received serious attention from platform makers and candidates for President.
To say this is not to deny that there existed a Workingmen's Party in the time of Andrew Jackson or to say that the National Labor Union from 1866 to 1872 had no political significance. Indeed, the Order of the Knights of Labor under the leadership of Terence V. Powderly had what one writer has called a broadly political and uplift program. Although the Knights of Labor had in theory hundreds of thousands of members, its rapid rise and even speedier fall reflected an overcentralized organization and inexperienced administration. The fact that the Knights and the craft unions could not reach a permanent understanding was important to its quick loss of influence after 1887.