Knights of Labor

The Knights of Labor ( German: Knights of Labor ) was one of the most important American labor organizations of the 19th century.

As a kind of secret brotherhood, The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, called the Knights of Labor was founded by seven members of the Schneider craft, 1869 in Philadelphia, United States. After their gradual opening 1878-1881 for people of all producing occupations factory workers and business owners, bankers, lawyers, speculators, Trader and liquor dealers were excluded - and the renunciation of former secrecy rituals, the size and influence of the organization grew from 1878 to rapidly and counted in their most successful time to around 1886, an estimated 700,000 members.

The Knights of Labor was the first attempt to establish an open for all trade union in the United States. After the direction of fighting, mismanagement and unsuccessful strikes, the union lost after 1886 many of its members, sank at the end of the 19th century into insignificance and was finally dissolved.



In the 1820s, artisans began their protest against the increased use of unskilled or semi-skilled workers only in the factories of the Northeast of the United States to organize and establish the first unions. Even the unions were only organized locally, which meant that had founded in 1836 alone in Philadelphia and New York, about fifty local unions across the country, they were too numerous to count. With the need for organization and the need for increased nationally form and organize. A first step was to this, the National Trades ' Union which already brought it in 1836 to around 300,000 members. But the economic crisis of 1837 did not spare the unions. They lost the majority of its members, while the National Trades ' Union was finally dissolved lack of further support from their members.


Uriah Smith Stephens (1821-1882), a tailor by profession and is committed to the resolution of the Garment Cutters ' Association in Philadelphia in the same, at the end of 1869 teamed up with eight other members of his profession, in order to establish a new association as a substitute. With his own religious mysticism, he influenced the union and led them in a sort of Masonic tradition with appropriate rituals. In his view, all members should have equal rights, regardless of faith, political affiliation or race. Despite this openness was secrecy outwards duty - a guard at times, where employers were wont to break resistance by force. The organization had, probably, the economic crisis of 1873 very good shape, due to their nature, in contrast to the other unions. As the economic upturn in 1878 again was a need for workers' organizations, the Knights of Labor experienced an enormous popularity. Under the leadership of Stephen the organization grew to 1878 to around 9000 members.

The attraction, which had operated as a brotherhood union at the time, was not only of their rituals, but also from their teaching values ​​. So were responsibility, personal integrity, honesty, activism, knightly honor, male courage and the assumption of family responsibilities estimated characteristics.


Stephens, now more interested in politics and engaged in the Greenback Party, came back in 1879 in the second successful attempt by the leadership of the union and paved the way for Terence Vincent Powderly ( 1849-1924 ), who is now the leadership of the Knights of Labor to 1893 held. Powderly came in 1874 to the Knights, two years later the Master Workman was to then take over as Grand Master Workman 1879, the leadership of the union altogether. He managed the secrecy from 1881, made ​​sure that Noble and Holy Order disappeared from the signature, and let women and blacks as members. Under his leadership emerged, founded by 135 union members producer and consumer cooperatives. He banished as a concession to the Catholic Church religious references from the dressing rituals and led, though he generally spoke out against strikes, the Knights of Labor in its first successful strike with signal effect. After the Knights of Labor had prevailed in great solidarity in the strike of 1885 in the southwest of the USA against the Wabash Railroad of "railway baron " Jay Gould, the union got extreme popularity. From now on, she was the focus of national interest, and from 1885 to 1886, the number of organized approximately 100,000 rose to around 700,000.

Also been widely used, the motto of the organization:

" That is the most perfect government in Which to injury to one is the concern of all"

" That is the most perfect state power, in which a violation of a is the concern of all. "

Which graced the designed as a pentagram logo of the Knights.


When it came to a renewed strike against one of the railway companies of Jay Gould ( Missouri Pacific Strike ) in March 1886 resulted in violent clashes and damage to the deployment of the army. It Gould had been waiting to make his announcement is true and can break the union. Gould continued successfully scabs and detectives against unionized workers a. The initial support among the people to strike struck at the latest after the use of force into disapproval. Even among the members of the union itself suggested to set the mood. After termination of unsuccessful strikes, the violent clashes on the Haymarket in the same year in Chicago, which resulted in a bomb was thrown into the crowd, it came, although the Knights of Labor were not involved, of a disillusionment of its members, including management.

But in the end it all came together: criticism of the autocratic structures, mismanagement, unsuccessful strikes, infighting, the lack of confidence in a national trade union organization and the establishment of a rival union, the American Federation of Labor, eventually led to mass resignations. 1890 included the Knights of Labor already less than 100,000 members.

Powderly, who had not only represented in the six years of his union leadership union interests, but at the same time was also investigated some side jobs, has been removed due to disputes and direction for vorgeworfener weak leadership in 1893 from his post and replaced by James Sovereign. John W. Hayes, General Secretary and Treasurer of the Knights of Labor, Daniel De Leon, leader of the New York Socialists and James Sovereign himself, leader of the farmers of the Midwest, and overthrow Powderly led the Knights of Labor further into obscurity until in 1916 also their main office had to be closed.


  • Introduction of the eight -hour day
  • Abolition of child labor
  • Abolition of convict labor
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Abolition of private banks
  • Nationalization of railways and telephone traffic
  • Education and support of cooperatives
  • A public space planning to support farmers and not speculators
  • A graduated income tax


Despite all of that time amazing openness, women and blacks grant equal rights in the organization, Chinese workers were excluded from membership. ( Law on the exclusion of Chinese German ) actively supported Fearing that Chinese workers American workers take jobs away and could drive down wages, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by the Knights of Labor.

Union leaders

  • Uriah Smith Stephens 1869-1879
  • Terence Vincent Powderly 1879-1893
  • James Sovereign 1893 to 1901
  • John W. Hayes 1901-1917

Literature / Sources

  • Melvyn Dubofsky, Industrialism and the American Worker 1865-1920, Harlan Davidson Inc., Wheeling, Illinois, 1969. ISBN 0-88295-925-5
  • Melvyn Dubofsky, Foster Rhea Dulles, Labor in America - A History Harlan Davidson Inc., Wheeling, Illinois, 2004, ISBN 0-88295-998-0.
  • Gary M. Fink, Biographical Dictionary of American Labor Leaders, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1974. ISBN 0-8371-7643-3
  • Steve Leikin, The Practical Utopians - American Workers and the Cooperative Movement in the Gilded Age, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 2005, ISBN 0-8143-3128-9.
  • Edward Pessen, Most Uncommon Jacksonians: The Radical Leaders of the Early Labor Movement, State University of New York Press, 1967 ISBN 0-8739-5129-8.