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Unions

The union movement of the late 19th century by Eli Hatch During 1870 through 1900 workers joined together; responding to the power of their employers caused by the growth of industrialization. The worker did not always have the luxury of leaving after eight hours of work, the right to representation, or the even the right to work in a safe environment. The working people of nineteenth century America had to unite in struggle to achieve the gains that are often taken selfishly and taken for granted today. There were many successes and failures in organized labor; the successes were often obtained through the loss of the worker, often through lost wages, jobs, or even death. The organization structure of the union during 1870 through 1900 went through different cycles and strategies to achieve what they wanted. One of the first effective regional organized unions was the Knights of Labor formed in 1869. The knights took in not only skilled workers but also any worker that could be truly classified as a producer. The knights took their peek in 1885 when strikes against Union Pacific, Southwest System, and Wabash railroads attracted public sympathy and succeeded in preventing a reduction in wages, at this time they boasted a membership of 700,000. 1886 was a troubled year for labor relations. There were nearly 1,600 strikes involving 600,000 workers, with the eight-hour day being the important item for all of the strikes. Failure of some of the strikes and internal conflicts between the skilled workers and the unskilled led to a decline in the Knights popularity and influence. Another organization called the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions created a constitution that other unions could adhere to. This constitution met in Pittsburgh on Nov. 15 1881 and was created by representatives of the cigar makers, the printers, the merchant seamen, steel workers, carpenters and local units of the Knights of Labor. One of the most important items in the constitution created by the FOTLU recommended that the legal eight-hour work day be an objective for every union to achieve. The FOTLU thus accelerated a strong national push for a shorter work week. The AFL grew from 140,000 in 1886 to nearly on million by 1900. With these strengths in numbers they often preferred striking over political action. The struggle for workers rights, wage increases and protests against wage cuts were often unsuccessful resulting in violence and death.

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