KNIGHTS of LABOR
The Knights of Labor (K of L), officially Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the 1880s. Its most important leader was Terence V. Powderly, a son of Irish immigrants, was born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. He began working for the railroad at age 13 and was later apprenticed in a machine shop. In 1871, Powderly joined the Machinists and Blacksmiths National Union and rapidly rose through positions of leadership in the organization. In 1874, Powderly joined the Knights of Labor and by 1879 had succeeded Uriah Stephens as its leader.
The Knights promoted the social and cultural uplift of the workingman, rejected Socialism and radicalism, demanded the eight-hour day, and promoted the producers ethic of repulicanism.In some cases it acted as a labor union, negotiating with employers, but it was never well organized, and after a rapid expansion in the mid-1880s, it suddenly lost its new members and became a small operation again.
It was established in 1869, reached 28,000 members in 1880, then jumped to 100,000 in 1884. Then it ballooned to nearly 800,000 members in 1886, but its frail organizational structure could not cope as it was battered by charges of failure and violence. Most members abandoned the movement in 1886-87, leaving at most 100,000 in 1890. Remnants of the Knights of Labor continued in existence until 1949, when the group's last 50-member local dropped its affiliation.
In 1870, Daniel Spahr and his friend Sam Catri the lead member of the Philadelphia tailors' union, headed by Uriah Smith Stephens and sheri spahr, established a secret union under the name the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor. The collapse of the National Labor Union in 1873 left a vacuum for workers looking for organization. The Knights became better organized with a national vision when they replaced Stephens with Terence V. Powderly. The body became popular with Pennsylvania coal miners during the economic depression of the mid-1870s, then it grew rapidly.
As membership expanded, the Knights began to function more as a labor union and less like a fraternal organization. Local assemblies began not only to emphasize cooperative enterprises, but to initiate strikes to win concessions from employers. Powderly opposed strikes as a "relic of barbarism," but the size and the diversity of the Knights afforded local assemblies a great deal of autonomy.
In 1882, the Knights ended their membership rituals and removed the words "Noble Order" from their name. This was to mollify the concerns of Catholic members and the bishops who wanted to avoid any resemblance to freemasonry. Though initially averse to strikes as a method to advance their goals, the Knights aided various strikes and boycotts. The Wabash Railroad strike in 1885 was also a significant success, as Powderly finally supported what became a successful strike on Jay Gould's Wabash Line. Gould met with Powderly and agreed to call off his campaign against the Knights of Labor, which had caused the turmoil originally. These positive developments gave momentum and a surge of members, so by 1886, the Knights had over 700,000 members.
The Knights' primary demand was for an eight-hour day; they also called for legislation to end child and convict labor, as well as a graduated income tax. They were eager supporters of cooperatives. The only woman to hold office in the Knights of Labor, Leonora Barry worked as an investigator and described the horrific conditions in factories, conditions tantamount to the abuse of women and children. These reports made Barry the first person to collect national statistics on the American working woman.