Violence during the 1870s and '80s
Driven by wage cuts and poor working conditions, violent outbreaks of strikes and a long series of battles occurred all over the country during the 1870s. In 1877, around the coal mining region of Mauch Chunk and Pottsville, Pennsylvania, a secret miners' association called the Molly Maguires, mostly comprising Irish Catholics, burned buildings, controlled county officials, and murdered bosses and supervisors who offended them. Finally, the murderers were apprehended and brought to trial. The hanging of 10 of those men in 1877, effectively broke up the “Mollies.”
Also in 1877, unorganized railroad workers struck because of a 10 percent wage cut, the second cut since the Panic of 1873. They brought to a screeching halt four Eastern rail trunk lines, which caused turmoil in every industrial center. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Martinsburg, West Virginia; and Chicago, Illinois; the Great Strike of 1877 sparked battles between militia and the crowds. Only after federal soldiers were brought in, was ordered restored.

By 1886, membership in the Knights of Labor had swollen to 700,000 workers and stood as a champion for the unskilled laborer. Unlike other labor unions, the Knights of Labor encouraged blacks to join, so that by 1886, approximately 60,000 blacks had become members.
Blacks had been deemed unfit for manufacturing work, according to a “study” published by the Manufacturers Record of Baltimore in 1893. Such conclusions made it difficult for blacks to enter the industrial labor market.
The Knights of Labor participated in the famous Haymarket Square riot of 1886 in Chicago, along with trade unions, socialist unions, and “anarchists,” where workers fought for the eight-hour day, and where a bomb and subsequent shooting resulted in the deaths of eight policemen and injuries to 67 others. Eight anarchists were jailed, tried, and convicted of murder, of which four were hanged. Then, due to mismanagement of operations, membership within that organization began to decline.
The American Federation of Labor (A.F. of L.) (now simply AFL) began that same year. The AFL was spearheaded by Samuel Gompers, a cigar maker by trade, who had learned of the economic struggles of the American laborer through conversations with cigar makers at the factory.
Gompers led AFL member unions and individual workers into struggles for shorter hours and higher wages. At first, blacks were openly encouraged to join the AFL, until it was later seen that their explicit stand on race issues hampered the union's expansion. Thereafter, as long as a union did not include anything in their constitution regarding the exclusion members because of race, those unions were welcome to join the AFL.

This is an interesting link that talks about the beginning of the American Labor movement.

In this pages we can find the Historical Background of

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877

The strike of Railroad Workers

==|||| Railroad Strike of 1877

In late July of 1877, Chicagoans played their part in the first nationwide uprising of workers. On July 16, railroad workers in Martinsburg, West Virginia, walked off the job to protest a 10 percent wage cut leveled by their employer, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Strikes to protest cutbacks in the midst of a period of nationwide economic depression soon spread westward across the country. News of attempts to control boisterous crowds fueled worker protest and sporadic violence.
Chicagoans watched and waited as the Great Strike ran its course through Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Cincinnati. While the city's socialists envisioned an opportunity to spread their message about the evils of capitalism, elected officials and the mercantile elite resolved to maintain order, mobilizing citizen patrols and calling for the intervention of the Illinois National Guard and the U.S. Army. Tensions were heightened by lurid reports in the English-language press of “worker mobs.”
From July 24 to July 28, this charged atmosphere kindled what one observer called a “labor explosion.” In addition to walkouts and protests by railroad workers, sympathetic actions by other wage workers brought the city close to a state of general strike. Escalating clashes between strikers and the police culminated in a series of intense skirmishes on South Halsted Street, an area with a great concentration of immigrant wage workers in the railroad, meatpacking, and lumber industries. Thanks to a mass mobilization of “special” police by Mayor Heath, the mass arrest of protesters and socialist leaders, and the arrival of six companies of U.S. Army infantry, quiet was restored. At least 18 died in these clashes, and the fears of an uncontrollable class conflict spawned by this incident would long haunt the city and the nation.

The Great Uprising

From the Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Founded in Philadelphia in 1869, the Knights of Labor spread to Chicago after the 1877 railroad strikes. Initially viewed as an educational and political body by the local trade unionists who founded it, the Knights initiated some of the earliest labor organizing in the city's packinghouses, tanneries, garment sweatshops, and coal, lumber, and rail yards, and more generally among the Irish. Under the motto “An Injury to One Is the Concern of All,” the Knights sought to enroll all segments of the emerging industrial working class, including recent immigrants, African Americans, and women. The Knights did this by supplementing trade assemblies with “mixed” bodies, which could be formed on the basis of industry, sex, ethnicity, geography, or politics. With the advent of the movement for the eight-hour day in 1886, the Chicago Knights mushroomed to approximately 27,000 members from only 1,900 the previous year by championing new methods of struggle, principally the boycott and sympathy strike.
Local workers began to lose faith in the effectiveness of the Knights of Labor after a smashing defeat of its packinghouse assemblies in fall 1886. The aftermath of the Haymarket Affair earlier that year and the ensuing government repression also stymied industrial organizing. To counter local government's antilabor bias, Chicago's labor activists looked toward electoral politics, and in 1887, under the leadership of the Knights, the United Labor Party won 31 percent of Chicago's mayoral vote, the highest percentage achieved by any labor party in the city's history. But political mobilization did not translate into a flourishing union movement. Of the 116 new assemblies established in 1886, 61 percent had lapsed by 1887 and 80 percent by 1888. Yet despite the swift decline of the Knights, their principles of labor solidarity and their practice of inclusiveness would inspire subsequent labor movements, both in Chicago and across the nation.


Here is a link to the "Official Website of the New Knights of Labor. I doubt there is much of a following, but it is still interesting to this group recalls the radical traditions of the Knights of Labor.

Both pictures below depict America's first labor day parade on September 5,1882 where some 10,000 workers to assembled.labor.jpg
File:Labor Day New York 1882.jpg
File:Labor Day New York 1882.jpg

The 1886 Haymarket Tragedy

The Haymarket march on May 1, 1886 was to press for the eight hour day.

From Kent Law School: In connection with the nation-wide strike for the 8-hour workday, which began May 1, 1886, a mass meeting was held on the night of May 4th in the Chicago haymarket. Its purpose was to protest a police attack on Union pickettes at McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in which workers were injured and killed. When police ordered the protest meeting to disperse (peaceful though it was), a bomb was thrown toward the police by an unknown person. The police responded by firing at the crowd. This became known as the "Haymarket Riot," now more properly named the Haymarket Tradgey. The 8-Hour Day Movement was destroyed in the nation-wide hysteria which followed.

Eight individuals were indicted the deaths resulting from a pipe bomb on May 4. One fled the country, one became a witness for the state, one individual was sentenced to 15 years, and five were sentenced to death. One of these individuals committed suicide the night before the execution. In 1893 the governor of Illinois signed a pardon for three individuals who were not executed. The case is broadly seen as serious miscarriage of justice, and the case received considerable international attention at the time.

You may read their eulogy delivered by their attorney.


Seal, American Federation of Labor, 1900

The Wikipedia entry for the Haymarket Affair is fairly comprehensive.

The 1892 Homestead Strike

Here is a link describing the events of the Homestead strike. The homestead stike occured in 1892 at a steel mill owned by Andrew Carnegie, when a new contract could not be reached by June 30, the steelworkers went on strike. Henry Frick (Carnegie's man in charge) called in the Pinkerton decetives to end the strike. When the Pinkerton men arrived on the scene a firefight ensued and three Pinkertons and seven workers died. On July 12, the National Guard was called in by the govenor of Pennsylvannia to disrupte the strike. By mid November the strike was over with Carnegie claiming victory.

Here is a picture of the Barge the Pinkertons arrived on at the strike scene which union members set fire to.

external image homestead-strike-massacre-burning-barges.jpg

From the Ohio History Central."Great Railroad Strike of 1877"

external image strike.jpgrailroad workers