The Knights of Labor and the UBC;
eerie parallels from Laborâ€™s history
Does McCarronâ€™s autocratic leadership style truly signify a â€œnew breed of labor leaderâ€ as stated in Business Week? Is Terry Nelsonâ€™s plan in
The American Federation of Labor (AF of L) was organized as an association of trade unions in 1886. The organization emerged out of a dispute with the Knights of Labor (K of L) organization, in which the leadership of that organization solicited locals of various craft unions to withdraw from their International organizations and to affiliate with the K of L directly, action which would have taken funds from the various unions and enriched the K of L's coffers.
One of the organizations embroiled in this controversy was the Cigar Makers' International Union (CMIU), a group subject to competition from a dual union, a rival "Progressive Cigarmakers' Union," organized by members suspended or expelled by the CMIU. The two cigar unions competed with one another in signing contracts with various cigar manufacturers, who were at this same time combining themselves into manufacturers' associations of their own in New York City, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Milwaukee.
In January 1886, the Cigar Manufacturers' Association of New York City attempted to flex its muscle by announcing a 20 percent wage cut in factories around the city. The Cigar Makers' International Union refused to accept the cut and 6,000 of its members in 19 factories were locked out by the owners. A strike lasting four weeks ensued. Just when it appeared that the strike might be won, the New York District Assembly of the Knights of Labor leaped into the breach, offering to settle with the 19 factories at a lower wage scale than that proposed by the CMIU, so long as only the Progressive Cigarmakers Union was employed.
The leadership of the CMIU was enraged and demanded that the New York District Assembly be investigated and punished by the national officials of the K of L. The committee of investigation was controlled by individuals friendly to the New York District Assembly, however, and the latter was exonerated. The American Federation of Labor was thus originally formed as an alliance of craft unions outside the Knights of Labor as a means of defending themselves against this and similar incursions.
On April 25, 1886, a circular letter was issued by Strasser of the Cigar Makers and P.J. McGuire of the Carpenters, addressed to all national trade unions and calling for their attendance of a conference in Philadelphia on May 18. The call stated that an element of the Knights of Labor was doing "malicious work" and causing "incalculable mischief by arousing antagonisms and dissensions in the labor movement." ( Remember IUPAT Jimmie Williams speech at the AFL-CIO convention? Remember St Louis Buidling Trades leader Jerry Feldhaus's letter to President Mark Ayers?) The call was signed by Strasser and McGuire, along with representatives of the Granite Cutters, the Iron Molders, and the secretary of the Federation of Trades of North America, a forerunner of the AF of L founded in 1881.
Forty-three invitations were mailed, which drew the attendance of 20 delegates and letters of approval from 12 other unions. At this preliminary gathering, held in Donaldson Hall on the corner of Broad and Filbert Streets, the K of L was charged with conspiring with anti-union bosses to provide labor at below going union rates and with making use of individuals who had crossed picket lines or defaulted on payment of union dues. The body authored a "treaty" to be presented to the forthcoming May 24, 1886, convention of the Knights of Labor, which demanded that the K of L cease attempting to organize members of International Unions into its own assemblies without permission of the unions involved and that K of L organizers violating this provision should suffer immediate suspension.
For its part, the Knights of Labor considered the demand for the parcelling of the labor movement into narrow craft-based fiefdoms to be anathema, a violation of the principle of solidarity of all workers across craft lines. Negotiations with the dissident craft unions were nipped in the bud by the governing General Assembly of the K of L, however, with the organization's Grand Master Workman, Terence V. Powderly, refusing to enter into serious discussions on the matter. The actions of the New York District Assembly of the K of L was upheld.
And the parallels do not stop there:
- Unable to sway leaders of the Knights of Labor (K of L), craft unions united to form the American Federation of Labor (AFL) (Negotiations with McCarron have failed to stop Nelson or the UBC's movements nationwide)
- Some Knights of Labor members supported the Cigar Makers International Union and left the K of L to join the AFL (many rank-and-file carpenters wear NO 57 stickers and most other craft unions post them everywhere!)
- Per-capita tax was established to support the new organization (many craft unions today have mentioned that Resolution 70 needs funding and this could happen very soon)
Neslon's statements on the Dave Glover show that the St Louis CDC is a "merit shop type union" is also reminiscent of the Open Shop movement of the early 1900's!
The struggles of the young trade unionists of today are not as insurmountable as they seem if you study labors storied past. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and Rich Trumka is our Samuel Gompers - guess who the other players are? McCarron and Nelson claim to know the future whilst repeating the mistakes of our past!Add a comment