Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 85.djvu/491

This page has been validated.
487
EPHEMERAL LABOR MOVEMENTS

EPHEMERAL LABOR MOVEMENTS, 1866–1889
By Dr. FRANK T. CARLTON

ALBION COLLEGE

THE history of labor organizations (1866–1889) is a record of ebb and flow, agitation, organization and disintegration. It is, indeed, a strange blend of unionism and politics, of individualism and socialism, of strikes, greenbackism and cooperation, of prosperity, panics and concentration of industry. This quarter of a century is preeminently one of preparation; in it are laid the economic and psychological foundations upon which have been built, in a large measure, the trade-union organizations of to-day. Movements, ephemeral and incohoate, but grand in conception, hasten nervously across the stage. At intervals during the period writers in the numerous labor papers declare that now is a time of transition and that organization at this particular moment will be unusually fruitful of good results. The workers, distrustful and individualistic but harassed by the fear of monopoly, the competition of unskilled labor, the introduction of machinery and lower wages, cohere for a brief period under the pressure of extraordinary conditions or the influence of enthusiastic leaders, only to repel each other as their financial skies appear to clear. But, by the end of the period, the labor organization had become one of the permanent institutions of the nation.

When the civil war ended labor organizations of the trade-union type were multiplying and waxing stronger. The return of the soldiers to peaceful pursuits, the continued influx of immigrants from the old world, and the growing power of industrial combinations, all contributed to arouse the wage earners of the nation to activity. The years 1866 and 1867, probably represent the period of maximum activity during the era immediately following the surrender at Appomattox. In 1864, an unsuccessful attempt had been made to organize a national federation of trade unions. Two years later the National Labor Union was organized at a National Labor Congress held in Baltimore. This was the first successful national federation of trade unions formed since the National Trades' Union disappeared in 1837. In 1865, a state federation of trade unions was organized in New York—The Workingmen's Assembly. This continued until merged in 1897 with the state organization affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Its chief purpose seems to have been to influence legislation. "The distinctive features of the organization are Protective, Benovelent and Secret."[1] In the early years of the Assembly, nearly all of the affiliated

  1. Proceedings of Fifth Annual Session, January, 1869.