The first recorder strike of factory workers occurred in 1828, when children who toiled as laborers, stopped working following the mill owners’ announcement of changing the dinner time from twelve to one (Jordan and Litwack, 1991, p. 214). The children workers went out on strike, reasoning that if they follow the owners’ demand, there is a great probability that they would not be able to eat at all (p. 214). The police was called to interfere but it did not discourage other workers to stage a strike again.
From 1833- 1837, labor unions grew at a staggering rate, from 26,000 to 300,000 (p. 214). The seed towards creating permanent union had been planted. When Civil War started, labor was needed so the number of union further rose. However, it was not until the war ended that an attempt to form a single national federation was initiated. In 1866, seventy-seven delegates convened in Baltimore to organize the National Labor Union (Tindall and Shi, 1999, p. 913). William H. Sylvis was appointed as leader (Brinkley, 2003, p. 491).
Its members included representatives from labor and people who seemed to be more interested in political and social reforms rather than bargaining collectively for employees (p. 913). The NLU, like most unions, resented to women joining, contending that women were “created to be man’s companion” (p. 491). At that time, women were already toiling in town mills. But to say that NLU was not gender sensitive is incorrect. Many stated that as long as scenarios that made it impossible to men to work for the family’s welfare, women should be given equal opportunities (p. 913).
In fact, NLU advocated for eight-hour workday, equality for women and blacks and creation of workers’ cooperatives (p. 913). The group also championed greenbackism, which allowed money to be printed in paper so that the currency would be inflated and thus mitigate debts (p. 913). However, just as labor unions started to rise, the leader of NLU and with it, support decreased (p. 913). It did not help that the Panic of 1873 occurred, making the NLU completely be shattered (p. 491).
Despite its short existence, the NLU, in its own way, helped hasten the growth of American labor in the nineteenth century. For one, the group was able to convince Congress to pass an eight-hour work day for government employees (p. 913). Furthermore, the Contract Labor Law, which was enacted during the Civil War, was canceled (p. 9130. The Contract Labor Law was advantageous to employers for it allowed them to hire foreign workers for a much lower pay rate. Obviously, the law put American workers in a weak position.
The NLU may have had little time in finishing what it aimed to accomplish but in the short time that it existed, it was able to somehow strengthen the American labor. The failure of NLU was also not a failure for another group had emerged. The Noble and Holy order of the Knights of Labor started out as a secret society in 1869 (Divine, Breen, Fredrickson and Williams, 1991, p. 542). A Philadelphia worker named Uriah S. Stephens was a tailor who was fond of joining secret groups such as the Masons (Tindall and Shi, 1999, p. 913).
Affiliated with the Baptist faith, Stephens believed that a secret organization would be able to guard its members while at the same time form a thick spirit of camaraderie (p. 913). The order was initially composed of ten Philadelphia tailors but in 1873, the group staged its first district assembly (p. 913). Following the period of depression and termination of other unions, the Knights of Labor stood still. . In 1878, it held its first General Assembly as a national organization (p. 913).