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The Great Strikes of 1877. Reduction in wages of the railwaymen, 185. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 185. The Trainmen's Union, 186. Robert H. Ammon, 186. The plan for a strike, 187. Failure, 187. Unorganised outbreak, 187. Martinsburg and Baltimore riots, 187. Pittsburgh riots, 188. State militia, 189. Federal troops, 190. Effect of the strikes on public opinion, 190. Effect on subsequent court decisions in

labour cases, 191.


THE disintegration of the National Labor Union did not end the effort to form a national federation. Shortly after the panic of 1873 a fresh attempt was made. It came from the national trade unions, which, having withdrawn from the National Labor Union at the time when it resorted to politics, now proceeded to evolve a national federation. This was the first appearance of an organisation similar in object and structure to the present American Federation of Labor. National trade unions were its basic units, and it was economic in character, but with legislative demands.

On May 3, 1873, a call appeared in the Workingman's Advocate, signed by William Saffin, president of the Iron Molders' International Union; by John Fehrenbatch, president of the Machinists' and Blacksmiths' International Union; by M. A. Foran, president of the Coopers' International Union; and by John Collins, secretary of the International Typographical Union. It called attention to the "rapid and alarming concentration of Capital, placed under the control of a few men," and to the fact that "almost the entire legislation of the country, both state and national, is in the interest of this concentrated capital, giving it almost imperial powers," a development which the authors declared was causing "a rapid decrease of our power as Trade Unions in comparison with that of Capital." "Already the farmers of the West and Northwest," the call continued, "are driven to desperation by the bold, barefaced robbery of the fruits of their industry by legalised monopoly, and have organised powerful State organisations," but the trade unions still remain disunited. "Let not the failures. of the past deter us from making renewed efforts, but profiting by our dear bought experience build up and perfect an organisation such as was contemplated in Baltimore in 1866." The

call further extended the invitation to " every Trade organisation in the United States, be it local, state, or (Inter) National, and every anti-monopoly, co-operative, or other association organised on purely protective principles, to send bona fide delegates to a Convention to be held in Cleveland, Ohio, on the 15th day of July, 1873." The signers pledged themselves "that the organisation, when consummated, shall not, so far as in our power to prevent, ever deteriorate into a political party, or become the tail to the kite of any political party, or a refuge for played out politicians, but shall to all intents and purposes remain a purely Industrial Association, having for its sole and only object the securing to the producer his full share of all he produces."

Another circular 1 addressed "To the Organized Workingmen of the United States " presented a list of grievances of labour as viewed by the signers of the original call. "We desire it distinctly understood that we have no Agrarian ideas; we neither believe or preach the doctrine that capital is robbery." All connection with the "Commune " was likewise disclaimed. While having no plan of action to dictate, the signers declared the following as the causes of their evil condition: The law, instead of fostering trade unions, treats them as conspiracies; while wages of labour are being reduced on the plea that the supply thereof far exceeds the demand, the country is slowly but surely being overrun by imported Chinamen, brought here in vessels subsidised by the general government; labour has not benefited from the improvement in machinery, but it has suffered from increased unemployment, because the "same number of hours must be worked to-day that were worked in a day thirty years ago"; the growth of huge monopolies has put restrictions upon the channels of trade with the result that the cost of living has risen; labour has no reliable information about its condition, such as would be furnished by a Federal bureau of statistics.

The other points which the circular mentioned briefly were that "co-operation has no legal recognition or assistance," that the "country is without an apprentice system," and that consideration should be given to arbitration.

1 Chicago Workingman's Advocate, July 5, 1878.

The circular was clearly a trade union document. Financial reform was not even mentioned, and co-operation received only slight attention. The officers of the four national unions intended to establish an organisation on strictly trade union principles.2

The congress met July 153 with 70 delegates present. Six national trade unions were represented: the coopers' by 13 delegates (Foran, Schilling and Pope coming from the International Union); the machinists' and blacksmiths' by 20 (Fehrenbatch, Bucholtz and McDevitt from the International Union); the iron moulders by 5 (Saffin from the International); the Sons of Vulcan 4 (Hugh McLaughlin from the Grand Forge); and the Knights of St. Crispin by 2 (William Salter from the Grand Lodge).

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The other trade unions which were represented, though not nationally, were the miners, numbering 5 delegates under the leadership of John Siney; 2 typographical local unions, 1 of, cigarmakers, and 1 tobacco workers' union. No less than 5 trades' assemblies sent delegates: Columbus, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and 2 minor cities. The representation of the labour unions, the creatures of the old National Labor Union, numbered only 5, 1 of which was the National Labor Reform Union, Plymouth, Pennsylvania, and another, the Tennessee State Labor Union. The congress also seated a delegate from the Pittsburgh National Protective League. And, finally, the old leaders, Cameron and Trevellick, were, without much enthusiasm and without a vote, admitted to seats. They, however, took little part in the proceedings, as the congress was clearly under the domination of the purely trade union leaders.

The opening address made by Foran reiterated the ideas expressed in the call, and, by electing Fehrenbatch as permanent. chairman, the congress organised for work. The proceedings resembled more a convention of the later American Federation of Labor than a convention of the old National Labor Union. The list of questions as outlined in the circular was fully discussed and little time was given to non-trade-union questions.

2 The old leaders, like Cameron and Trevellick, took scant part in the movement. Cameron, though not openly condemning the plan, was lukewarm in his praise.

3" Official Proceedings," given in Chicago Workingman's Advocate, July 26, 1873.

Arbitration was recommended to the trade unions as a substitute for strikes, a vigorous anti-contract immigration resolution was adopted, the abrogation of the Burlingame treaty with China was urgently demanded, and the contract system of prison labour was condemned. On the apprenticeship ques-. tion the report of the committee was adopted, which recommended that a committee be appointed to correspond with the officers of the national trade unions and with firms employing apprentices, and to report at the next congress. The demand for a general eight-hour day was reiterated, without specifying, however, whether it was to be attained by legislation or by trade union action; and, finally, the establishment of a national labour bureau was urged.

The trade union character of the congress is best shown, however, by the constitution. It provided that "whenever the President of this Congress has been officially notified of the existence of a difficulty between Labor and Capital, which has resulted in a strike, or lock-out, and has evidence that the labour interests have endeavoured by arbitration to settle such difficulty, it shall be his duty, if assistance is required, to lay the facts by circular, before the various Trade and Labor Unions of the Country, calling upon them for pecuniary assistance, sufficient to sustain the Labor so striking, or on lock-out." The dominance of the national trade unions over the federation being practically assured, the constitution liberally provided also for the representation of the other types of labour organisations, as follows: "Every International or National Organisation shall be entitled to three representatives; State or Local Trade Assemblies, to two; Trade Unions and all other protective organisations of labour to one each, provided that representatives shall derive their election direct from the organisations they claim to represent, and are members thereof, except where a delegate is elected at a joint meeting of two or more organisations, but no delegate shall be entitled to more than one vote." The revenue of the federation was to be derived from a 2 cent per capita tax upon local organisations, an annual tax of $10 each upon national organisations and a fee of $5 upon each new charter issued to a subordinate organisation.

Further to accentuate the trade union nature of the congress,

co-operation was given but a brief endorsement, and the financial plank in the platform, embodying the interconvertible bond and paper money system, was put in only after a heated debate and a roll call. The congress was wage-conscious in its programme for action, but it still chose to give indorsement to a set of non-wage-conscious principles, provided they were relegated to a purely theoretical position.

True to the pledge of the signers of the call, the congress adopted a negative attitude towards independent political action. The platform declared that, "while we recognise in the ballot-box an agency by which these wrongs can be redressed when other means fail, yet the great desideratum of the hour is the organisation, consolidation, and co-operative effort of the producing masses, as a stepping stone to that education which will in future lead to more advanced action, through which the necessary reforms can be obtained."

The officers elected for the year were Robert Schilling, of the Coopers' International Union, Cleveland, president; S. Keefe, of the Philadelphia Coopers' Union, secretary; and James A. Atkinson, of the Cleveland Iron Molders' Union, treasurer.


Had industrial prosperity continued, the new federation undoubtedly would have attained an important place in the labour movement, but having been launched only two months before the panic and the ensuing depression, it was doomed to failure. During the nine-month interval between this and the next congress, charters were issued to only 13 mixed local unions (industrial unions), to 2 city councils (industrial councils), and to 2 small national trade unions, the Associated Brotherhood of Iron and Steel Heaters, and the Rollers', Roughers', Catchers', and Hookers' National Association. The heaters' organisation was the only one that availed itself of the right granted by the constitution to apply for a circular in aid of a strike, but was denied assistance, as it had not complied with the provision concerning arbitration.

Nevertheless, the national trade unions, which had called the congress into existence, still retained a sufficient interest in the matter to be represented by delegates in the next congress,

4" Official Proceedings," given in Chicago Workingman's Advocate, Apr. 25,

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