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Rise and Fall of a Nation of Joiners: The Knights of Labor Revisited

Jason Kaufman
The Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Vol. 31, No. 4 (Spring, 2001), pp. 553-579
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/206859
Page Count: 27
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Rise and Fall of a Nation of Joiners: The Knights of Labor Revisited
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Abstract

The rise and fall of the Knights of Labor organization (1869-1917) has frequently been portrayed as a crucial event in the history of "American exceptionalism." The Knights' collapse heralded the rise of more conservative unions (such as the American Federation of Labor), which largely eschewed the cause of major sociopolitical reform, focusing instead on minor wage disputes and workshop improvements. The impact of external competition from fraternal lodges and trade unions on the Knights' ability to retain members is often overlooked. Both quantitative and qualitative evidence support the conclusion that a profusion of voluntary associations during "the golden age of fraternity" had the unintended consequence of undermining American workers' ability to organize and maintain a vital constituency mobilized for decisive political action.

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