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The ‘Knights of Labor’ is one of the oldest labor organizations in the US. It was formed in 1886 by Philadelphia tailors led by Uriah Stephens. It became a body of national vitality in the late 1870s and grew rapidly in the 1880s. It was organized on an industrial basis with black workers, and women, the Knights of Labor aided different groups in their boycotts and strikes. They won significant strikes on the Union Pacific in 1884 and the Wabash RR the following year. Despite their successes in the past, their failure in the Missouri Pacific in 19886 threatened to break down the strong and well organized structure of the organization.
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The organization reached its apex in 1886, but was soon to face its end. Amongst the cause of its downfall was too much centralization, which resulted in autocracy, factional disputes, mismanagement, the emergence of the labor federation and misuse of financial resources through strikes that were unsuccessful. The society that was Knights of Labor engaged in a variety of conflicts which were the contributing factors to its downfall. It is some of the above stated reasons that led to the downfall of the organization.
The disputes between industrial unionists and skilled trade unonist caused a weakness in the structure of the organization. The management lost faith in the strikes being an effective method of use to top up the working people’ status, and they increasingly failed to plan successful strikes and develop the infrastructure required to pull off hundreds of strikes successfully. There was a lot of abrasion between the management and the people because some of their strategies simply did not mix.
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One of the strikes that did not succeed according to their plan was the Missouri Pacific strike in the heart of 1886. There was a Haymarket riot in the same year that came during the Knight’s strike in Chicago. This is an occurrence that tarnished the image of the image of the society as being violent and their involvement in anarchy. These accusations were hauled against them despite the fact that the violence was uncalled for and unplanned. It was such disputes that pushed the management and the labor members further apart.
Following this occurrence, they lost quite a substantial amount of their members to rival groups and societies such as the American Labor Federation and the Railroad Brotherhood. These societies had a reputation of being more conservative, and management was caring and listening to the memberrs. Such small disputes led to a sudden and steady decline in the number of members loyal to the organization. A society that boasted of over 700,000 members now had a membership of less than 100,000. Their political support was towards the people’s party. When James Sovereign replaced Terence Powderly as grandmaster workman in 1893 all members of the socialist labor party left the society and joined the Labor alliance and the Socialist Trade.
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It is evident that there were flaws in the organizational structure of the organization, hence the reason why the members were in discordance with the management. Whereas the management felt that strikes were not the most efficient tools to voice their concerns, members and non-members alike lost faith in the ability of management to lead. After one of the strikes turned violent, the image of the society was tarnished and the members of society lost faith. There were a number of reasons that the group fell apart, the main one being financial unsustainability that unsuccessful strikes caused. Others included factual disputes, autocracy and the emergence of the Federation of Labor. The major threat to the membership of the organization was the emergence of other societies towards the same cause but with better perception such as fairness.
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