Comparison of Knights of Labor and American Federation of Labor  




Knights of Labor

American Federation of Labor





Terence V. Powderly, the “grand master workman”

Tip: this title is representative of their “fraternal ritual.” If you don’t know the term fraternal, look it up.

Caution: The “language of Christianity” does not mean anything more than vocabulary.

Samuel Gompers, a member of the craft union, the Cigar Makers International Union


Open to varied groups:

  • “workers from skilled craft unions”
  • “agricultural laborers in the South”
  • “women who were new entrants into the workforce”


The union’s openness to “women and blacks set it apart from other unions.”

Open only to:

  • craft unions
  • skilled workers

Tip:  If you don’t know the word federation, look it up or ask.


Rejecting those who could be easily replaced by employers, this union:

  • “did not try to organize the masses of industrial workers”
  • “opposed immigrant labor, especially the Chinese”
  • was cool toward the idea of black members” [Caution:  “cool” means not open to.]


  • “a system adopted which will secure to the laborer the fruits of his toil’”
  • involvement of government in protecting workers


Additional information: 8 hour day, graduated income tax, cooperatives

  • “concrete and limited improvements in living and working conditions”
  • no “political involvements “



1879 9,000

1882 42,000

1885 100,000

1886 150,000

1896 300,000+

Key Events?

1870s – unions among Pennsylvania coal miners

1885 – strike of Gould railroad

1886 – Haymarket Square

“achieved considerable benefits for its members through judicious use of strikes and negotiations with employers”

Location information in your textbook


  • This union dies out with the Haymarket Square event in this Unit.
  • You can find these facts and part of the quotations in other editions and versions of the textbook by looking up the Knights of Labor in the index.


  • There will be more on this union in the era covered in the next Unit.
  • This column’s data includes information from a caption under a picture in the 2nd edition, not included in many editions. It is useful:    “The craft unions that Gompers represented did not reach out to the large, unorganized mass of workers, and barred African Americans and Chinese from their ranks.”
  • You will find these facts by looking up the American Federation of Labor in the index.



Copyright C. J. Bibus, Ed.D. 2003-2016


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