Journal of United Labor
The Knights of Labor fought for higher wages and shorter working hours in part because they believed that workers should have the time and resources to engage in pursuits that would enable them to become better citizens in the democratic United States. Citizens needed time to educate themselves on the issues of the day so as to make more informed decisions about their lives. The first page of the Knights' constitution states that a goal of the order is "To secure to the workers the full enjoyment of the wealth they create, sufficient leisure in which to develop their intellectual, moral and social faculties; all of the benefits, recreation and pleasures of association; in a word, to enable them to share in the gains and honors of advancing civilization." Toward this end, the Knights sponsored lectures, gatherings, and other events. Local assemblies of Knights built their own meeting halls, stocking them with writings on labor and politics. Members presented essays, read poetry, gave speeches, and rewrote lyrics of familiar songs into labor ditties. They developed a judicial system of their own, trying members for violating standards set by the Knights themselves-wife-beating, public drunkenness, and scabbing were all punishable offenses.
As this reproduction of the official journal of the Knights, The Journal of United Labor (JUL), shows, penalties for such offenses could include public expulsion from the order. Local Assemblies were required to subscribe to the JUL, which contained articles and news related to the order. Underscoring the fact that the Knights had many time and financial pressures many considered more important than publishing the JUL, however, the journal was published irregularly, and locals were not always able to keep their subscriptions up-to-date.
This reproduction of three pages from a May 1880 issue of the JUL offers a sample of what kind of material the Knights felt belonged in their national publication.
As you read the document, reflect on the following questions:
- Why might this issue of the JUL not have its sponsoring organization, the Knights of Labor, printed in its pages?
- What kind of information is conveyed about Powderly in the sketch on the first two pages? Why would this information be important to members?
- Page two lists expulsions from the order. What kinds of offenses caused expulsion? Why might these offense result in expulsions?
- Name the top three states in which the District Assembly officers lived, according to the address list on page three. Research the states and find out which industries employed most working class employees in those states. As you might guess, chances are good that there were Knights of Labor assemblies for those groups of employees. Further research on the matter might take you to a local archive to search for newspaper or other records on a local Knights of Labor assembly. Were there Knights of Labor in your town?