As it was said in the previous article, the labor movement in the USA is a broad topic and, most importantly, it is open to new hypotheses as it has not been thoroughly researched yet.
Nowadays, it is stated in scholar’s books that there are two distinct periods of time in the labor movement in the USA. That idea was proposed by professor Buhle in his book Marxism in the United States, these two distinct periods are: Immigrant Marxism and American Socialism. This division still appears in scholar´s books and the Labor movement specialized monographs.
As we can gather from the name of these two periods, during the first one, the liability of the whole labor movement lied on the immigrant workers, most of them from Europe, who brought to the United States the “laborism ideas” such as Marxism and anarchism. And, in the second one, the liability was transferred to the American working people who soaked these ideas and turned them, mixing with the American political culture, into one corpus of ideas that would be assumable for all of them.
In this article; based in Buhle’s division -although some details will be changed, as it seems much more static than how it actually was -, I will explain the diverse ways and labor unions which had the labor movement in the United States. As we know from the Marxist theory, the labor movement is deeply linked with the development of the capitalism, when a society has a higher development of capitalism much and stronger becomes the labor movement. But, as professor Howard Zinn told us at ‘A people´s history of the US’, a diverse ways of organized labor existed in the USA much earlier than the final development of the capitalism.
If we follow the Marxist theory, we cannot talk about organized labor –as a Marxist concept- in the pre-Civil War times in the United States, as the American capitalism was born in the North of the country while the Civil War was taking place. This theory does not imply that there was no development of capitalism in the United States at the pre-Civil war times, solely, this capitalism was weak and was mixed with the previous mode of production. But, as it was said before, if we follow the Marxist theory we miss a diversity of experiences and rich ways of the labor movement in this time.
Howard Zinn told us about different experiences of pre-organized labor in the thirteen colonies, and the United States later. He settled the first strikes and the first self-conscience in the earlier XIX century. These first experiences of a growing labor movement were in the form of inside-strikes, protests in front of the industries´ doors and some pamphlets. It is worth mentioning that these first strikes were led by women.
The first steps to organize and create a new society in the shell of the other were taken in this time by the Robert Owen and Charles Fourier experiences. R. Owen, a man from Wales, who tried innovative ways of work in his industry at Scotland, went to the United States to found the New Harmony Colony. New Harmony would become the mother of the cooperative movement, and Robert Owen is considered the father of the cooperative movement which has deeper roots in the United States´ labor movement as we will see. Charles Fourier is another utopic socialist -the movement where we classify this experience of a new socialist society before the emergence of the scientific socialism- who tried to find a new way of living in the USA inside the “phalanx”.
With the emergence of scientific socialism, these ways of creating a new order or a new society disappear -sometimes those attempts end much before due to a failure, sometimes because the people see more effective the scientific socialism brought by K. Marx or F. Engels-; and the former organized labor of the pre-Civil War vanish with the turned up of the Secession War.
The Civil War was a shock for all the inhabitants in the United States, thus, for the labor movement too. It is well known that this war began with Lincoln’s attempt to abolish the slavery in the country, but the war between two antagonist modes of production underlies in this historic fact. Capitalism could not live and develop itself as long as slavery was legal in the United States. When the war started, we had two different countries in war, each one with different economy, different culture, and different interpretations of the links which had with others states of the Union.
The North, was an industrialized and capitalist economy that needed protectionism to develop the big industry and the Second Industrial Revolution in their land. Whereas the South was an agricultural economy that needed the Free Trade to be able to sell their products -mostly cotton from slavery- in other parts of the world. We know well the history about slavery and the attempts in the North to vanish it, but the war between these two different economies is not that well known. The northern congressmen passed some protectionist laws that triggered the rage in the pro-Free Trade south. The North needed these laws to develop big industries and, for instance, Karl Marx supported these attempts to develop the capitalism in the North and extended it to the South. It is worth mentioning that Marx was following him own believes by supporting this attempt: the world needed to develop the capitalism. After the capitalism was developed, one working class was born in this society whom fate was to overthrow the capitalism and create a socialist state.
During the Civil War, there were no big “shows” of the organized labor due to the patriotic fervor which flooded the class-consciousness. However, when the war ended with the total victory of the North to the South, the capitalism could extend itself without trammels through all the country and develop itself in a big national and closed market. So, with this victory, and it main consequence –the development of capitalism-, the United States meted the conditions to develop, likewise, one big working class which major show are the big Trade Unions, Brotherhoods and the Knights of Labor in the final quarter of the XIX century.
I will not talk in this article about the labor parties in the USA at this time, but it is worth mentioning that the main labor party of this time period was the Socialist Labor Party. This Party was mostly German rank and file, and was mostly voted by German and Irish immigrant voters.
The first unions started forming around the old craft in the form of “Trade Unions”, following the proposal of Marx and Engels for the organized labor. This earlier form of organization of the labor movement will be known as “craft unionism”, which would become the main way to organize until the showed up of the Industrial Unionism within Western Federation of Miners (WFM) in the late XIX Century and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905.
We can see this primitive way of organizing the proletariat at the mayor unions of that time: The Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor. Although both unions were born in the period of time we know as Gilded Age (1865-1900), the first one has more characteristics of this cultural period than the American Federation of Labor. Furthermore, the Knights of Labor were born in the Gilded Age and the union “died off” in the same period, around the 90´s of the XIX century.
The Gilded Age is a time well known because of the significant social inequality within the United States. Some studies reveal that only one family needed around $754 per year to survive, and the average wage of a male worker, working more than 12 hours per day, was of $558 per year. This would mean, one family needed to have all their members, including little children, working in order to survive. Whereas, nowadays this Age is the time of the “big men” like Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller… who earn more than 1 million of dollars per year.
When the Knights of Labor appeared in the scene, there were some little craft unions in the United States, these ones emerged directly from the old crafts, which had skilled workers. The Knights of Labor did not want to unify the working class. Within some of these unions, was the member Uriah Stephens (1821-1882) who founded the Knights of Labor the Thanksgiving Day of 1869. This took place place in a meeting of this little union that finished in a fratricidal struggle, and Uriah, very disappointed at his union, invited some of his close friends to his home. When they arrived at Uriah´s house in 2347 of Coral Street, Philadelphia, he proposed to his friends to found a new secret union like the old masons who found their country did. 
They were only 6 members, but this idea had a powerful power of attraction in the American society due to the nostalgic feelings of going back to the time of Knights and honor. The society was afraid of the new change that modernity brought and the imminent industrialization with its inequality. Perhaps, other pole of attraction in the Knights of Labor was their ideology. It is worth mentioning that this was one of the first labor political cultures that emerged in the United States. This political culture’s main idea was that the society was divided in two separated group of people: producers and non-producers. Yes, it was very alike to the Marxist theory with two group of people separated, but the Knights of Labor never read Marx and they only had some rank and file Marxists in them latter history, much after the Gould Strikes (1886-1887).
The first 10 years of the Knights of Labor were marked by an exponential growth, which is surprising as they were a secret association, so, they did not have the tools to make propaganda and advertising of their own union. All this growth developed through the “word of mouth”.
By 1882, The Knights of Labor decided to make themselves public as a union and opened the doors to women and Afro-American memberships, becoming the first union in the United States to do so.
The Knights of Labor are famous in the labor movement history of North America, in addition to their ideology and the knight thing, due to two other reasons: the 8 hours movement and the Gould Strikes. The 8 hours’ movement was the first powerful demonstration of power of the labor movement in United States, it gathered all the unions and labor parties of the country. This movement finished with the Haymarket riot, when one bomb exploded in a meeting of this movement at Chicago. This marked the start of the end of the Knights of Labor with their failure in the Second Gould Strike.
Jay Gould was one of the “big men” of the capitalist system in the United States of the Gilded Age and he owned a significant part of the national railway system. The first strike against his company began in 1886 and brought together, by the leadership of the Knight of Labor, more than 1 million workers in five states. This first strike was greatly won by the Knights of Labor, but soon, one year later, some Knights decided to proclaim a second with the hope to finish with Jay Gould´s company. This time, Gould received help from the other “big men” who bought a private army and, also from the state, who helped him fearing that if Gould lost, all the system could suffer a big revolution of the workers. In this environment of violence, the Knights of Labor were defeated, they did not win the strike, and, due to the significant violence of that strike they finally disrupted.
At the same time the Knights of Labor were fading away, one union emerged: the American Federation of Labor (AFL). This union is going to be the most powerful and important union of all the labor movement history in the United States, until the conformation of alternatives such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the 30’s. We ought to link the history of the AFL with the fate of Samuel Gompers, the founder and leader.
Samuel Gompers was English-born but, at the age of 13 years old, he moved to United States hoping for a new and brilliant future. In England, he worked as a cigarmaker, and in the United States, he worked as a qualified cigarmaker. He was a member of the Trade Union of cigarmakers in the United States while he was in England, soon after, he was able to jump up the hierarchies at that Trade Union and become the leader. He always considered himself, in the first years of militancy, as a Marxist. He went to the Workers International as a representative of the Labor Movement in the United States. Following that, he founded with other unions the American Federation of Labor in 1886 as a “union who follow the Marxist theory”, based on the trade-unionism of Marx and Engels, and the craft unionism.
The American Federation of Labor was going to become the most powerful, strong and the most conservative labor union of the history in the labor movement. The AFL did not have an interest in organizing unskilled workers, so, they only organized the white, skilled, males: the “labor aristocracy”.
As being the only labor union in his first 20 year of existence, it grew up to one million members, however, there were still people unorganized: Afro-Americans, unskilled workers and women. Some leaders within the AFL were very disappointed at this labor union which did not allow the solidarity and class unity, so they decided to create a new and “definitive” American labor union with the help of Eugene Debs, the charismatic leader of the Socialist Party of America (SPA).
The struggles of the 90’s of the XIX century in the West led by miners, proved to them that a new union based on class solidarity was needed. The miners began to build the Western Federation of Labor within the AFL but with a different organization strategy, they allowed the unskilled workers to be members. They needed the unskilled worker to win strikes, because the owners of the companies could be contracting him as strikebreaker. The WFM was shown insufficient for their leaders, they wanted to organize all the workers, not only the miners, so they launched a new union with the SPA: American Labor Union. This Union did not live for very long, only 2 years - it transformed itself into a movement who reclaimed “industrial unity” and a meeting for all parties and labor unions was appointed on the 27 of June at Chicago.
In this meeting, the revolutionary union Industrial Workers of the World was launched, based on: Socialism, Democracy and Solidarity. In “Big Bill” Haywood´s words: “This is the Continental Congress of the working class. We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working class movement that shall have its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism. The IWW was supported by all the labor unions of the country, apart from the AFL; and with the two major Labor parties of the USA: the Socialist Labor Party of Daniel de Leon and the Socialist Party of America, Eugene Debs (both leaders were enemies at that time).
As soon as the IWW was launched, it became the most revolutionary labor union in the history and they were the creators of a new socialist political culture based on the democratic political culture of T. Jefferson. They led massive strikes as the one in Goldfield (1907), Lawrence (1912) -Bread and Roses Strike-, Paterson (1913), Seattle (1919) and San Pedro (1923). The IWW tried to get into the Third International but due to a disagreement with the Leninist thought, they refused to give the most importance to the Party, and instead gave it to the labor movement.
Nowadays, the IWW is still alive, but it almost died in 1924 after the big State Repression, and due to the pression of the communists to came under the command of Leninism. With the end of the IWW, the United States´ labor union loses its most revolutionary labor union. We must wait until the ‘Black Panther’ to see a revolutionary organization like the IWW. It is true that the CIO, which was formed in 1935, is an heiress of the organization strategy of the IWW. Although this was a progressive labor union that could change the conservatism of the AFL, it never was a revolutionary union.
 BUHLE, Paul. Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left New York: Verso, 2003
 ZINN, Howard. A People´s History of the United States Nueva York: HarperCollins, 1980
 MARX, Karl & LINCOLN Abraham. Guerra y Emancipación Madrid: Capitan Swing, 2012.
 TWAIN, Mark. The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today Chicago: American Publishing Company, 1873.
 WEIR, Robert. E. Beyond Labor´s Veil: The Culture of the Knights of Labor Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press 1996. p. 4
 Wright, Carroll D. "An Historical Sketch of the Knights of Labor." The Quarterly Journal of Economics 1.2 (1887): 137-168. p. 6
 WEIR, Robert. E. Beyond Labor´s Veil: The Culture of the Knights of Labor Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press 1996. p. 19
 GOMPERS, Samuel. The Samuel Gompers Papers: Progress and Reaction in the Age of Reform, 1909-13 Illinois: University of Illinois Press,2001. pp. 282-297
 DUBOFSKY, Melvyn. We Shall Be All: A History of The Industrial Workers of the World. New York: The New York Times Book Co, 1969. pp 32-33
 Daily People Vol I March 26, 1905
 THOMPSON, Fred The I.W.W.: Its First Fifty Years Chicago: Industrial Workers of the World, 1976. pp. 5
Jaime Caro (UAM)