Action Network

Join the LiUNA! Action network to get involved - it's your union! Learn more by signing up with LiUNA!

1860s and 1870s


With workers recognizing the power of their employers, the number of local union organizations increased steadily during the mid-19th century. In a number of cities, unions in various trades joined together in citywide federations. The Nation Labor Union, (actually a federation- an organization of local unions) formed in 1866. The NLU eventually persuaded Congress to pass an eight hour day for Federal workers. Never very strong, it was a casualty of the sweeping economic depression of 1873.

Five years later, the Knights of Labor captured the public imagination. Formed in 1869 by Uriah Stephens and expanded rapidly under the leadership of Terrance Powdery, the Knights were an all-embracing organization committed to a cooperative society. Membership was open to all workers, whether they be skilled or unskilled, black or white, male or female. The Knights achieved a membership of nearly 750,000 during the next few years, but the skilled and unskilled workers who had joined the Knights in hope of improvement in their hours and wages found themselves fragmented by the rift between skilled and unskilled workers. Skilled workers tired of labor activity on the part of unskilled workers who were easily replaced. The Knights, an effective labor force, declined after the Haymarket Square riots. In the riot members of the Knights of Labor where accused of throwing a bomb which killed police officers. The Knights, already fragmented, where faced with enormous negative publicity, and eventually disbanded.