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Labour united and divided from the 1830s to the present$
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Emmanuelle Avril and Yann Béliard

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781526126320

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526126320.001.0001

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The Knights of Labor and the British trade unions, 1880–1900

The Knights of Labor and the British trade unions, 1880–1900

(p.33) 2 The Knights of Labor and the British trade unions, 1880–1900
Labour united and divided from the 1830s to the present

Steven Parfitt

Manchester University Press

This chapter charts the conflicts that erupted between those unions and British branches of the Knights of Labor. Between 1884 and 1894, an American working-class movement named the Knights of Labor set up more than thirty branches across Britain and Ireland. In that time the Knights organised more than ten thousand members, and contributed to epochal changes in the British trade union movement and in British labour politics. They also faced serious opposition from British unions that resented the Knights’ incursion into their trades and industries. Knights suffered first from battles with craft unions, and then, after the so-called “new unionism” brought large numbers of hitherto unorganised workers into the British union movement, from battles with many of the “new” unions. This chapter argues that the Knights lost these battles because their organisational model, and their reliance on help from an ailing movement in the United States, cut against the sweeping changes that transformed the British labour movement in the late nineteenth century – the growth of national unions and local labour federations in particular. In some cases, the Knights were undone by the very organisations that they had inspired or helped to create.

Keywords:   Trade unions, Labour history, Knights of Labor, Socialism, Transnationalism, Global history

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