What are the similarities between the American Federation of Labor and the Knights of Labor?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While there were some similarities between the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the differences between them were greater and are more often discussed.  The Knights of Labor were by far more radical than the AFL.  The Knights were also more inclusive and less elitist.  These differences were significant and are discussed more than the similarities between the unions.  What were those similarities?

Fundamentally, both unions were interested in making life better for workers.  Of course, they did not want to help the same workers or to help them in the same ways.  Even so, their basic goal was to make working conditions, and life in general, better for workers.

Both unions were willing to use strikes as a tactic.  Although they were more radical in general, the Knights were actually less interested in using this tactic because they had less power than the AFL did.  However, both unions felt that the strike was a tool that they could use to help get what they wanted.

Both unions wanted to use electoral politics as a tactic.  This does not mean that they would have supported the same candidates.  It does mean that they both felt that they should use the power of workers’ votes to help achieve their goals.

Finally, both unions were despised by those in power.  The elites of the United States probably disliked the Knights more because they were more radical, but they did not approve of the AFL either.  The government and the owners of the company were just as opposed to the idea of AFL organization of the workforce as to the idea of organization by the Knights.

So, while the differences between these two unions were significant and important, there were some similarities.