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Knights of Labor Case: White vs Blue Label Cigars Report (Assessment)

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Updated: May 3rd, 2021

The key players of the Knights of Labor case

The key figures of the chosen case study are the Central Labour Union (CLU), the Cigar Manufacturers Association (CMA), the representatives of the Knights Assembly and so-called Unionists, the members of local craft unions such as the Cigar Makers’ International Union (CMIU) and the Cigarmakers Progressive Union of America (CPUA). The CLU and the CMA can be defined as the organizations that represent manufacturers and employers.

The CMIU and the CPUA represent the workers who use their skills and knowledge in the chosen field and produce cigars under special labels. The Knights is an organization founded by skilled and unskilled workers whose leaders belong to its radical fraction known as the Home Club (Kealey & Palmer, 1987). Working-class movements result from unsatisfied skilled workers who want to prove their readiness to lead their own unions.

The main issue disputed in this case

The main issue of this case is the line of conflicts between the Knights, the Cigar Makers’ International Union, the Cigar Manufacturers Association, and the Cigarmakers Progressive Union of America. Everything began after one of the bosses, Lillis, decided to open his own new shop under union principles and promoted the creation of new non-union shops that the CMIU did not favor. With time, working conditions and wages got worsened, and workers wanted to ask for protection. The CMIU led by Adolph Strasser rejected their petition, but the CPUA supported them and even got approval from the Knights. This support was defined as an intention to destroy trade unions by the Knights and led to several negative outcomes, rumors, and controversies.

Winners and losers of the case

Among a considerable number of conflicts and unclear situations, the main conflict was between the Knights who supported the CPUA and non-union shops and the CMIU. They did not accept the ideas of the strike-breaking cigar-makers, poor working conditions, and unreasonable bosses (Morton, 1998). The meeting was organized by the CLU to find a solution to this conflict. It ended with a resolution to support the CMIU and the necessity to remove unscrupulous leaders from the cigar-making industry (Kealey & Palmer, 1987). The Knights lost the fight and suffered from rumors. They were also defeated during the elections. As for the CPUA, it withdrew from the Knights and lost the majority of its members.

Events, actions, votes, and leadership decisions that led to the outcome of the case

The main decision that led to such negative outcomes of the case was made by the Knights to support what had not to be supported. The ideas of the CPUA were radical and contradicted the standards and interests of trade unions. However, the most influential event occurred a year later, when the union paper declared that the peculiar feature of all unions was the possibility to cooperate and never stand alone. All unions had to be linked together, and no one had the right to break this chain. Therefore, any tensions between the leaders and workers were perfectly recognized, and the conflict of interest was just a question of time.

The reasons behind the unionists’ decisions

Craft unionists could not ignore the problems and concerns in their relationships with the Knights. They were bothered by the creation of new shops that were not under the union standards. Therefore, they made a decision to accuse the Knights of supporting the progressive unions and their unethical leaders whose actions could easily destroy trade unions not only in the region but in the whole country (Kealey & Palmer, 1987). In addition, the role of the Home Club was not clearly identified. Therefore, the unionists were afraid of its potential impact on workers and leaders. It was necessary not to change the conditions under which ordinary employees got used to working. That is why the unionists did what they did.

The possibility of changing the outcome

In fact, it seems to be easy to judge the events that already occurred, and it is possible to observe the results. At the same time, it is a good chance to learn from other people’s mistakes and think about the decisions that could change the situation. In this case, direct communication between the representatives of the CMIU and the Knights was missing. There is a thought that if the leaders could be able to talk and discuss their concerns and the reasons for such decisions, they could avoid the meeting on June 29, 1886, and the claims that negatively influenced the reputation of the Knights.

The long-term consequences of these events

The peculiar feature of that conflict was the presence of a number of long-term consequences and the inability to improve the situation. First, it is necessary to admit that multiple rumors questioned the worth of labor unions and the reputation gained by the Knights during the last years. Second, the motivation of leaders turned out to be a suspicious issue that could not work any longer. Finally, the Knights were not able to gather the required number of votes and lost federal and provincial elections. The results for the CPUA were even worse because this organization lost almost all its members and clout with time. Still, in general, all these consequences prove that trade and labor unions were created as a significant motivation to make people work together, and the decision to support independent shop-owners was a mistake with a high price.

References

Kealey, G. S., & Palmer, B. D. (1987). Dreaming of what might be: The knights of labour in Ontario, 1880-1900. Toronto, Canada: New Hogtown Press.

Morton, D. (1998). Working people: An illustrated history of the Canadian labour movement. (4th ed). Kingston, Canada: McGill-Queens University Press.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Knights of Labor Case: White vs Blue Label Cigars." May 3, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/knights-of-labor-case-white-vs-blue-label-cigars/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Knights of Labor Case: White vs Blue Label Cigars'. 3 May.

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