A Major History of American Labor

A Major History of American Labor

Since the early years of the twentieth century, historians have characterized the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the preeminent organization of American trade unionists from the 1890s through the early 1930s, as craft-dominated, procapitalist, and politically tame. America’s pioneer labor historians, members of the “Wisconsin school,” celebrated the rise of the AFL as a natural adaptation by American workers to a society that deemed the pursuit of private property the highest good and most precious legal right. In their view, American labor was wise to jettison the “woolly-headed” schemes—Marxism, Greenbackism, Henry George’s Single Taxism, the Knights of Labor’s dream of ending the “wages system” —on which late nineteenth-century workers had squandered so much energy; wise to focus instead on improving its economic power in ways that the capitalist system allowed.

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