Ohio History Journal

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The War at Mingo Junction: The

Autonomous Workman and the

Decline of the Knights of Labor



In early February 1887, workers at the Laughlin and Junction steel

plant in Mingo Junction, Ohio, walked out protesting a violation of

traditional work rules. Members of both the Knights of Labor

(KOL) and the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers

(AAISW), the men applied to each for assistance. While the Amalga-

mated quickly recognized the importance of work rules and shop-

floor conditions in the plant and thus sanctioned the strike, the

leaders of the Knights refused to stand by the men. This dispute

erupted into a bitter war between the two organizations which tested

the Knights' appeal to rank and file steel workers nationwide. In-

deed, the incident at Mingo Junction is important in gaining a broad-

er insight into the Knights' relationship to the trade unions as well as

understanding the Order's rapid decline.

Recently, historians have found that no strict dichotomy sepa-

rated late-nineteenth century workers organizations according to

their commitment to reformism, political action and wage-conscious

trade unionism. Studies focusing on such cities as Boston, Detroit,

Pittsburgh and Toronto reveal that working-class organizations

overlapped in both goals and membership. The Knights and trade

unions grew simultaneously, drawing upon each other's strength and

support.1 While this new work has put to rest the outdated explana-





Elizabeth Fones-Wolf is the Associate Editor of the Samuel Gompers Papers at the

University of Maryland. Kenneth Fones-Wolf is the Assistant Curator of the Urban Ar-

chives at Temple University and is a Ph.D. candidate in History. The authors thank

Stuart Kaufman of the University of Maryland for helpful comments on an earlier draft of

this article.


1. See, for example, Jama Lazerow, " 'The Workingman's Hour': The 1886 Labor

Uprising in Boston," Labor History, 21 (Spring, 1980), 200-20; Richard Oestreicher, "So-

cialism and the Knights of Labor in Detroit, 1877-1886," Ibid., 22 (Winter, 1981) 1-30;

Francis Couvares, "Knights, Trade Unionists and Local Politics in Pittsburgh,