National Labor Union Advocates For An Eight-Hour Work Day
On August 20, 1866, the newly organized National Labor Union called on Congress to mandate an eight-hour workday.
A coalition of skilled and unskilled workers, farmers, and reformers, the National Labor Union was created to pressure Congress to enact labor reforms. It dissolved in 1873 following a disappointing venture into third-party politics in the 1872 presidential election.
Although the National Labor Union failed to persuade Congress to shorten the workday, its efforts heightened public awareness of labor issues and increased public support for labor reform in the 1870s and 1880s.
The Knights of Labor, a powerful advocate for the eight-hour day in the 1870s and early 1880s, proved more effective. Organized in 1869, by 1886 the Knights of Labor counted 700,000 laborers, shopkeepers, and farmers among its members. Under the leadership of Terrence V. Powderly, the union discouraged the use of strikes and advocated restructuring society along cooperative lines.
The National Labor Union (NLU) was the first national labor federation in the United States. Founded in 1866 and dissolved in 1872, it paved the way for other organizations, such as the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor. It was led by William H. Sylvis.
The National Labor Union followed the unsuccessful efforts of labor activists to form a national coalition of local trade unions. The National Labor Union sought instead to bring together all of the national labor organizations in existence, as well as the "eight-hour leagues" established to press for the eight-hour day, to create a national federation that could press for labor reforms and help found national unions in those areas where none existed. The new organization favored arbitration over strikes and called for the creation of a national labor party as an alternative to the two existing parties.
The NLU drew much of its support from construction unions and other groups of skilled employees, but also invited the unskilled and farmers to join. On the other hand, it campaigned for the exclusion of Chinese workers from the United States and made only halting, ineffective efforts to defend the rights of women and blacks. African-American workers established their own Colored National Labor Union as an adjunct, but their support of the Republican Party and the prevalent racism of the citizens of the United States limited its effectiveness.
I've worked in the mill in my day, until nine o'clock at night, from seven in the mornin'…I wouldn't want to go back to it, and I don't think anyone else would. An eight hour day is long enough.”— Matthew White