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Important Terms, People, and Events


American Federation of Labor  -   · Created in 1886 by labor leaders, including Samuel Gompers, the AFL was originally a more conservative confederation of craft unions. Eventually, in 1955, it merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
Industrial Unionism -   · Workers in an industrial union are organized by industry, rather than by craft or by skills. This type of labor organizing was embodied by the Industrial Workers of the World in the early twentieth century. Anyone could become a member of the IWW, regardless of their sex, race, occupation, or beliefs. Within the American Federation of Labor, which organized workers by craft, industrial unions became so numerous that they were expelled from the AFL in 1936. Currently, industrial unions, such as the Service Employees International Union, have organized not only manufacturing employees or miners, but also office workers.
Industrial Workers of the World  -   · Mother Jones attended the founding meeting of this radical industrial union in 1905, along with Eugene Debs and Bill Haywood. Through various methods of direct action, including strikes and boycotts, the purpose of the IWW was to rally together all workers and overthrow capitalism.
Socialism  -   · A term with many different interpretations, the most general meaning of socialism is a political and economic system that supports collectivism and government ownership of the means of production. The Socialist Party in the United States had strong support in the early twentieth-century.
United Mine Workers of America  -   · An industrial union formed in 1890, the UMW organized coal miners throughout the United States to confront company control and the abuse of workers. Indeed, miners lived in terrible conditions in secluded company towns, where they were forced to work in hazardous mines for long hours and little pay. The UMW instigated many successful strikes, of which Mother Jones was a part.
Western Federation of Miners  -   · Inclined to militancy and radical actions, the WFM was created in the western United States as a union of miners predominantly from the Rocky Mountain states. In 1905, its leaders, Charles Moyer, Bill Haywood, and George Pettibone were accused of murdering Frank Steunenberg, the former governor of Idaho. With the defense of legendary attorney Clarence Darrow, the three were acquitted. After the early 1910s, the WFM began to lose support.


Andrew Carnegie  -  An industrialist who made a fortune by forming a corporation of steel production companies, all consolidated into the Carnegie Steel Company. In addition, Carnegie had close business ties with the railroads, enabling him to gain greater control over emerging production centers. Carnegie Steel was later purchased by US Steel, and Carnegie retired.
Eugene Debs  -  Active in the American labor movement, one of the founders of the American Railway Union and the Industrial Workers of the World, and the leader of the socialist movement in America, Eugene Debs was a prominent labor activist. He ran for president on the Socialist ticket in 1900, 1904, 1908, and 1912, eventually receiving more than one million votes. Debs was imprisoned for denouncing the war effort during World War I. In prison, he continued his activism and received over 920,000 votes as a presidential candidate for the Socialist party in 1920. However, his health declined, and Debs died only a few years after his release from prison.
Elbert Gary  -  An American lawyer and industrialist, Gary was an important person in the US Steel Corporation from its formation until 1927. He expanded the corporation and founded the steel town of Gary, Indiana. Because he believed in the open shop and did not recognize organized labor, conditions for steel workers were deplorable, as was evident in the 1919 strike. Eventually, as a result of negative public opinion, Gary had to lower hours for the workers.
William Haywood  -  A leader of the Western Federation of Miners, the Socialist party, and the Industrial Workers of the World, "Big Bill Haywood" began his involvement in the labor movement as a miner. He was a militant leader, and advocated the principles of industrial unionism and direct, mass action, as opposed to the conservative cooperation tactics of the AFL. Haywood was convicted on the charge of sedition during World War I, and he escaped to the Soviet Union instead of serving his prison sentence.
John Mitchell  -  As a labor leader of the United Mine Workers, Mitchell was instrumental to the success of the anthracite strike of 1902. He also was vice-president of the American Federation of Labor, and worked for various government commissions.
John Davidson Rockefeller, Jr.  -  The son of the famous industrialist J.D. Rockefeller, John Davidson Rockefeller, Jr. was involved in many other business ventures which gained him enormous wealth. His father's influence was pervasive, and John Rockefeller, Jr. was later active in railroads and banks, and also held large amounts of stock in the Colorado mines, which made him a prominent figure in the Colorado Coal War of 1913.


Irish Potato Famine  -  Starting in 1845, a fungus spread throughout the Irish potato crop, destroying the harvest and causing mass starvation and disease. Poverty-stricken peasants flocked to the cities, where conditions were not much better and disease spread easily. An estimated one million people died as a result of the potato blight, and an equal number emigrated out of Ireland.
Chicago Fire -  Fire destroyed a large proportion of the city of Chicago in 1871. Mary Harris's home and business were destroyed.
Haymarket Tragedy -  On May 1, 1886, an anarchist demonstration turned violent when one of the participants threw a bomb at policemen, who responded by opening fire. Many innocent people died, and the authorities saw this as an opportunity to arrest and convict prominent activists. With little evidence, the activists were sentenced to be executed and imprisoned. Despite international protest, four of the activists were hanged. Later, the remaining imprisoned activists were pardoned.

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