The Knights of Labor, until recently studied largely if not exclusively in the US and Canadian context, is now belatedly gaining a much-needed global framework. Famed for its mass membership of up to a half million in the mid-1880s, across large parts of the United States, and also lauded for its inclusion of women and (at least some) African Americans, the Knights’ record is also notorious for its rapid downfall. Generations of labor historians including Gerald Grob, working from a “John R. Commons” framework, had an easy answer: only the “pure and simple” business unionism of Sam Gompers and the AFL could possibly succeed. American prosperity or at least generational and geographical mobility, according to the theory, militated against any other possibility.

The generation of historians entering the field during the 1960s and 1970s, prominently including Leon Fink and Peter Rachleff,...

You do not currently have access to this content.