We live in a society that is the direct result of the work and sacrifices of previous generations. It is often difficult for 21st-century students to understand that there was a time in the not too distant past when workers had little legal recourse against abusive employers. In fact, the law was on the side of the often unscrupulous industrialist. Few realize that minimum wage laws, the 8-hour workday (or 40-hour week), safe work environments, and the prohibition of child labor are benefits we enjoy because of the efforts of the American labor movement.
Through exploration of the preamble of the constitution for the Knights of Labor and of the preface and other segments of Terence Powderly’s book Thirty Years of Labor, students can glimpse the mind behind the Knights of Labor. This unit allows students to study the goals and objectives of America’s largest union in the late 19th century and consider its impact on modern society.