Trade unionism, industrial unionism, and socialism were the main forms of organized labor in the late nineteenth century early twentieth century, yet rarely did these shifting currents flow in complementary ways that might appeal to the vast majority of struggling workers.
The three most important formal organizations were the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Socialist Party of America. All three of these organizations had there own strengths but the many weaknesses and divisions combined with outside influences caused the retardation of their radical, left wing ideas.The American Federation of Labor was founded with the intention of building the class conscioussness and economic power of workers by organizing them on occupational lines. It pursued policies to win short term, concrete, economic gains (Cashman,206.
) The AFL wasfirst established as the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada from several independent national trade unions in 1881 and it took its definitive form and new name in 1886.The AFL was decentralized and organized as a loose coalition of almost autonomous national unions (Cashman,205.) The advantage to this was that decisions were made in each union where the leaders understood the situation.
However, the AFL retreated from its Marxian origins to become a profoundly conservative organization restricted to the ranks of skilled, white males. This restrictive policy was a major flaw of the AFL and kept them from gaining the numbers and strength that it may have attained. These policies came directly from the ideas of the AFL's longtime leader Samuel Gompers.
Gompers believed that labor should accept the existing capitalist economy but try and get a larger share for labor by way of higher wages, shorter hours and better conditions of work. He believed that the ide…