he abrupt decline of the Knights is another remarkable feature of their history. The organization disappeared almost as quickly as it had risen a decade earlier. Many factors contributed to this turn of events. Employers took advantage of rising unemployment at the time and, often with the support of government, crushed union organizing drives and strikes. The union also became a popular target of anti-union newspaper editors. In Quebec, the Knights had to contend with the hostility of the Catholic Church, which viewed them as atheists and revolutionaries.

Part of the explanation for the Knights' dramatic collapse clearly rested with the organization itself. Internal conflicts over whether the ballot box, strike, or arbitration was the best tactic to win concessions from industry and government paralysed the union. This debate pitted local assemblies who wanted greater support for strikes against the more conservative national and international leadership.

Other divisions were opening in the labour movement. Initially, relations were good between the Knights and the craft unions. Most craft unionists welcomed the rise of the Knights as a further sign of the strengthening of the labour movement. Craft workers helped to organize the Knights, worked together with them to sustain labour councils, independent labour parties and co-operatives. However, the organizing success of the Knights brought them into conflict with the craft unions. At the heart of this conflict was the jurisdictional dispute over who would represent which workers. Eventually, the relationship between the Knights and the craft unions deteriorated into a messy affair that weakened the entire labour movement.

These conflicts within the Knights of Labor and between it and other labour unions led many sympathizers to abandon the organization. A divided organization was not up to the challenges posed by the big - and always getting bigger - industries of the time. Workers first joined the Knights of Labor because they believed it would counter the growing influence of business. When the union lost its sense of direction, workers, probably wisely, abandoned it.

The Knights deserve prominence in the history of Canada's labour movement. The organization offered thousands of workers their first union experience and introduced them to the idea of co-operatives. In some instances, the union did secure better wages and working conditions for its members. Furthermore, the Knights made an important contribution to the evolution of independent labour politics in Canada. Their warning of the dangers of unfettered capitalism was a timely one.

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