Labor relations were
positive between owners and operatives in Moodus. This was partially a
result of the small size of the mills, the large number of mills
congregated in a relatively small area (twelve mills along a three mile
stretch of river), and the rural, small town quality of life in Moodus.
Everyone knew everybody else, many were, in fact, related to someone
else, and most everyone who worked in a mill lived in that neighborhood.
Usually, the mill owner lived only a few houses away from the mill, and
his next door neighbors were also his employees. Most everyone seemed to
pull together in a collective effort to achieve industrial success and
financial prosperity. Because Moodus was so small, this sense of
community that developed was greater than any one of the mills. "Do what
was best for the common good of manufacturing in Moodus" could have been
the philosophy of the mill owners, and they all worked together to help
each other achieve success.
The twelve mills were not
in competition with each other. Each had cultivated their own customers
and did not try to interfere with another's market. This characteristic
of Moodus manufacturing is consistent with the findings of Anthony F.C.
Wallace who describes manufacturing in Rockdale, Pennsylvania during the
early 1800's. "In this early phase of industrial capitalism, the
manufacturers did not view themselves so much as competitors as
colleagues, all engaged in the same profession, all matching wits
against the impersonal market, with success ultimately possible for all
who worked hard and made wise choices. "2' In a
very real sense, industrial capitalism in Moodus never outgrew this
early stage of development described by Wallace. The mills did not get
any larger, two of the mills did not combine operations in an attempt to
force the others out of business; no one, in fact, ever made a lot of
money manufacturing twine in Moodus. The operations remained small but
profitable, the mill owners co-operated in seeking solutions to common
problems, the immigrants worked hard in the mills, saved their money,
However, workers in
Moodus were aware of events in the "outside world." In general, the
1870's through the 1890's was a period of intense conflict between
workers and owners. Faced with long hours of work, low wages, and
unsafe, unhealthy working and living conditions, many workers began to
organize in an attempt to force owners to bring about needed
improvements. The economic depression of the mid-1870's, touched off by
the Panic of 1873, initiated a wave of wage cuts and escalating
unemployment. When all twelve hundred workers at the Taftville (CT)
cotton mill went on strike in April, 1875, their jobs were taken over by
strikebreakers and the strikers were evicted from company houses. They
joined a swelling sea of jobless workers who were affected by the
depression. The railroad workers struck in 1877 after the industry had
announced an across-the-board tenpercent wage cut. During that hot
summer freight traffic into many of the industrial centers of the
northeast was stopped by the strike. Violence erupted. A new sense of
solidarity among skilled and unskilled was developed out of these
confrontations, a spirit of unity whose purpose was to win for workers a
more respected position in the American economy. This sense and spirit
became manifest in the Knights of Labor, the first successful national
The goal of the Knights
was to pursue peaceful negotiations as a means of avoiding strikes. They
were in favor of equal pay for equal work by women, and anti-child labor
laws. They embraced the entire labor movement, enrolling skilled and
unskilled, men, women, blacks, and immigrants. All were welcome except
"bankers, stockbrokers, professional gamblers, lawyers, and those who in
any way derive their living from the manufacture or sale of intoxicating
liquors. "2' Thousands joined the order.
The basic unit of the
Knights of Labor was the Local Assembly_ Each assembly was given a
number. These numbers were assigned sequentially from Local Assembly #1
(1869) until Local Assembly #11,000 (1887). After #11,000, new Local
Assemblies were assigned numbers of previous locals which had withdrawn
from the union. In July, 1886, at the height of its power, there were
reported one hundred eighteen Local Assemblies in good standing in
sixty-two towns in Connecticut, with an approximate membership of twelve
thousand. The locals belonged to District Assemblies organized on a
geographical basis. District Assembly 95 in Hartford covered most of
Connecticut. The Knights of Labor achieved its greatest success and
increases in membership from 1882-1886. In 1885, alone, national
membership jumped from one hundred thousand to seven hundred thousand.
It was during this heyday of union organizing that workers in Moodus
joined the Knights of Labor.
The Moodus local, formed
in 1885, was assigned designation #4507. At the time of its inception,
L.A. 4507 was only the second local in Middlesex County. Local
Assemblies were designated as either craft unions or mixed unions.
Moodus' Local Assembly was designated occupationally as a mixed
assembly. "The Order differentiated between trade and mixed assemblies
solely on the basis of membership composition and what might be termed
`the rule of ten.' A trade L. A. had to include at least 10 members of a
given occupation and no more than nine members of any one calling.
Conversely, a mixed L. A. either lacked 10 members in any one occupation
or else included more than 10 members in each of at least two trades."
26 Most of the Connecticut locals were mixed. The following
chart lists the Local Assemblies in Middlesex County. The dates are
their years of existence, and are inclusive.
mill / factory operatives / workers
Interestingly enough, the
Knights of Labor broke down the composition of L. A. 4507 by occupation,
differentiating between cotton mill workers, factory workers, and
workers in general. Since no other information on the Moodus local has
been discovered by this researcher, one may only speculate as to the
reasons for these distinctions. In addition to the twelve cotton mills
on the Moodus River, other principal industries in town were the East
Haddam Duck Company in the Leesville section of Moodus, National Net
and Twine Company in East Haddam, Boardman Britannia Factories (silver
plating) and Ray Coffin Trimmings Company (coffins) in East Haddam.
Presumably, workers from either one or both of these latter companies
joined the Order along with workers from the cotton mills. The third
designation -workers-might include such skilled craftsmen as machinists,
blacksmiths, cigarmakers (Fredrick B. Clark & Co., located in the old
Music Hall Building in Moodus Center), and shoemakers.
The Knights of Labor do
not seem to have made any impact on labor relations that existed prior
to the local's formation. No evidence could be found of changes in
wages, hours, or working conditions initiated by the Knights. Only a few
references to the Order were found in the Local Record column of the
Connecticut Valley, Advertiser, and they all referred to
social events being sponsored by the union. For instance, the following
item ran in the January 15, 1887, edition: "Fun in the Future-The
Knights of Labor will give a grand ball at Music Hall on Thursday
evening of next week, January 20th. A pleasant time is promised for all
who attend." And in the following week's paper: "A large number were in
attendance at the ball given by the Knights of Labor, Thursday evening."
From these two news items it appears that the union was not only
accepted by the townspeople but was downright popular. It is possible
that the local tended to function more as a social organization than as
a collective bargaining agency, considering the good relations which
seemed to have existed between labor and management. In fact, the
owners' attitude toward their employees might best be described as
beneficent paternalism. Townspeople who had begun to work in the mills
during the early 1920's, and whose relatives had preceded them in the
mills, could not recall having heard any stories of abusive treatment by
owners or supervisors, and did not experience such treatment themselves.
There was no child labor below the age of fourteen. At fourteen children
had the choice of continuing their education or obtaining working papers
and entering the mills. Had the local decided to follow the lead of the
national and become more politically radical, it is safe to assume that
they would have been met by stern opposition. Moodus was a
conservative, Republican town of about three thousand people during the
mid-1880's.29 The owners of the mills and factories were the
"pillars of the community" whose business enterprises sustained the
town's economy and defined its identity. The owners, supervisors, and
workers were all local residents who seem to have been well aware that
co-operation was more advantageous than strife.
Nationally, the Knights of Labor began a precipitous decline in
popularity after 1886. In March of that year they unwisely attempted to
lead the largest western railroad strike in history and were seriously
defeated. Then, two months later, the union had been badly hurt again at
a rally they had sponsored in Haymarket Square in Chicago which turned
into a bloodbath when a bomb exploded killing several policemen. The
police, in retaliation, opened fire on the crowd. As a backlash to the
Haymarket Square Riot, "....a violent anti-labor hysteria swept the
country." In Connecticut the Knights of Labor were defeated in strikes
at the Derby Silver Company, Southington Cutlery Company, and at the P.F.
Corbin Works in New Britain." By 1887 Connecticut membership had fallen
to five thousand, six hundred twenty-two and continued to decline.
Nationwide membership had dropped from a high of seven hundred thousand
to two hundred fifty thousand in 1888. In Moodus, the official notice of
the death of Local Assembly 4507 appeared as a one sentence news item in
the March 12, 1887, issue of the Connecticut Valley Advertiser.
"The Knights of Labor organization in this village is a thing of the
past, the members of the order having surrendered their charter to
District Assembly 95."