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Jo Labadie and His Gift to Michigan

A Legacy for the Masses

Later Relations to Labor Organizations




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Later Relations to Labor Organizations

  Leon Czolgosz (1873-1901)

The Water Board Incident

  Bubbling Waters
  The Labadie Print Shop
  Later Years
  Agnes Inglis (1870-1952)
  Further Reading

Special Collections Library
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

Although he was active in many different groups during his lifetime, Jo Labadie was first and foremost a leader in organized labor. In 1882 he addressed a convention of the struggling Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU), urging this new organization to merge with the Knights of Labor. Four years later, in the wake of his differences of opinion on the Haymarket Affair with Knights of Labor leader Terence Powderly, he was heartily glad they had rejected his proposal.

The vacillation, undercutting of labor struggles and settlements, and personal animosity of Grand Master Powderly had already provoked bitter opposition within the organization, even though membership in the Knights had peaked with about 700,000 members. Powderly's conduct after the 1886 Haymarket Square Riot especially infuriated Labadie. Powderly denounced anarchists as traitors to the peaceful advancement of labor, tried to deny his own radical past, and appeared part of the mob bent on vigilante justice. Desperately trying to rally support for the Haymarket martyrs and prevent their execution, Jo got support from the fledgling American Federation of Labor, the successor of FOTLU, whose founder, Samuel Gompers, he found dynamic and personally genial. At the 1887 Minneapolis convention of the Knights of Labor, Labadie, angry and bent on a showdown, attacked the leadership of the organization which he had founded in Michigan and to which he had devoted so many years, and led the "kickers" out to formulate their own manifesto.

After a period of dejection Labadie was inspired by Gompers in 1888 to urge the formation of a new organization of existing trade unions, the Michigan Federation of Labor. He became its first president in 1889. The Declaration of Principles for this organization, Labadie's handiwork, proclaimed lofty ideals of the brotherhood of all working people, but the trade unions were more interested in pursuing pragmatic goals. Labadie gradually dropped out of the work of this organization, and the Federation found its national support in the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The AFL then became dominant as the Knights declined into obscurity. Labadie and Gompers exchanged cordial letters for almost forty years about the issues of the day, but the original ideals of the Knights of Labor, all workers in one organization, remained with Jo for the rest of his life.



"You became president of the Michigan Federation of Labor in 1889 and were so in 1890 and then you gave way to others. I guess the machine was too much for you. One sees all through that you kept pushing the movement every way you could but you never cared for power for yourself. You stood true to your ideals."

Agnes Inglis to Jo Labadie, May 10, 1931



"I was some live wire in things industrial in Michigan, and in the affairs of the Labor movement of international concern as well. I joined the typographical union in Kalamazoo about 1868... and in some way or other have been in it ever since... I can go into meetings of labor in these later days, and few but who would ask: 'Who is that old duffer sitting quietly over there?' And the answer would likely be: 'I dunno.'"

Joseph Labadie to Agnes Inglis, December 10, 1929