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This Month in Business History

Formation of the American Federation of Labor

Labor Leader a Voter--Samuel Gompers...Casting His Ballot. Between 1910-1924. National Photo Company Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The American Federation of Labor (A.F. of L. or AFL) was founded on December 8, 1886. Its predecessor, the Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions (FOTLU), was formed by members of the Knights of Labor (KOL) and labor leaders including Samuel Gompers. Following the Haymarket affair on May 4, 1886, FOTLU and trade union leaders convened in Columbus, Ohio in December of that year. They announced the formation of the A.F. of L., with Samuel Gompers becoming its first and longest serving president.1

In the following decades, the American Federation of Labor became the largest federation of labor unions in the United States. Unfortunately, it largely excluded unions with high percentages of minority workers with the notable exception of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Also, it was not particularly friendly toward industrial unions, leading those unions to leave the A.F. of L. and form the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). However, the two entities would eventually merge to form the AFL-CIO in December of 1955.

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  1. Weir, Robert E. (2013) Workers in America: A Historical Encyclopedia. (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO), p. 25. Back to text