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The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, or FOTLU, was organized in 1881. An annual congress of delegates representing national trade unions and local labor councils, the FOTLU intended to educate the public on working-class issues, prepare labor legislation, and lobby the U.S. Congress to act on it.

Although members of the Knights of Labor constituted almost half of the 107 delegates to its founding convention in Pittsburgh, the FOTLU's platform reflected trade union principles: The new Federation supported practical goals of shorter working days, higher wages, child labor laws, employers' liability laws, apprentice laws, lien laws, the exclusion of Chinese immigrants, and the abolition of prison and foreign contract labor.

Unfortunately, the FOTLU had neither the money nor the authority to do much more than talk about these issues. Although the typographers', cigarmakers', granite cutters', and carpenters' unions, as well as several city central bodies, were willing to pay the 3 cent per capita tax to finance the organization, most trade unions were not. And since the FOTLU had no paid executive to carry out its program, its legislative activities, as Gompers later explained, depended "upon the interest and opportunities of individuals." Despite its weaknesses, however, the FOTLU, which emphasized organization along trade union lines, offered workers an alternative to the Knights of Labor

(View the call for the founding convention of the FOTLU and a newspaper report of convention proceedings.)

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