From the earliest days of organized labor, American workers have understood the value of political power. After all, some working-class goals -- like access to free education, an end to child labor, mechanics lien laws, and the right to organize unions -- could not be achieved through strikes alone.
But how to harness and then use that political power was another question, one that different groups of working people debated throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Should wage earners organize their own political parties and elect candidates from their ranks? Or did it make more sense to work through the existing political system? Was reorganizing society from the bottom up a realistic goal, or was reforming the system enough? Should industrial workers join forces with farmers or middle-class allies, or were they better off going it alone? Did the "labor vote" even exist? And if it did, who controlled it -- and why?