Being against toppling capitalism, the AFL was considered more conservative than the radical unions preceding it. It campaigned for basic improvements for workers such as 8 hour days, higher wages, and better working conditions. The AFL was therefore more successful than the Knights of Labor, a more radical U.S. union. The AFL advocated strikes only when necessary and believed in collective bargaining, or peaceful bargaining with employers.
Until the 1950s, the AFL allowed only skilled workers to enter. This philosophy of craft unionism, or the division of unions by specialty, contradicted earlier unions' support of industrial unionism, which advocated grouping all workers in a company under one union to increase bargaining power. The debate within the AFL between industrial and craft unionism resulted in the split of five member unions to found the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1938. In 1955 the AFL and the CIO rejoined, forming the AFL-CIO.
The AFL prohibited all nonwhite workers from entering.
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