McBride, John (1854–1917)

Labor leader John McBride sought alliances with political organizations, particularly the People's Party, as a means toward achieving greater economic equality in the United States. As president of both the United Mine Workers and the American Federation of Labor, McBride envisioned Populist solidarity among farmers, artisans, small businesses, social reformers, and wage laborers.

McBride became active in the Knights of Labor and also represented Stark County as a Democratic member of the Ohio House of Representatives in the mid-1880s. Believing that political action was the most direct path toward improving the conditions of workers, McBride ran as the Democratic candidate for Ohio secretary of state in 1886 but lost the race when several leading Ohio Democrats refused to endorse him.

Recognizing that labor unions needed a national platform, McBride worked in the late 1880s to create the organization that became the United Mine Workers of America and served as its second president (1892–1894). McBride also formed an independent labor party, which he successfully merged with the Ohio People's Party in August 1894.

From these positions in December 1894, McBride became the only person ever to defeat Samuel Gompers in an American Federation of Labor presidential election. After Gompers narrowly won back the presidency in December 1895, McBride owned and edited a weekly newspaper in Columbus, Ohio. He moved to Phoenix, Arizona, for reasons of health in 1911.

Throughout his life, McBride favored mediation and consensus—rather than antagonism and conflict—between labor and capital. He was helping to mediate a mine labor dispute in Globe, Arizona, on October 9, 1917, when he was struck by a runaway horse, knocked through a plate-glass window, and killed.

James I. Deutsch

See also: American Federation of Labor (AFL) ; Gilded Age ; Gompers, Samuel (1850–1924) ; Knights of Labor ; Northeast and Industrial Midwest, Populism in the ; People's Party ; Populism


Kaufman, Stuart B., Peter J. Albert, and Grace Palladino, eds. The Samuel Gompers Papers. Vol. 4, A National Labor Movement Takes Shape, 1895–98. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Pierce, Michael. “The Populist President of the American Federation of Labor: The Career of John McBride, 1880–1895.” Labor History 41 (1): 5–24.

Postel, Charles. The Populist Vision. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.