Last updated on: 1/30/2017 | Author:

1885 – Alien Contract Labor Law Bans Immigration of Workers to Break Strikes

“The Knights of Labor replaced the NLU [National Labor Union] as the dominant labor organization in the 1880s. As immigration soared in the 1880s, nativists and labor unions, including the Knights, sought to ban Chinese immigration and to reduce the inflow of other immigrants… [I]n 1885, three bills banning contract labor worked their way through Congress. The first bill through the system was that of Congressman Foran, which is why the Alien Contract Labor Act was called the Foran Act. The law banned importation of workers to drive down wages or break strikes, which was enough to effectively end contract labor.

The Foran Act also outlawed prepayment of passage and other assistance in return for the immigrant’s agreeing to work for a specific employer. Significantly, the Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885 barred indentured servitude. It exempted domestic workers and skilled labor needed in trades or industry. It also exempted actors, professional artists, and lecturers. It allowed relatives and friends to assist a would-be immigrant.”