The American Federation of Labor was a group made up of various craft and trade unions whose goals were to gain collective bargaining powers for its member unions so that they could fight for better wages, hours, and working conditions for skilled workers. It was formed by Samuel Gompers in 1886, who served as president of the AFL for every year except one until his death in 1924.
The AFL was made up of more than 100 different national and international trade unions, including the masons' union and the cigarmakers' union, of which Gompers was a member. Each member union was fully independent and took care of its own negotiations. In return for joining the AFL, the union was given exclusive rights to practice its specific trade.
The AFL only accepted unions whose workers were considered skilled, as Gompers felt this would give them more political power due to the increased demand for skilled laborers and craftsmen. By 1900, there were more than 500,000 members of the AFL and it continued to be the major driving force behind the worker's rights movement for the next 50 years.
In 1955, the AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organization to form the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO still exists today, but its power is limited, thanks in part to the decreasing membership in trade unions.