Samuel Gompers

American labor leader (AFL)

Samuel Gompers (27 January 185013 December 1924), sometimes known as "Samuel L. Gompers", although he had no middle name, was a British-born American labor union leader and a key figure in American labor history.



  • The man who receives five thousand dollars a year wants six thousand dollars a year, and the man who owns eight or nine hundred thousand dollars will want a hundred thousand dollars more to make it a million, while the man who has his millions will want everything he can lay his hands on and then raise his voice against the poor devil who wants ten cents more a day.
    • What Does the Working Man Want? (speech), Louisville, KY (May 1890)
  • We will stand by our friends and administer a stinging rebuke to men or parties who are either indifferent, negligent, or hostile, and, wherever opportunity affords, to secure the election of intelligent, honest, earnest trade unionists, with clear, unblemished, paid-up union cards in their possession.
    • "Men of Labor! Be Up and Doing" (editorial), American Federationist (May 1906)
  • What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures.
    • The Shoe workers' journal, Volume 16‎ (1915) p. 4
  • So long as we have held fast to voluntary principles and have been actuated and inspired by the spirit of service, we have sustained our forward progress, and we have made our labor movement something to be respected and accorded a place in the councils of the Republic. Where we have blundered into trying to force a policy or decision, even though wise and right, we have impeded if not interrupted the realization of our own aims.
  • No lasting gain has ever come from compulsion. If we seek to force, we but tear apart that which united, is invincible. There is no way whereby our labor movement may be assured sustained progress in determining its policies and its plans other than sincere democratic deliberation until a unanimous decision is reached. This may seem a cumbrous, slow method to the impatient, but the impatient are more concerned for immediate triumph than for the education of constructive development.
    • Foner, Philip S. History of the Labor Movement in the United States: The T.U.E.L. to the End of the Gompers Era. New york: International Publishers Co, 1991, p. 361-362.
  • The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.
    • Quoted in Rothschild, Michael. Bionomics: Economy as Business Ecosystem. Washington, D.C.: BeardBooks, 1990, p. 115.
  • What does labor want? We want more school houses and less jails. More books and less guns. More learning and less vice. More leisure and less greed. More justice and less revenge. We want more … opportunities to cultivate our better natures.
    • Quoted in Mantsios, Gregory. A New Labor Movement for the New Century. Florence, Ky.: Taylor & Francis, 1998, p. 51.
  • There are about 8,000,000 negroes in the United States, and, my friends, I not only have not the power to put the negro out of the labor movement, but I would not, even if I did have the power. Why should I do such a thing? I would have nothing to gain, but the movement would have much to lose. Under our policies and principles we seek to build up the labor movement, instead of injuring it, and we want all the negroes we can possibly get who will join hands with organized labor.
    • Gompers, Samuel. The Samuel Gompers Papers. Stuart Bruce Kaufman, Peter J. Albert, Grace Palladino, and Marla J Hughes, eds. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2000, p. 137.
  • And what have our unions done? What do they aim to do? To improve the standard of life, to uproot ignorance and foster education, to instill character, manhood and independent spirit among our people; to bring about a recognition of the interdependence of man upon his fellow man. We aim to establish a normal work-day, to take the children from the factory and workshop and give them the opportunity of the school and the play-ground. In a word, our unions strive to lighten toil, educate their members, make their homes more cheerful, and in every way contribute an earnest effort toward making life the better worth living.
  • The Soviet scheme of compulsory labor is being applied on such a broad scale and is so boldly presented as a ‘proletarian’ scheme that it constitutes the gravest danger that has confronted labor for centuries.
    • Out of Their Own Mouths: A Revelation and an Indictment of Sovietism, New York: NY, E.P Dutton and Company (1921) p. 79, co-authored with William English Walling.
  • As far as is possible under the ruthless tyranny the organized labor of [Soviet] Russia is everywhere in a state of full revolt.
    • Out of Their Own Mouths: A Revelation and an Indictment of Sovietism, New York: NY, E.P Dutton and Company (1921) p. 87, co-authored with William English Walling.
  • In many instances the conduct of colored workmen, and those who have spoken for them, has not been in asking or demanding that equal rights be accorded to them as to white workmen, but somehow conveying the idea that they are to be petted and coddled and given special consideration and special privilege. Of course that can't be done.
    • Gompers, Samuel. The Samuel Gompers Papers: The American Federation of Labor and the Great War, 1917-18. Stuart Bruce Kaufman, Peter J. Albert, and Grace Palladino, eds. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2006, p. 348.
  • [The labor movement is] a movement of the working people, for the working people, by the working people, governed by ourselves, with its policies determined by ourselves...
    • Gompers, Samuel. Proceedings of the Convention. Washington, D.C.: American Federation of Labor, 1923, p. 37.
  • We feel as if we were hard labor convicts where everything but our feeding has been made subject to iron rules. We have become lost as human beings, and have been turned into slaves.
    • Out of Their Own Mouths: A Revelation and an Indictment of Sovietism, New York: NY, E.P Dutton and Company (1921) p. 84. Resolution from the Petrograd workers, (Sept. 5, 1920). Co-authored by William English Walling.
  • The trade union movement represents the organized economic power of the workers... It is in reality the most potent and the most direct social insurance the workers can establish.

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