American labor leader (AFL)
Samuel Gompers (27 January 1850 – 13 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.
- AF of L Convention Proceedings. American Federation of Labor. 1924. pp. 5–6.
- 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.
Quotes about Gompers edit
- The reactionaries were not the only element responsible for the patriotic orgy. Sam Gompers handed over the American Federation of Labor to the war baiters.
- Emma Goldman, Living My Life (1931)
- The unionization of women, even in occupations like the needle trades where they predominated, had scarcely yet begun. Equal opportunities, equal pay, and the right to be organized, were the crying needs of women wage-earners then and unfortunately these demands remain with us today. Many union leaders, like Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, did not consider women workers organizable or dependable. "They only work for pin mon-ey" was the usual complaint. An outside job was considered by the woman worker herself as a temporary necessary evil-a stop-gap between her father's home and her husband's home. Fathers and husbands collected women's wages, sometimes right at the company office. Women did not have a legal right to their own earnings. There was no consideration for the special needs and problems of working mothers, though they were numerous and pressing. Even the clothes of women hampered them-the long skirts that touched the ground, the big unwieldy sleeves, the enormous hats. You were still "a girl" if your skirt was above your shoe tops.
- Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography, My First Life (1955)
- (Today labor is often looked at as merely an arbiter for wages and benefits. Do you think labor leaders today have defined the mission of the labor movement too narrowly?) That is not new, that was started under Samuel Gompers who said that the purpose of the labor movement was "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work." But you can't separate the worker and the community.
- Anti-Chinese associations sprang up and were supported by labor leaders like Workingmen's Party leader Denis Kearney and AFL president Samuel Gompers, who blamed Chinese immigrants for lowering wages and labor standards. Foreshadowing the rhetoric that would later be used against Mexican and Latin American immigrants, these lions of labor used their platforms to rail against the "Chinese invasion" for snatching jobs away from white American workers (though in fact, Chinese laborers generally performed the most hazardous jobs and were paid less than white workers because white employers knew they could get away with it).
- Kim Kelly (journalist) Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor (2022)
- Employers welcomed the influx of cheap, exploitable labor, but labor organizations like the AFL, then led by xenophobic president Samuel Gompers (who had also lobbied for the Chinese Exclusion Act), resisted what they saw as an invasion of low-skilled competition for (white) American jobs. The AFL ceased its work with majority-Latino unions in the Southwest, and refused to organize Latino workers for decades afterward. Thanks to pernicious anti-immigrant rhetoric echoing out from politicians, unions, and the media, Mexican workers were met with racism, xenophobia, and violence, scorned for "taking American jobs," and enthusiastically exploited by employers.
- about the Bracero Program, Kim Kelly (journalist) Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor (2022)
- Subsequently I learned from the Free Federation officials that the last outside speaker from the American Federation of Labor at a convention had been Samuel Gompers, in 1914. They showed me a copy of his address. It was a masterly exposition of conditions-clear-cut, militant. With only a change of date, what Gompers said in 1914 would have applied equally to the situation in 1934. I was sorry I had not seen that speech before-I would have asked leave to read it to the convention. It was as fundamental, I thought, as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
- Rose Pesotta Bread upon the Waters (1945)
- Jack Reed and I went to Chicago to cover the trial of the I.W.W. leaders before Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. They, too, stood accused of interfering with enlist- ment. Bill Haywood and 100 other "Wobblies" were the defendants-speakers, organizers, editors, corralled by a dragnet covering many states. One of the offenses of this organization, the Industrial Workers of the World, was that it had persisted in striking for decent wages and better working conditions even in war-time-while the American Federation of Labor, headed by Samuel Gompers, had in effect called a truce in its conflicts with employers and had tamely gone with the wind of war propaganda.
- Art Young - His Life And Times (1939)