Samuel Gompers: Mission of the trade unions



To protect the workers in their inalienable rights to a higher and better life; to protect, not only as equals before the law, but also in their health, their homes, their firesides, their liberties as men, as workers, and as citizens; to overcome and conquer prejudices and antagonism; to secure to them the right to life, and the opportunity to maintain that life; the right to be full sharers in the abundance which is the result of their brain and brawn, and the civilization of which they are the founders and the mainstay. . . . The attainment of these is the glorious mission of the trade unions.

Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), speech in 1898


Image: Samuel Gompers on the cover of Time Magazine, October 1, 1923; drawing by Gordon Stevenson; Time Archive

5 Responses to Samuel Gompers: Mission of the trade unions

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Racism in unions is rather well documented — the unions changed their minds and came around, and they were key supporters of civil rights legislation in the 20th century.

    But you make more serious allegations, Jolo — got any references?


  2. jolo says:

    I agree! That fact that in America after slavery and during reconstruction, and afterwards, at least 75% of the balck work force were skilled laborers. This was more, than whites males living in America at that time. Samuel Gomper, saw to bring in mostly unskilled and some skilled East Europeans labor to replace black labor in America.

    This effectively deprived blacks opportunties for self improvement and generational sustainability. This factor is even still present today beacuse of his discriminatory practices along with the racist culture that is America. That had work been given not based on color but skill, a great America would’ve been truely realized. But never has and never will.


  3. Sean Roy says:

    That being said Samuel Gompers wanted what most people wanted at the time, money. to acheive this goal he had to exclude the cheap labor force from the unions that made pay drop due to the number of workers willing to work for cheaper than what is fair. Consider this, if you were a welder and your employer wanted to pay yu less would you be happy? then some mexican (no offense) comes and does your job for a lot less than what you normally work for and BAM there goes your job leaving you and your family peniless. personally i wouldnt want that to happen, but each to his own


  4. Mark Olson says:

    Unions today are essentially and at their core anti-immigrant. Consider a skilled electrician who is a recent migrant. The argument that closed shop unions in Chicago help the immigrant cannot be made. However, the thesis that unions hurt immigrants and entry into skilled labor fields can be generalized.

    The position of being “in bed” with the labor unions makes the current left-leaning rhetoric on immigration oddly rarely incurrs the expected cognitive dissonance (possibly because of a lack of the cognition?).


  5. bernarda says:

    Gompers led the largely racist AFL for decades. At the beginning, he at least gave lip service to integration, but he soon gave way to allowing the exclusion of black workers. Gomers also had the policy of excluding non-skilled workers.

    The story can be found in the book “The Harder We Run” by William H. Harris.

    On the net, one finds,

    “Buhle rejects this view of the AFL as pragmatic success story. While claiming to speak for all workers, the AFL instead consciously chose to organize only the skilled, white, male minority of the working class. And its leaders chose to attack any person or organization that it saw as a threat to this minority and to engage in any tactics that might improve its material circumstances. The demands of black workers, women, and immigrants threatened Gompers’ domain, so he opposed them, often with a racism that has to be read to be believed.”


    “To “succeed,” in other words, Gompers and his successors always chose the path of least resistance. But in a society marked by profound inequality, racism, sexism, imperialism, and dedication to vicious competition and rugged individualism, this strategy inevitably led to the development of an exclusivist, rigidly bureaucratic, undemocratic, and often corrupt labor “movement.” Once such a movement “succeeded,” it was in the direct material and status interests of its leaders to prevent it from changing. The AFL culture nurtured by Gompers who, despite his many negative qualities, had risen from the ranks of workers and actually organized them, ultimately gave rise to a self-generating bureaucracy whose only goal was to continue in power.”

    Gompers also opposed other unions that opposed his policies. One example is his attacks on the IWW.


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