political cartoon
Conventional wisdom tells us that trade unions were more interested in developing their economic strength than they were in building up political power. And to some extent that is true: The fact that regional, ethnic, and ideological differences often separated union members was reason enough to keep party politics out of trade union meetings.

Yet trade union leaders also realized that economic and political power were intertwined -- whether it was electrical workers lobbying in favor of local licensing laws, building trades workers seeking mechanics lien laws, or cigarmakers trying to outlaw homework, trade unionists were often active in political campaigns.
Electoral politics were often messy and divisive, as the documents related to the campaigns below demonstrate. But the goal, as Gompers put it, was to elect friends and defeat enemies, a practice that took many different forms.
Henry George for Mayor (1886)        Congressional Elections (1906)         Robert La Follette for President (1924)