The SG signature Papers

Gompers was elected president of the American Federation of Labor in December 1886 and held that position for the rest of his life, save for one year -- his "sabbatical" in 1895 -- when John McBride, president of the United Mine Workers of America, replaced him.

Gompers also served as vice president of the CMIU (1886-1924) and played an active role in the New York State Workingmen's Assembly. Whether he was testifying before Congress or state legislatures on the importance of labor laws, rallying his troops at a mass meeting, or negotiating strike settlements, Gompers proved to be a capable, dependable, and unflappable spokesman for the trade union movement, well-known and respected for his integrity, his generosity, and his willingness to speak truth to power.

Gompers had his opponents, of course, both within and outside the labor movement. On his left were those who believed him to be more interested in personal power than in moving the masses forward. To them, his pure and simple strategy was no match for corporate power, and they dismissed the AFL as a narrow, conservative organization designed to serve skilled workers only. On his right were those who considered him a foreign-born trouble maker determined to destroy property rights and individual initiative.

Whatever their complaints, though, Gompers made no apologies to his critics. "The ground-work principle of America's labor movement has been to recognize that first things must come first," he explained in 1911. "Our mission has been the protection of the wage-worker, now; to increase his wages; to cut hours off the long workday, which was killing him; to improve the safety and the sanitary conditions of the workshop; to free him from the tyrannies, petty or otherwise, which served to make his existence a slavery."

The AFL followed conservative strategies, but Gompers believed, "it has never given up its birthright for a mess of pottage.  It has pursued its avowed policy with the conviction that if the lesser and immediate demands of labor could not be obtained now from society as it is, it would be mere dreaming to preach and pursue . . . a new society constructed from rainbow materials -- a system of society on which even the dreamers themselves have never agreed."  MORE






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