A Union Leader Betrayed

By Steelman, Aaron | Policy Review, January-February 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

A Union Leader Betrayed


Steelman, Aaron, Policy Review


Before the last election, the AFL-CIO, under the direction of its president John Sweeney, spent nearly $40 million lobbying on behalf of candidates who wished to expand the size and scope of government. It was the most ambitious political program the AFL-CIO had ever undertaken. It was also one at odds with the vision that labor pioneer Samuel Gompers had for the union movement.

Gompers was born in London in 1850. His formal education ended at the age of 10, when poverty forced him to leave his neighborhood's Jewish school and find work in the shoemaking business. He quickly grew tired of that trade and coaxed his father into teaching him cigarmaking. But even with the addition of Samuel's income, the family was unable to make ends meet. So in 1863, the Gompers family, like thousands of other European families of that period, secured passage to New York. In America they didn't expect to find a handout, but rather the opportunity for a better life.

Gompers soon began work in a New York cigarmaking factory. He was instrumental in the founding of the National Cigarmakers Union and served as its vice president for four years. In 1881, the cigarmakers joined several other unions in creating the Federation of Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada.

In 1886, the federation was reorganized and renamed the American Federation of Labor (AFL).with the exception of 1895, was annually reelected president until his death in 1924. During that period--as the AFL's membership grew to more than 4 million--real wages increased, work weeks shortened, and working condi- tions improved in industry after industry.

Although he supported such legal protections as child-labor laws and general liability laws for employers, he favored union bargaining power over govern- ment regulation as a means to advance the economic standing of wage earners. As historian Florence Calvert Thorne has written, Gompers thought that "by joining hands with like-minded workers,"wages which could make more material comforts available." That, coupled with "personal freedom and self-dependence, would help them to be alert and responsible citizens of their community." A Nonpartisan Union

From the beginning, Gompers was wary of embroiling the AFL in politics of any kind, partisan or otherwise.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

A Union Leader Betrayed
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?