Samuel Gompers: A Biography

Samuel Gompers: A Biography

Samuel Gompers: A Biography

Samuel Gompers: A Biography

Excerpt

There was a time when labor was not merely an interest, but a cause. This was true as late as the 1930's, when union partisans made appeals to neighbors and socially conscious sympathizers for aid and support, while they fought bitter battles for union recognition and higher living and working standards. Labor was then not merely labor; it claimed to speak with the voice of Humanity. Strikers at mass-meetings bared their wounds and wants to middle-class audiences, and it was indeed the cynic and egotist who withheld his suffrage, and perhaps his funds, from the embattled martyrs.

Under such conditions, Samuel Gompers in his life-time was a figure of storm and controversy. To upholders of unregulated free enterprise, of the open shop, of unbridled competition, he symbolized curbs on what they grimly saw as the American way --curbs which could only lead to socialism. Indeed, Gompers was, in his youth, all but socialistic in his viewpoint, and though he rapidly moved away from the doctrinaire position until he fiercely opposed it, in the process of change he built a labor organization which was more and more formidable to those who continued to dream of being unchallenged masters in their industrial strongholds. For the most part, and especially in the mass industries, the devout defenders of undiluted capitalism dreamed of quashing once and for all the hopes of labor leaders for acquiring bargaining powers and the hopes of workers for receiving mounting returns for their services.

Among laborers and labor sympathizers, Gompers' reputation varied. Some saw him as the very incarnation of unionism:

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