Samuel Gompers: A Biography

By Bernard Mandel | Go to book overview

Chapter Fourteen
"A COMMUNITY OF INTERESTS"

1. CLOSING THE DOORS

AFTER 1901, GOMPERS REVERSED HIS ATTITUDE TOward the organization of unskilled workers and adopted the exclusionist policy against which he had formerly contended. From 1901 to 1905 several attempts were made to form a national union of unskilled laborers. Gompers consistently repressed these efforts, stating that such a union would include all workers except those organized in the unions of skilled workers and would "practically encompass the whole labor movement." But it was clear that he did not want such a union under any circumstances, for he adamantly rejected a proposal to grant it a charter with jurisdiction only over general laborers who were not eligible in any union affiliated with the A.F. of L.1

In 1905 Gompers stated publicly that the masses of the unskilled were probably unorganizable, blaming it on their lack of intelligence. Later he also imputed to them lack of courage, persistence, and vision.2

While he continued to urge the organization of women workers and the principle of equal wages, he turned to the view that women should not be wage earners, that their place was in the home. In 1905 he was asked by the Woman's Home Companion to answer the question, Should the wife contribute to the support of her family by working for wages? His answer was, "positively and absolutely, 'No.'" He was not opposed, he said, to the full and free opportunity of women to work whenever necessity required it, but "In our time, and at least in our country, generally speaking, there is no necessity for the wife contributing to the support of the family by working. . . . the wife as a wage- earner is a disadvantage economically considered, and socially is unnecessary."3

Gompers had clearly veered to the position that women ought

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