The Policies and Practices of the American Federation of Labor, 1900-1909 - Vol. 3

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Women and Negro Workers

In an address before a trade union congress at Toronto in 1901, Gompers urged organized labor in Canada to follow the example set by the A. F. of L. in placing the abolition of various social prejudices at the head of its demands. " The American Federation of Labor," he continued, "affirms as one of the cardinal principles of the trade union movement that the working people must organize, unite and federate irrespective of creed, color, sex, nationality or politics."1

It is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile Gompers' lofty assertions with the actual practice of the A. F. of L. Speeches boasting that the keystone of the Federation's policy was the organization of the working people regardless of differences of sex, color or nationality sound hollow in the face of policies and practices designed to prevent the achievement of this goal. The categories of workers listed by Gompers -- women, Negro and foreign-born workers -- were employed almost entirely in the semi-skilled and unskilled occupations, and, as we have already seen, the craft union structure of most of the A. F. of L. unions made it difficult, if not impossible, to "organize, unite and federate" these workers -- even if these unions wished to accomplish this. On top of this, the majority of these workers were excluded from membership in the A. F. of L by a complex system of rules, regulations, and practices deliberately designed to achieve their exclusion.


HIGH DUES AND INITIATION FEES

One aspect of this policy was the heavy tax on A. F. of L. members through high dues and initiation fees. The 1900 A. F. of L. convention proclaimed that high dues and initiation fees were "an absolute [sic] necessary foundation for successful trade unionism." No one was more vocal on this theme than Gompers. In his reports to the A. F. of L., in editorials in the American Federationist, in his correspondence, and in

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