Samuel Gompers

Gompers, Samuel (gŏmˈpərz) [key], 1850–1924, American labor leader, b. London. He emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1863. He worked as a cigar maker and in 1864 joined the local union, serving as its president from 1874 to 1881, when he helped to found the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions. It was reorganized in 1886 and became the American Federation of Labor, of which Gompers was first president and of which he remained president, except for the year 1895, until his death. He directed the successful battle with the Knights of Labor for supremacy, kept the union free from political entanglements in the early days, and refused to entertain various cooperative business plans, socialistic ideas, and radical programs, maintaining that more wages, shorter hours, and greater freedom were the just aims of labor. He came to be recognized as the leading spokesman for the labor movement, and his pronouncements carried much weight. During World War I, he organized and headed the War Committee on Labor; and as a member of the Advisory Commission to the Council of National Defense, he helped to hold organized labor loyal to the government program. A man of great personal integrity, he did much to make organized labor respected. See American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

See his autobiography, Seventy Years of Life and Labor (1925, repr. 1967); the Samuel Gompers Papers (ed. by S. B. Kaufman, 2 vol., 1986–87); biographies by W. Chasan (1971) and G. E. Stearn, ed. (1971); L. S. Reed, The Labor Philosophy of Samuel Gompers (1930, repr. 1966); F. C. Thorne, Samuel Gompers, American Statesman (1957, repr. 1969); S. B. Kaufman, Samuel Gompers and the Origins of the American Federation of Labor, 1848–1896 (1973).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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