Samuel Gompers exhibit - Smithsonian Museum of American History - 2012-05-15
Samuel Gompers exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Samuel Gompers was a Jew born in Great Britain in 1850. He emigrated to the United States, and as a teenager became a cigar maker. He became president of the Cigar Makers' Union, and then co-founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in October 1886. He served as the AFL's president from 1886 to 1894 and again from 1895 until his death in 1924.
A critical leader in the American labor movement, he tried to stop the inter-union battles over jobs and members, promoted professional union administration, successfully advocated for the eight-hour working day, and demanded written contracts and improved collective bargaining.
Gompers disliked party politics, instead pushing for a "reward your friends, punish your enemies" strategy of political action. He fought against government-run programs such as unemployment insurance, health insurance, and pensions -- arguing that unions could administer these programs better. He also avidly supported the U.S. involvement in World War I, successfully winning a no-strike policy.