Samuel Gompers

Samuel
Gompers
1850
1924

English-born American Cigar Maker and Labor Union Leader

Author Quotes

It is true we did not defeat as many men as we should like to have done, but I want to tell you what we did. We put the fear of God into them. We cut down their majorities, we cut down their pluralities. . . . Our opponents will not be so arrogant toward the representatives of labor as they have been in the past.

Several times the proposition to form a labor party has been considered by the trade union movement, but after careful and thorough consideration it has been invariably decided that we can attain our purposes more quickly and more effectively by continuing our political policy of independent political action partisan to principles rather than to a party.

The history of labor is littered with the skeletons of organizations done to death because of hasty strikes gone into, for the best of reasons but unprepared.

The workers of America have felt most keenly the pernicious results of the establishment of foreign standards of work, wages and conduct in American industries and commerce. Foreign standards of wages do not permit American standards of life. Foreign labor has driven American workers out of many trades, callings, and communities, and the influence of those lower standards has permeated widely. . . . The labor movement has urged the adoption of a national policy that would enable us to select as future citizens of our country those who can be assimilated and made truly American. . . . It is only a half-truth to say that the literacy test would close the gates of opportunity to illiterate foreigners. As a matter of fact there is very little real opportunity for these people in our industrial centers. Usually they have been brought over here either by steamship or railroad companies and other greedy corporations, by employers, or as a result of collusion between these groups. They have been brought over here for the purpose of exploitation, and until they develop powers of resistance and determination to secure things for themselves they have little opportunity here. These same qualities would secure for them within their own countries many of the advantages that later come to them here.

To-day more than ever . . . the capitalist class, or the worst elements in that class, stand as a constant opposition to anything we may demand, and also as a constant force to try and invade the rights we have already secured, and to take away from us the advantages we have achieved.

We want a minimum wage established, but we want it established by the solidarity of the working men themselves through the economic forces of their trade unions, rather than by any legal enactment. . . . We must not, we cannot, depend upon legislative enactments to set wage standards. When once we encourage such a system, it is equivalent to admitting our incompetency for self-government and our inability to seek better conditions. (SG to Maud Younger, May 17, 1912)

If some of these millionaire faddists . . . would more keenly interest themselves in improving conditions, than trying to divert the attention of the workers to the millennium of the sweet by and by, they would be of more practical advantage to their fellows here, and now, as well as for the future.

It may be, as you say, the enforced demand for the closed (union) shop is one of the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of industrial peace. But the fact back of this fact . . . is that the trade union is not formed for peace. It is organized for protection -- with peace, of course, where possible. But peace, only, may be death.

Show me the country that has no strikes and I'll show you the country in which there is no liberty.

The illiteracy and low mentality of our own people, of those born in this country cannot be overcome unless we raise the standard of knowledge among the foreigners. (SG to William Gerber, May 31, 1923)

The World War in which we are engaged in is on such a tremendous scale that we must readjust practically the whole nation's social and economic structure from a peace to a war basis. It devolves upon liberty-loving citizens, and particularly the workers of this country, to see to it that the spirit and the methods of democracy are maintained within our own country while we are engaged in a war to establish them in international relations. The fighting and the concrete issues of the war are so removed from our country that not all of our citizens have a full understanding of the principles of autocratic force which the Central Powers desire to substitute for the real principles of freedom.

To-day we are living in an age of combinations and trusts, and the individual workman is as weak against the combination of wealth as would be a straw in a cyclone. It is essential that the United States Government, where it can exercise, should exercise its power to protect the weak against the rapacity of the strong.

We want eight hours and nothing less. We have been accused of being selfish, and it has been said that we will want more . . . . We do want more. You will find that a man generally wants more. . . . You ask a workingman, who is getting two dollars a day, and he will say he wants ten cents more. Ask a man who gets five dollars a day and he will want fifty cents more. The man who receives five thousand a year wants six thousand . . . while the man who has his millions will want everything he can lay his hands on and then raise his voice against the poor devil who wants ten cents more a day. . . . We do want more, and when it becomes more, we shall still want more. And we shall never cease to demand more until we have received the results of our labor.

If the men and the girls were to receive the same wages, do you think that the employers would bend all their energies to oust men and replace them with girls? Isn't it more likely that the men would have a better chance of employment and be safer from absolute idleness, if both the men and the girls were organized, and equal pay for all was demanded?

Labor Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation.

Show me the country that has no strikes and I'll show you the country in which there is no liberty.

The industrial field is littered with more corpses of organizations destroyed by the damning influences of partisan politics than from all other causes combined.

The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.

Twentieth Century nations must adopt as a principle of government that peace is a basis of all civilization. Peace is not a by-product of other conditions, but it is a condition that can be secured by agents and institutions designed to maintain it. Peace is the fundamental necessity for all government and progress--industrial, intellectual social and humanitarian. . . . One of the main purposes of governments, then, must be the maintenance of international peace.

We want more school houses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more constant work and less crime; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful and childhood more happy and bright. These in brief are the primary demands made by the Trade Unions in the name of labor. These are the demands made by labor upon modern society and in their consideration is involved the fate of civilization.

If the workers surrender control over working relations to legislative and administrative agents, they put their industrial liberty at the disposal of state agents. They strip themselves bare of the means of defense–they can no longer defend themselves by the strike. To insure liberty and personal welfare, personal relations must be controlled only by those concerned.

Labor realizes the fact that industry and commercial competition constantly becomes keener the world over; that standing armies are often used for the purpose of opening up new markets for so-called surplus products; that these entail the dangers of fratricidal wars between international competitors, and that, therefore, upon the shoulders of the intelligent, working wealth-producers, the wage-earners of all countries, devolves the larger responsibility for the preservation of Peace; that the voice of labor must become more potent in the formation of a great international public opinion, such a public opinion as before whose supreme tribunal both monarch and merchant must inevitably bow, and that wars of aggrandizement and greed must be relegated to the oblivion of the barbaric ages.

Some of the staunchest workers in the labor movement have been women.

The Labor movement, to succeed politically, must work for present and tangible results.

The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.

Author Picture
First Name
Samuel
Last Name
Gompers
Birth Date
1850
Death Date
1924
Bio

English-born American Cigar Maker and Labor Union Leader