Samuel Gompers


English-born American Cigar Maker and Labor Union Leader

Author Quotes

Time is the most valuable thing on earth: time to think, time to act, time to extend our fraternal relations, time to become better men, time to become better women, time to become better and more independent citizens.

We have been asked, or advised, to go for all the laws we can get. Save the workingmen of America from such a proposition! There are numbers of laws we can get, but prudence and defense of the rights and the liberties of the toilers are much more important than the effort to secure all the laws we can get.

You are our employers not our masters. Under the system of government we have in the United States, we are your equals, and we contribute as much, if not more, to the success of industry than do the employers.

To affect any good by our Unions, we must bring all elements working in our trade into one Organization, for the wrongs heaped upon one element today are merely the precursor for another tomorrow.

We recognize the poverty, we know the sweatshop, we can play on every string of the harp, and touch the tenderest chords of human sympathy; but while we recognize the evil and would apply the remedy, our Socialist friends would look forward to the promised land, and wait for the sweet by-and-by. Their statements as to economic ills are right; their conclusions and their philosophy are all askew.

You know me well enough that I am not one to generally encourage strikes. I have done my share and will continue to do my part in the effort to prevent them, but there comes a time when if a strike is avoided it means the demoralization of the men, taking the heart and spirit out of them, and they go to work under worse conditions and in a greater degree of bondage than theretofore.

To strengthen the state, as Frederick Howe says, is to devitalize the individual. . . . I believe in people. I believe in the working people. I believe in their growing intelligence. I believe in their growing and persistent demand for better conditions, for a more rightful situation in the industrial, political, and social affairs of this country and of the world. I have faith that the working people will better their condition far beyond what it is today. The position of the organized labor movement is not based upon misery and poverty, but upon the right of workers to a larger and constantly growing share of the production, and they will work out these problems for themselves.

We send organizers to the south and instead of being permitted to talk to the negroes . . . our organizers have been mistreated and driven out of towns. . . .If we get no chance to deal with the negroes we can do nothing for them.

You understand me, or at least you should, that I have not a word to say against socialists as such or socialism as a science or a theory but those in our country who prate the loudest of their socialistic partisanship have rendered the greatest service to the capitalist class they were capable of in antagonizing the trade union movement.

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)

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.

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.

Under the circumstances you mention I should say that the young lady button workers can organize separately as a union. . . . While this is so it is . . . not the best or wisest step. These men and women all work together and their interests are identical and each one discussing them should discuss them jointly in order to arrive at the best possible conclusions. However as I say if they insist upon organizing a separate union it is better to have them organized in that way than not organized at all.

What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; 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.

War experiences led me to wonder if Socialism, in addition to its philosophic and economic short-comings, had not been manipulated to further sinister purposes.

What we have endeavored to secure in industrial relations is industrial peace. When industrial justice prevails, industrial peace will follow. It is a result and not an end in itself.

War is the practice of the most consummate skill in the art of destruction--destruction of human life and human product. Peace affords the opportunity to develop the best that is in man, both productive and constructive. It is the noblest attribute of man's duty to man, the world over.

Whatever has been gained for the toilers in our country has been the achievement of the trades-unions.

We are proud of the country which we claim as our own; we are proud of its history, proud of its heroes and proud of its traditions, and we hope as we struggle for its glorious future. But we maintain that patriotism does not mean the hatred of our neighbor. Nor do we believe that it is a wise policy, as some would advocate, that a foreign war might be a good cure for our domestic evils.

When an employer has a mass of unorganized working people working for him he is master of all he surveys, and any attempt upon the part of the workmen to petition or request a change is looked upon by him as a rebellion. It is an insult to his position and to his dignity, because he, in his mind, has furnished them with work and with the means by which they live. He is perturbed at the idea that his position as their benefactor has been called into question. On the other hand, the workmen, who have been docile all this time, who have regarded the employer as omnipotent and all powerful, when they finally revolt in desperation against this one-sided arrangement, when they are for a while -- possibly a short while -- out, they imagine themselves all powerful, and the employer as having no power at all.

We ask for State legislation, and we are told to go to the Federal Government; we come to the Federal Government and it is contended that these things rightfully belong to the States. It does not make a particle of difference. If we come here to the Federal Government and ask for remedial legislation, we are told that these things will come when they become a custom, and not by legislation. And then we go to employers, to their companies, and ask them to confer with us in order to inaugurate that custom, and they tell us, If you do not get out of here we will put a boot in the place where it will feel uncomfortable. If we strike or ask that the matter be submitted to arbitration, we are told there is nothing to arbitrate. If we strike in order to enforce what we believe to be our rights, we are enjoined; and if we exercise what we believe to be our rights in spite of the injunction, we are guilty of contempt of court and are put in the jug during his honor's pleasure. There is not anywhere we can go for the purpose of trying to bring about some remedy, some change, some improvement but we are met by the same opposition, prompted by the same cause, prompted by the same motive, and that is to leave the workingman helpless to the mercy of the employing class. I think, though, I may say that that time has gone by. The workingmen of our country have learned somewhat of their rights, and they propose to stand by them, and they have the courage to do so, too.

When ignorant and reckless plutocratic sheets denounce the sympathetic strike as immoral, un-American, dangerous to social order and stability, and intolerable in a civilized society, the intelligent unionist contemptuously shrugs his shoulders and passes over the rant without a word of comment. You cannot reason with malignant stupidity.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

English-born American Cigar Maker and Labor Union Leader