Samuel Gompers


English-born American Cigar Maker and Labor Union Leader

Author Quotes

There is not a right too long denied to which we do not aspire in order to achieve; there is not a wrong too long endured that we are not determined to abolish.

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.

When the Bohemians began to come to New York in large numbers and allowed themselves to be used by the employers to build up the tenement system which threatened to submerge the standards of life and work that we had established, I felt that those tenement workers were foreigners. The first step in Americanizing them was to bring them to conform to American standards of work, which was a stepping stone to American standards of life.

There seems to me no money that is so iniquitous or that is more dishonorable to us as a nation than that insatiable greed which drags the children into the mills and factories and grinds their young bones into dollars. To me it seems that the child of the nineteenth century should be something more than a machine.

We don't love to work only. The mule works, too. Work alone is not the ideal and hope for the attainment of the human kind. I have said that we want to work and ought to work, but the work we perform for our fellow man should yield to us a better life. It won't do to tell us that our forefathers lived on coarser food than we do now. It is not satisfactory or convincing. The fact of the matter is that we live in the United States of America, the richest country on the face of the globe -- and the millions of honest toilers of America are willing to work to produce the great wealth and place it at the feet of the people of our country, but in return the toiling masses, the great producers of wealth . . . insist that there should be a better life and better home and better surroundings for the great producers of wealth.

Where trade unions are most firmly organized, there are the rights of the people most respected.

There was a time when workmen were denied the right of leaving their employers, when they were part of the soil, owned by their employers, and any attempt on their part to leave was regarded as the escape of a slave, brought back, imprisoned, branded, and gibbeted. Not many years ago, when workmen counseled with each other for the purpose of resisting a reduction in their wages or making an effort to secure an increase, it was held to be a conspiracy punishable by imprisonment. Through the effort of organized labor, an enlightened public sentiment changed all this until to-day the right to unite for material, moral, and social improvement on the part of workers is accepted by all.

We hail with deep satisfaction the arrival of an embassy from our mother country charged with the noble duty of proposing a treaty of perpetual peace between the two great political divisions of the English-speaking people.

Wherever the people enjoy liberty the most, Trade Unions are most formidable.

This is the attitude of the A. F. of L. on the color question. If a man or set of men array themselves for any cause against the interest of the workers their organizations have the right to say that their membership is barred. It should be at the wrong-doer against labor, it should not be a nationality or a race against whom the doors are barred.

We have been asked how many trade unionists there are in Congress. I venture to say that there are more trade unionists in Congress and in our state Legislatures holding clear cards than there are elsewhere in similar positions the world over.

You are mistaken in asserting that I am embittered against everybody or anything that savors of socialism. What I resent and what I have persistently opposed is any effort that will mislead the wage-earners and delude them with vain hope. There have been so many burdens and so much suffering and so much misery heaped upon those who are called the wage-earners, that I resent with every particle of force within me anything that would perpetuate their suffering or lead them into greater depths. Because I am firmly convinced that socialism is founded upon principles that will not lead out into broader liberty, independence and opportunity, I have done what I could to show men the fallacies of the doctrine of socialism.

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.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

English-born American Cigar Maker and Labor Union Leader