Samuel Gompers


English-born American Cigar Maker and Labor Union Leader

Author Quotes

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.

We deny the assertion made by some of our opponents when they say the American Federation of Labor is against political action. We are against the the American labor movement being made a political party machine.

When organized labor made its advent upon the field of industry it found the children in the mills and in the mines, in the shops and in the factories, and it is due to the much-abused organizations of labor that we find upon the statute books . . . the laws protecting the lives of the young and the innocent children, who through our efforts have been put into the school rooms and into the playgrounds rather than in the factories and the workshops.

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.

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English-born American Cigar Maker and Labor Union Leader