Samuel Gompers

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London, England
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London, England

Samuel Gompers was an American labor leader who was born in England. He was a cigar manufacturer by trade and the leader of the Georgist labor union, as well as the creator of the ‘American Federation of Labor’ (AFL). For a long period, he was the president of the AFL, which was made up of many craft unions. To reduce jurisdictional conflicts, he encouraged them to work together. He believed that the first step toward emancipating laborers was to get less hours and higher salaries, and he campaigned for full-fledged labor organization and collective bargaining to achieve this goal. The processes for collective bargaining and contracting between management and labor that were devised after his convictions are still in use today. The ‘American Federation of Labour’ was prompted by Samuel Gompers to make political moves to elect friends and defeat adversaries. During World War I, he and the ‘American Federation of Labor’ were prominently supporting the war effort, attempting to avoid strikes, raise salaries, maintain worker morale, and increase membership.

Early Years and Childhood

Solomon and Sarah Gompers gave birth to Samuel Gompers on January 27, 1850 in London. His family came from Amsterdam and spent a few years in England.

He began his schooling at a Jewish Free school when he was six years old. He had to quit school at the age of ten to work and support his family, thus his education years were cut short. He began his career as a shoemaker’s apprentice. Following that, he worked in his father’s cigar manufacturing company with him.

To continue his education, he enrolled in night schools and began taking Hebrew classes. He studied Talmud, which he subsequently compared to law school.

His family immigrated to the United States in 1863, settling in New York City’s Lower East Side. He began working as a cigar maker once more as the family grew to eleven members.

Career of Samuel Gompers

His father made cigars at home in New York, and he worked with him for the first year and a half.
He and his buddies founded a debating club, which gave him real experience speaking in front of an audience and learning about parliamentary procedures. Through the club, he met a number of New York’s upper-class young men, including Peter J. McGuire, an Irish-American who subsequently became a key figure in the ‘American Federation of Labor.’

He and his father joined the ‘Cigarmaker’s Local Union No. 15’ in New York, an English-speaking union of cigar makers, in 1864, and were active members.
In 1873, he went to work for ‘David Hirsch & Company,’ a high-end cigar business run by a German socialist émigré. Later in adulthood, he reflected on this career shift as one of the most meaningful in his life.

He encountered several German cigar producers at ‘David Hirsch & Company.’ He was captivated by their views, particularly those of Karl Laurrell, the former secretary of the ‘International Workingmen’s Association.’
Karl Laurrell enlisted Samuel Gompers’ help in his organization, encouraging him to put his faith in organized labor rather than relying on basic ideas from political and socialist movements.

He became the president of the ‘Cigarmakers’ International Union Local 144′ in 1875. The union came close to collapsing like any other during the 1877 financial crisis, which saw an increase in unemployment due to laborers’ need to work for poor salaries. Samuel Gompers and his buddy Adolph Strasser reformed the organization, instituting programs for its members such as sick and death benefits, as well as out-of-work benefits.

He was instrumental in the formation of the ‘Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions,’ a coalition of unions with similar beliefs, in 1881. The American Federation of Labour was formed in 1886 after the federation was restructured. He rose to the position of President and stayed in that position until his death (except for a year in 1895).

He was elected to the ‘Cigarmakers’ International Union’ as the second vice-president in 1886.

He became the first vice-president of the ‘Cigarmakers’ International Union’ in 1896, and stayed in that position until his death.

He lobbied for American intervention in Cuba and supported the eventual war (1898) with Spain because he had ties with American-based Cuban cigar workers. After the war, he joined the ‘Anti-Imperialist League,’ which opposed President William McKinley’s attempt to conquer the Philippines.

He was one of the co-founders of the ‘National Civic Federation,’ a business-labor coalition, in 1901.
He intended to expand the “American Federation of Labor” in Canada, with the goal of eventually building an international labor federation. In this pursuit, he provided financial and organizational support to the ‘Canadian Trades and Labour Congress.’ By 1902, the ‘American Federation of Labour’ had taken control of the Canadian labor movement.

In the ‘Gompers v. Buck’s Stove and Range Co.’ lawsuit in 1911, he and John Mitchell were nearly imprisoned for preparing a boycott list.
President Woodrow Wilson named him head of the ‘Labor Advisory Board’ of the ‘Council of National Defense’ during World War I.

He served as an official counselor on labor issues at the ‘Paris Peace Conference’ in 1919.
Because of their differing viewpoints, Gompers and the “American Federation of Labor” (AFL) fought hard against the more radical “Industrial Workers of the World” (IWW). They believed that the IWW was more interested in destabilizing capitalism than in assisting workers. Following the IWW’s adamant opposition to World War I, he assisted the government in extensive arrests of union leaders, and the organization nearly died out in 1920.

He opposed unlimited immigration from Europe and any immigration from Asia, and he was a strong proponent of the 1882 “Chinese Exclusion Act,” which prohibited Chinese immigrants from entering the United States. The ‘American Federation of Labor’ was a key player in the passage of several immigration limitation measures, notably the ‘Emergency Quota Act’ (1921) and the ‘Immigration Act’ (1924). (1924).

‘Seventy Years of Life and Labour,’ his only book (an autobiography), was released in 1925.

Life and Legacy of an Individual

He married Sophia Julian, a sixteen-year-old coworker when he was seventeen years old. After a year, he had his first child. Despite the fact that the couple produced a lot of children in a short period of time, only six of them survived.
His health began to deteriorate in February 1923, when he was admitted to the hospital with acute influenza. Bronchitis, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and uremia were among the illnesses that followed.

He passed out in the middle of a meeting of the ‘Pan-American Federation of Labor’ in Mexico City on December 6, 1924. He was boarded on a special train to America, as per his request.
He died in San Antonio, Texas, on December 13, 1924, and was interred in New York’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Estimated net worth

The estimated net worth of Samuel Gompers is unknown.


To honor him, sculptor Robert Aitken erected a bronze memorial in Gompers Square, Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, D.C.
Local unions in Chicago contributed money and effort to create his life-size statue, which was unveiled on September 3, 2007. It was the first of its sort for any labor leader in Chicago.

He is the namesake of a class of US Navy destroyer tenders and a US Navy support ship.
The ‘Samuel Gompers Houses,’ a public housing development on New York’s Lower East Side, is named after him.