Gompers was born on January 26,
He joined Local 15 of the Cigarmakers' International Union in 1864, and was elected president of Local
His philosophy of labor unions centered on economic ends for workers, such as higher wages, benefits, and job security. His goal was to achieve these without political action or affiliation by the union, but rather through the use of strikes, boycotts, etc.
Gompers viewed unions as simply the labor component of a business, neither superior nor inferior to the management structure. This belief led to the development of procedures for collective bargaining and contracts between labor and management which are still in use today.
Leading the AFL
Gompers helped found the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in 1881 as a coalition of like-minded unions. In 1886 it was reorganized into the American Federation of Labor, with Gompers as its president. He would remain president of the organization until his death (with the exception of one year, 1895).
Under Gompers's tutelage, the AFL coalition gradually gained strength, undermining that previously held by the Knights of Labor, which as a result had almost vanished by 1900. He was nearly jailed in 1911 for publishing with John Mitchell a boycott list, but the Supreme Court overturned the sentence in Gompers v. Buck's Stove and Range Co..
Gompers's insistence against political affiliation and radicalism in the AFL, combined with the AFL's tendency to cater to skilled labor over unskilled, led indirectly to the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World organization in 1905, which tried with limited success to organize unskilled workers.
Gompers, like most labor leaders, opposed unrestricted immigration from Europe because it lowered wages, and opposed any immigration at all from Asia for the previous reason and also because it brought an alien culture. The AFL was instrumental in passing immigration restriction laws from the 1890s to the 1920s, such as the 1921 Emergency Quota Act and the Immigration Act of 1924, and seeing that they were strictly enforced. The link between the AFL and the Democratic Party rested in large part on immigration issues; the owners of large corporations wanted more immigration and thus supported the Republican party.
During the First World War, Gompers was a strong supporter of the war effort. He was appointed by President Wilson to the powerful Council of National Defense, where he instituted the War Committee on Labor. He was an attendee at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 as a labor advisor.
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