quinta-feira, 18 de outubro de 2007

Samuel Gompers

(January 27, 1850-December 13, 1924) was an American labor union leader and a key figure in American labor history. Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and held the position as president of the organization for all but one year from 1886 until his death in 1924. He promoted harmony among the different craft unions that comprised the AFL, and opposed industrial unionism. Focused on higher wages and job security, he fought against both socialism and the Socialist Party. After 1907, he formed alliances with the Democratic Party at the local, state and national levels. He enthusiastically supported the American entry into World War I, opposing Eugene V. Debs and other leftists who were against the war.

Gompers was born on January 26, 1850 in London, England into a Jewish family which had recently arrived from the Netherlands. He left school at age 10 to become an apprentice, first as a shoemaker and then as a cigar maker. The family immigrated to the United States in 1863, settling on Manhattan's Lower East Side in New York City. He married Sophia Julian in 1866 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1872. Gompers attended a free Jewish school in London, but received no more than an elementary school education.[1] He attended night school to further his education, but later said about the factory he worked in: "The factory was my Harvard and my Yale."[citation needed]

He joined Local 15 of the Cigarmakers' International Union in 1864, and was elected president of Local 144 in 1875. He was elected second vice-president of the international union in 1886, and first vice-president in 1896. He served in this capacity until his death. In 1877, the union nearly collapsed. Gompers and his friend Adolph Strasser used Local 144 as a base to rebuild the Cigarmakers' Union, introducing a hierarchical structure and implementing programs for strike and pension funds paid for by charging high membership dues. He told the workers they needed to organize because wage reductions were almost a daily occurrence. The capitalists were only interested in profits, "and the time has come when we must assert our rights as workingmen. Every one present has the sad experience, that we are powerless in an isolated condition, while the capitalists are united; therefore it is the duty of every Cigar Maker to join the organization. . . . One of the main objects of the organization," he concluded, "is the elevation of the lowest paid worker to the standard of the highest, and in time we may secure for every person in the trade an existence worthy of human beings."[2]

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.[3]

Political involvement

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.

Retirado da Wikipédia