Sunday, September 02, 2007

Samuel Gompers

In honor of upcoming Labor Day, consider the fact that were it not for Samuel Gompers the state of labor in the United States might be drastically different. Child sweatshops, for example, might be common and widespread as they were when Gompers arrived in New York in 1893 (and as they are in many parts of the world).

Labor unions are important not only because they carve out and defend rights for their worker members, but in the larger picture, they illustrate the fact that it is possible to have rights for all workers in the workplace. For me, Gompers is in the same category as Martin Luther King, Jr. Gompers is a visionary, and I think the world of work is lucky he existed. Would someone else have defended workers' rights so vigorously? We'll never know.

...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 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." (Mandel p. 22)
You might consider browsing the archives at Boy in the Bands under Unions and Unionism.