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Principles of Samuel Gompers

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Samuel Gompers, the first president of the AFL, had basic principles that laid the foundation for this organization. What are these principles? Describe three of them. Do you agree or disagree with these principles?

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Samuel Gompers established and became the first president of the American Federation of Labor (the AFL) in 1886. He organized one of the most powerful movements of workers in the world and changed the general working conditions in the US critically. In the opinion of a professor of history at the City College of New York, Irwin Yellowitz, Gompers was “the personification of the AFL” and “the most influential labor leader” at the beginning of the XXth century (Yellowitz, 1989, p 27). Based on the own life experience and philosophy, he formed three principles of labor unions which became the cornerstones for the AFL.

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In an effort to maintain the stronger status for the US workers, Gompers highly supported the principle of trade unionism. He believed that there should be separate unions for workers from different spheres of employment and opposed the theory of “one big union” (AFL-CIO History, 2013). Besides, members and leaders of the labor unions should concentrate on reformation of the employer-worker relationship primarily by economic means, without intervention into politics. However, Gompers agreed that sometimes a political action was needed which formed his last principle as “political nonpartisanship”. This meant that members of the unions were encouraged to vote for those parties and political leaders who supported the ideas and status of the labor class.

It is difficult to disagree with the principles of Samuel Gompers as far as they led to significant positive outcome. Trade unionism proved to be an effective way to prevent autocratic leadership of labor unions and to provide them with more flexibility. Focus on economic reformation and the right to vote for labor agenda resulted in shorter working hours, less unemployment, legally approved right for strikes, paid sick allowances and vacations, etc. Based on Gompers’ ideas, the labor movement became a powerful organization and achieved its goal to improve the status of an ordinary American worker.

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