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Gompers Pledges Labor's Support for World War I

Gompers Pledges Labor's Support for World War I

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Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), discusses the effects of World War I on the United States.

Gompers Pledges Labor's Support for World War I - HISTORY

Partially blind, diabetic, and heedless of his doctors' advice, Samuel Gompers fully expected to work as hard as he always had. "I am seventy-two years of age," he wrote in January 1922, "and have never even thought of . . . retiring." After all, at this critical moment in AFL history, there was too much work to do. The Federation had lost almost nine hundred thousand members since 1920, President Warren Harding had openly challenged labor's right to strike, and union members were dangerously divided over questions of strategy, politics, and work jurisdiction. Confident that his practical knowledge and wide perspective were too valuable to lose now, the AFL president thought his duty was clear: "I could not stop working if I wanted to."1

Few could match Gompers' commitment to trade unionism or his forty-year record of leadership. But whether his long experience was an asset or a liability was a serious question at the time. For as corporations flourished, union shops declined, and nonunion workers dominated the labor market in the 1920s, many wondered whether labor's Grand Old Man had outlived his usefulness. His voluntary principles seemed hopelessly out of date to radicals energized by the Russian Revolution. His aversion to independent politics and an activist state seemed counterproductive to railroad workers inspired by Farmer-Labor party plans for nationalization and economic reform. And his repeated failure to organize the unorganized and generate classwide solidarity seemed downright incompetent to a militant corps of activists who feared he lacked the vision and the political courage necessary to get the job done. In their estimation, Gompers had nothing to offer a rising generation of industrial workers: He was too anti-intellectual to broaden the scope of the movement, too rigid to change with the times, and too determined to maintain control of the AFL, no matter the costs to the working class as a whole.2

Hungry for change, many union supporters inside and outside the AFL now looked to William Z. Foster for up-to-date leadership. The embodiment of their vision for change, Foster was a talented organizer whose militant rhetoric and aggressive tactics found widespread support in the labor movement. The forty-one-year-old leader was everything Gompers was not: He embraced Communism and the Red International of Labor Unions or Profintern (RILU), advocated independent working-class political action, and believed that the AFL would have to function as a strong, centralized organization if it hoped to survive and grow.3 Whereas Gompers presumed that the great mass of workers would learn the value of solidarity through direct experience, Foster and his supporters favored a more top-down approach: They established the Trade Union Educational League (TUEL) to develop a network of "revolutionary and progressive" unionists, a militant minority that would serve as the "brain and backbone of the organized masses." With amalgamation as its slogan, industrial unionism as its goal, and "boring from within" the established trade unions as its method, the TUEL promised to transform otherwise "timid and muddled" AFL affiliates into "scientifically constructed, class conscious weapons in the revolutionary struggle." "Get off the rocky road of craft unionism," Foster urged his fellow workers, "and enter upon the broad boulevard of departmentalized industrial unionism, the way to social emancipation."4

At a time when unemployment and political harassment had ostensibly crippled labor's progress, and the growth of reactionary groups like the Ku Klux Klan promised to make things worse, the TUEL's "Amalgamation or Annihilation" campaign put Gompers' leadership to the test: Who could argue with a plan designed to neutralize jurisdictional battles and unite labor's power once and for all? By March 1922, the Chicago Federation of Labor (FOL) had passed a resolution calling for an AFL conference to merge member unions, and within eighteen months, sixteen international unions, seventeen state federations, and numerous central and local labor bodies had joined the campaign.5 "The communists have sprung into great prominence in the trade union movement," Foster boasted to the RILU, and the path to the future seemed clear: Amalgamation was "the burning issue of the hour," and Foster the man with a workable plan. "[H]e is a genius in simplifying," his supporters crowed. "He addresses himself to the heart of the problem at hand, and he points the way to success."6

But if supporters expected the younger, visionary leader to restructure the Federation, they were soon disappointed. As Gompers had learned over time, there was nothing simple about amalgamation, and anyone familiar with the building trades' ongoing fight to unite their forces knew that amalgamation could not be imposed from above. They also knew that it was not Gompers or the international presidents ("petty despots" in Foster's view) who stood in the way. In the past, rank-and-file workers had vetoed amalgamation plans for a very basic reason: As one labor official put it, they refused to be "traded off to another organization like so much personal property on the say-so of a few men," a situation Gompers had witnessed many times.7 "We could say, 'You must amalgamate,'" he told a convention of cap makers in 1923. "And suppose the organizations would come back to us and say, 'We will do as we darn please.' What are you going to do about it? Get the militia, get the police, and make them amalgamate?" If history was any guide, Foster's plan for unity promised far more than it could deliver. "The Knights of Labor had the most complete idea of amalgamation that it was ever attempted to put into practice," Gompers noted. "It also had the word 'must' and compulsion and dictatorship as the principle of administration," concepts, he believed, that were as counterproductive in the 1920s as they had been in the 1880s. "People are not made of clay that can be molded into any shape by those who wish to change them," he maintained. "It is human to resent compulsion."8

Ultimately, it was this view of human nature, tempered by his long experience in the labor movement, not amalgamation, industrial unionism, or even his "insane hatred for everything radical," as Foster put it, that separated Gompers from his critics: The AFL president genuinely believed that their top-down methods would not work. Where Foster and his followers envisioned an energetic, centralized leadership reshaping the labor movement along revolutionary lines, Gompers saw an acrimonious future of conflict, dual unionism, and disintegration. "To whom are they making this [amalgamation] appeal," Gompers wanted to know. "To the unorganized? Not by any means, but to the organized workers, thus to bring about if possible rivalry, division, antagonism and dis-organization."9

Likewise it was Foster's commitment to the Communist party, not his desire for change, or even his challenge to Gompers' leadership, that alarmed the AFL president. Gompers appreciated Foster's passion and abilities--after all, he had trusted him during the war to oversee the all-important steel and packinghouse workers' campaigns. But once Foster allied the TUEL with the Communist movement, the very antithesis of liberty as far as Gompers was concerned, he lost all credibility as a labor leader in Gompers' eyes. "Isn't it a pity," Gompers reportedly asked labor journalist Benjamin Stolberg, "that such an intelligent fellow as Foster should make such an ass of himself?" Foster may have believed that the TUEL was "working in every direction necessary to put life and spirit and power into the trade-union movement," but Gompers perceived just the opposite. "If there be any . . . honest purpose of those who want closer affiliation or even amalgamation," he said, "let them, in the orderly, rational, common sense way, in the unions, talk of it, talk with their fellows. But to organize a clique in each union for its control and mastery, such effort must be exposed to the thinking men and women of the labor movement in America."10

A seasoned veteran of ideological warfare by the 1920s, Gompers had no intention of surrendering the Federation to Foster's militant minority: He took every opportunity to impugn Foster's motives, publicize his connection to the Workers' (Communist) Party of America, and censure his supporters' apparent hostility "to every guarantee of freedom which American labor holds fundamental."11 At this late stage in his life, he was not afraid to play hardball, either, particularly with radical opponents who underestimated him at every turn. Foster and his followers prided themselves on their superior understanding of power and their organizational prowess, but Gompers and the AFL Executive Council were not as impotent or insignificant as their critics presumed. Flexing their organizational muscle, they cut off a monthly subsidy to the Chicago FOL, Foster's main link to AFL unions. They also threatened to revoke the charters of radically-inclined central labor bodies, including the Seattle Central Labor Council and the Detroit Federation of Labor, moves that eventually brought these councils back in line. Finally, they put their anti-communist campaign to the test at the AFL's 1923 Portland convention, when an overwhelming majority voted to expel a delegate from Montana's Silver Bow Trades and Labor Council who also carried a Workers' party card. "We have been altogether too tolerant . . . to the men who have openly . . . declared that they are boring from within, for the undermining of the principles and policies upon which the American Federation of Labor is founded," Gompers said. "These men may continue if they will, but they must do so on the outside and not on the inside."12

Although critics would blame Gompers' red-baiting for the radicals' decline, by 1923 Foster had already alienated most of his AFL supporters. Embroiled in Communist party politics behind the scenes, he had helped launch the Federated Farmer-Labor party--which had no farmer or labor support to speak of--and in the process had publicly humiliated, and then denounced John Fitzpatrick, his longtime partner in the Chicago FOL. At the same time, bitter factional battles in such unions as the Miners, Carpenters, and Ladies' Garment Workers added credence to Gompers' conviction that Foster was a disrupter at heart with no loyalty to trade unionists and no interest in their everyday struggles. Whatever Foster had hoped to accomplish when he "subordinated trade union progress to communism," as one sympathetic scholar put it, his campaign to revolutionize the trade union movement actually strengthened Gompers' hand. For the rapid rise and fall of TUEL influence in AFL unions, during the years 1922 and 1923, demonstrated that the vast majority of trade unionists had no interest in revolutionary strategies, that militant rhetoric was no substitute for practical gains, and that Gompers and the trade union movement could not be counted out yet.13 "Differ if you will, upon matters [of] how to make your organization a better fighting machine for the interests of the working people in your industry," Gompers urged AFL members. "Vie with each other to do that, but don't inject anything that is calculated to create bitterness, hostility or division," advice that trade unionists took to heart, at least as far as Foster and the communists were concerned.14

No one knew better than Gompers the "shortcomings" and "failures" that dogged the labor movement in the 1920s. But it was not the AFL's structure, he believed, that impeded solidarity and engendered jurisdictional strife. Instead, it was the potent combination of "predatory" employers, "class biased" courts, and hostile legislation.15 As long as labor still had to fight for the right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively with employers, workers would never feel secure enough to recognize an injury to one as the concern of all or to shoulder the economic burdens that classwide solidarity required. And as long as even skilled workers in good union towns, like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City, were battling the open shop, their unions would never give up work without a fight. Gompers took no pride in the fact that too many unions closed their doors to new members or refused to risk union funds on organizing campaigns. But at a time of high unemployment and costly defensive strikes, involving miners, railroad shopmen, textile workers, garment workers, and granite cutters, to name a few, he understood only too well why self-preservation came first.16

That being the case, Gompers and the AFL concentrated on changing the immediate political climate during these years. The Conference Committee of Trade Union Legislative Representatives, which had been meeting regularly since the spring of 1921, now monitored thousands of bills introduced into Congress, searching out provisions that affected labor "directly or indirectly" and then lobbying lawmakers accordingly. The AFL also launched a National Non-Partisan Political Campaign Committee in the spring of 1922, participating in primary elections for the very first time, and urging AFL unions to support independent candidates when neither Republican nor Democratic contestants proved friendly. "No freedom-loving citizen should vote for a candidate who [will] not pledge himself to oppose any form of compulsory labor law," the campaign directed. "No justice-loving citizen should vote for a candidate for any office who will not pledge himself to oppose injunctions and contempt proceedings as a substitute for trial by jury."17

With the AFL's network of organizers and state and local councils ready to go, the nonpartisan campaign proved effective: Despite a severe lack of funds, it provided voting records, strategic advice, and legislative analysis to thousands of local nonpartisan committees and sent organizers to oversee crucial campaigns in thirteen states, including Minnesota, California, Colorado, and Indiana. Gompers himself delivered addresses in New Orleans, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and frequently met with local committees whenever he traveled on AFL business. "We gave every effort within our power," the Executive Council reported in 1923, and the work had paid off: Twenty-three "friendly" U.S. senators, one hundred seventy "friendly" congressmen, and a number of "friendly" governors were elected, while some deadly "enemies" were soundly defeated.18 "Labor has no complaint to make against the Sixty-Eighth Congress," the AFL reported in 1924. "Not one measure opposed by labor was enacted into law in the first session of Congress."19 Better yet, one long-standing if controversial political goal, the restriction of immigration (which, Gompers contended, was the key to improving American wage standards), was also achieved that year.

This political victory, alongside labor's militant strike record in 1922, persuaded Gompers that the time was right to make industrial democracy a national priority. Ready to counteract critics who claimed the AFL lacked vision, he now urged the Executive Council to organize a ten-member "Commission of Progress and Co-operation" to meet with industry representatives on a regular basis to develop mutually beneficial industrial policies. By bringing together "the essential productive human elements in industry"--labor, management, engineers, and scientists--Gompers believed the commission would help resolve industrial conflicts, eliminate labor and managerial waste, and make the public more aware of the real culprits behind strikes and lockouts: Corporate troublemakers who "seek to operate industry merely in the interests of speculation and profit" and unfair conditions "that make for unrest and for faulty relations in industry." "There must be opportunity for progressive evolution within industry, won by ourselves by our economic power, or else we must deal with revolution," Gompers warned. And it was up to the AFL, he said, to "take an initial step so that voluntarily there shall develop an idea that men and women . . . shall come together and try to devise the ways and means by which agreement can be reached, so that the rights of the men and women engaged in all phases of our industrial and professional life shall be the determining factor, rather than the politicians who know nothing of our problems."20 Although the Council ultimately rejected the commission as too expensive and too risky, it did endorse Gompers' basic idea of government-free industrial democracy as "Industry's Manifest Duty."21

Around the same time, Gompers was also trying to launch a campaign to organize the unorganized--specifically unorganized women who had previously depended on protective legislation to safeguard their interests. The U.S. Supreme Court had declared Washington, D.C.'s, minimum wage laws for women and girls unconstitutional, potentially threatening the livelihood of more than one million women in twelve states. "Of course there was the child labor decisions and other decisions that were incomprehensive," Gompers noted, "but when the Supreme Court decided that the purchase of labor of women was like going into a butcher shop and buying pigs feet it could not be any worse."22 Working with Mary Anderson of the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor and members of the National Women's Trade Union League (NWTUL), Gompers also queried British union leaders on their successful campaigns and surveyed AFL affiliates to learn what role, if any, women played in their industries and their unions. With the groundwork completed by early 1924, and a Women in Industry committee appointed, Gompers also called a series of meetings and conferences to devise political and economic strategies. "There is a woeful waste of power and opportunity in failing to organize the women in industry," he admitted, a problem he chalked up to the fact that male unionists basically ignored their obligations, leaving organizing work to the NWTUL. And that had to change, he insisted, because some 3.5 million working women needed representation. "If each organization acts on its own as done in the past," he said, "we don't get to the heart and soul of it."23

It was one thing to launch an organizing campaign, but quite another to get established unions to open their doors to female members. For instance, the Flint Glass Workers politely declined to participate since "we do not have any women in our industry whom our members would be agreeable to admitting." The Barbers were equally uninterested, a position Gompers understood but no longer accepted. "Years ago the labor movement objected to the entrance of women in industry," he wrote to James Shanessy, president of the Barbers' union. "They held, and I was one of them who believed that the proper function of woman was the home and that the man was the natural bread-winner. In the early days I too opposed the acceptance of women to membership in our organization and hoped with other[s] to prevent or at least to check the advent of women in industry." But he gave up when he realized that women were there to stay, and that every worker benefitted when they were organized. "I . . . advocated the acceptance of the situation as we found it and to admit women to membership in our organization," and now he urged Shanessy to do the same. His argument broke no new ground--in fact, Gompers encouraged the Barbers to compromise and admit women under the condition that they would not work when they were in an "advanced stage of pregnancy" or during their "periodical condition." But the fact that he personally appealed to Shanessy to support women barbers had good effect: The union voted to accept women members at its 1924 convention.24

Perhaps if Gompers had been able to keep up the fight, the organizing campaign might have flourished. But by the time Gompers contacted Shanessy in July 1924, his age and his infirmities had finally caught up with him. Gompers' health had been declining since February 1923, when a serious bout of influenza landed him in the hospital. Although he was back on the job in six weeks' time, a trip to the Panama Canal at the end of the year left him exhausted. A few weeks later he came down with a cold that developed into bronchitis and in early June 1924, when he could no longer walk without assistance, he was hospitalized in New York City with heart failure and uremia.25

For the first few weeks only a few trusted colleagues knew about his collapse, so Gompers was able to convalesce quietly. But weak as he was, he managed to follow the Republican convention on the radio and insisted on being kept up to date on pressing AFL matters. Indeed, as soon as he was out of immediate danger, he was anxious to get back to work. "It is easy to say: 'Don't do any work rest dismiss work from your mind relax play,'" he noted. "But to me that is not rest that is punishment. And so my physicians decided that work in a reasonably moderate degree shall not be denied me."26 By the end of June he was up and about, presiding over meetings of the National Non-Partisan Campaign Committee and even addressing the Democratic party's resolutions committee. In an hour-long speech he made it clear that labor would look elsewhere if the party refused to support "unequivocally" progressive measures like labor's right to organize. Back in his hospital room, "his old vigor seemed to return," according to Lucy Robins Lang, who was apparently on the scene. "Soon politicians and labor leaders were crowding into his room, to learn what the Old Man thought about the Democratic convention and about the proposal to unite progressives and labor behind La Follette in a third party. The doctors protested," she added, "but Gompers told them that this was better medicine for him than any they could prescribe."27

Of course, that was hardly true, and even Gompers knew it. He could "live another ten years" if he followed doctors' orders, Frank Morrison believed, but Gompers apparently had other plans: Although he was still under the care of a full-time nurse, he spent the last five months of his life boosting Robert La Follette's presidential campaign and defending the AFL's decision to cast a protest vote in the 1924 election--no easy task, given his long-standing opposition to third-party politics. He continued to work on child labor issues and tried to persuade the Executive Council to support the organizing campaign for women. And he kept his longtime secretary, Rosa Lee Guard, busy with dictation and worried that he was jeopardizing his recovery with too much work. When she scolded him for losing his temper during a heated political debate, however, he made his position clear. "He said he fully realized that he was 'burning' himself up" but then told the story of a drunken Irishman who realized too late he had put his last gold piece in the collection plate instead of saving it for the next round. "'It's for the church,'" the Irishman had said "'to hell with it.'" Then, referring to the exertion that was jeopardizing his health, Gompers added, "'It is for the cause, the cause which is . . . burning me up. To hell with it.'" For better or for worse, he was determined to give whatever he had left to the labor movement.28

Historians would later assess these years as the most conservative and least productive period of Gompers' life, when the AFL president allegedly lost his militant spirit, begged employers to "give unions a break," and "left his people well-nigh bankrupt."29 But this final volume of The Samuel Gompers Papers tells a different story. It begins with the AFL's spirited fight against the open shop and the labor injunction, documents Gompers' continuing battle to expose the abuses of an unregulated economy, and demonstrates that the longtime AFL leader never lost his nerve or his will to fight.

As long as he was physically able, during these years, he traveled wherever he was needed--he regularly visited New England, New York, and the Midwest, for instance, to meet with strikers, resolve jurisdictional conflicts, and address mass meetings. He did not hesitate to challenge the authority of government agencies, like the Railroad Labor Board, or to demand the impeachment of Attorney General Harry Daugherty after he helped cripple the railroad shopmen's strike. And if he was willing to cooperate with corporate leaders like Daniel Willard, president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, he had not joined the opponents' camp. For instance, when an AFL investigator blamed "absentee capitalism" for dismal conditions in the Virgin Islands, Gompers concurred. "I believe also that the industrial interests of the United States should be freed from much of this capitalism here but how are we to accomplish it? I think we are gradually doing it in the way of creating greater power in the industries and in agriculture. To my mind that is the only answer to the development and progress of the universe."30

During these years Gompers also worked on a proposed constitutional amendment to deprive the U.S. Supreme Court "of autocratic power" (and allow "unconstitutional" laws to stand if they were passed again in Congress by a two-thirds majority). He supported the Workers' Education Bureau, which developed "study classes" in economics and industrial problems that enrolled 30,000 union members in 1924 and mass education lectures and debates that involved some 300,000 union members that year. He kept in touch with European trade unionists, continued to work with Mexican and Puerto Rican leaders to build up the Pan-American Federation of Labor, and found time to work on his autobiography, which went to press in 1923.31 Gompers also did his best to keep up with the times, during these years, meeting with Herbert Hoover and others on the issue of hydroelectric power, consulting with social scientists on the value of IQ tests, investigating the possibility of installing a radio broadcast station at AFL headquarters, and even meeting with the leaders of the Young Workers' League, to see what they were all about.32

Yet for all his interests and activities, and for all the friends and longtime supporters who bolstered his efforts, these final years of Gompers' life were personally difficult. Almost every week brought news of the passing or the illness of another close friend or associate. And by 1924 his home life and second marriage were also apparently unhappy--in fact, just one day before Gompers set off on his final trip to the AFL convention in El Paso in 1924, he changed his will to ensure that his wife, Gertrude, would only inherit what she was strictly entitled to by law. That was not much, as it turned out: Gompers did not believe in life insurance and left property worth about $30,000 when he died, hardly the riches his critics imagined. But the estate was beside the point, for the revised will also suggested that he was initiating a divorce, although neither his sons, nor anyone else, could shed light on the matter. According to Lucy Robins Lang, who claimed to be Gompers' confidant, Gertrude had closed his home to friends and colleagues, and even refused to admit Miss Guard, who often brought work to Gompers at home. As Lang put it, Gompers' first wife, Sophia, had made his home "a fit place for a fighting general who sought temporary repose, but now a man who was old and nearly blind, and whose days were numbered, could not find peace there."33

In the end, his true home was the labor movement. And it was with his union brothers and sisters that Gompers spent his final days and enjoyed his final triumphs. Too weak to deliver his opening address to the AFL convention that November, he called upon William Green to do the honors. But it was his voice--and his long experience--that came through loud and clear. Taking the delegates back with him to Pittsburgh in 1881, he recalled the heady days when "a group of labor men with little experience in a national labor movement" set out to build one anyway. "We had to find our problems and devise ways of meeting them," Gompers explained, a practical and frustrating process that had taught him the lessons he was now determined to pass on. "So long as we have held fast to voluntary principles and have been actuated and inspired by the spirit of service," he said, "we have sustained our forward progress. . . . Where we have blundered into trying to force a policy or a decision, even though wise and right, we have impeded, if not interrupted, the realization of our own aims." Building consensus took time and patience, but Gompers knew no better way to hold a diverse work force together--and neither did anyone else at the time. And so he left his friends and family with this charge: "No lasting gain has ever come from compulsion. If we seek to force, we but tear apart that which, united, is invincible."34

A few weeks later he traveled to Mexico City to attend the inauguration of President Plutarco Elías Calles, an honor he was determined to enjoy, no matter the consequences. Feted for his years of hard work on behalf of the Mexican Revolution and the Mexican labor movement, he also presided over the convention of the Pan-American Federation of Labor, an organization he had worked hard to build. The effort proved too much, however, and Gompers was rushed back to Texas by train.

Gompers Pledges Labor's Support for World War I - HISTORY

Volume 1 takes Gompers from his birth to his election, at age 36, as first president of the American Federation of Labor. The Knights of Labor, the New York City labor movement, the Henry George political campaign and the cigarmakers' fight against tenement production are major subjects.



Volume 6 covers a critical period of labor history: the rise of the open-shop movement, the increasing importance of the injunction as an anti-labor tool, and the birth of the Industrial Workers of the World, better known as the IWW. Documents include reports from the IWW's founding convention, correspondence generated by the Danbury Hatters' case, and reports from Gompers' organizing trips to Puerto Rico and the West Coast.

Focusing on industrial triumphs and tragedies -- including the creation of the U.S. Department of Labor, the ILGWU's "Uprising of the Twenty Thousand" strike, the Cherry Hill mine disaster, and the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building by the McNamara brothers-- Volume 8 tells the story of the AFL's Labor Forward organizing campaign, the socialists' fight against the National Civic Federation, the IWW's dramatic resurgence, and the growing importance of new groups of workers, including women, and non-English speaking immigrants, to the labor movement.

Spanning a volatile period of industrial conflict, revolutionary upheavals in Mexico, and cataclysmic war in Europe, Volume 9 covers the passage of the Clayton Antitrust Act – labor's so-called Magna Carta – the Ludlow Massacre, the growing influence of the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations, the controversial rise of the military "preparedness" movement, and Gompers' efforts to keep the United States out of Mexican affairs. Heated debates over industrial unionism, eight-hour legislation, and the role of social reformers and intellectuals in the organized labor movement are also an important part of the story, and so are a wide range of activists, including Frank P. Walsh, Duncan McDonald, Morris Hillquit, "Mother" Jones, Margaret Dreier Robins, Tom Mooney, Joe Hill, and Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson – a former coal miner and union leader.

Volume 10 follows Gompers to the highpoint of his career, when wartime demands put a premium on all-out production and opened new opportunities for the labor movement. Focusing on the AFL's pragmatic pledge to support the war effort, and Gompers' emergence as a national policymaker, it covers a period of intense debate over the meaning of patriotism, the limits of individual freedom, and the value of democracy. Primary documents chart the evolution of a new relation with the federal government and the rise of labor-adjustment boards that supported the eight-hour day, equal pay for equal work, and labor's right to organize. And they chronicle Gompers&rsquo wartime trip to Europe to bolster morale and his ongoing efforts to strengthen international labor ties. Other highlights include the Bisbee deportations, the stockyards labor organizing campaign, the IWW's free-speech movement, the Tom Mooney case, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Saint Louis Race Riot, and Gompers' controversial agreement to forgo labor's fight for the "closed" union shop for the duration of the war.

To learn more about this volume, and the significant issues it covers, please read our introduction.

Volume 11 of the Samuel Gompers Papers documents a pivotal moment in labor history, when the wartime promise of industrial democracy gave way to business as usual in the postwar world. Spanning a turbulent period of wildcat strikes, racial unrest, and political experimentation, this volume presents the efforts of Gompers and the AFL to defend collective bargaining, protect hard-won wartime gains, and advance labor's role as a partner in economic prosperity and social progress. Highlights include the Seattle General Strike, the 1919 coal and steel strikes, the rise of the "American" open-shop plan, and John L. Lewis's unsuccessful campaign to replace Gompers as AFL president. Documents also illuminate Gompers's participation in the Versailles Peace Conference, his involvement with anti-immigration legislation, the founding of the AFL's Nonpartisan Political Campaign Committee, and the demands of black and women workers in the postwar era.

VOL. 12: THE LAST YEARS, 1922-24

Documenting the final years of Gompers' life, Volume 12 covers a period of challenges and change. Ascendant Republicans were hostile. Conflicts over tactics and strategies divided the labor movement. And continuing unemployment kept the workforce in check. Despite all this, Gompers "kept the faith," helping revitalize the AFL's nonpartisan political efforts, launching a campaign to organize women workers, and strengthening the Pan-American Federation of Labor. At the same time, he challenged government agencies like the Railroad Labor Board and continued his efforts to abolish child labor and fight labor injunctions.

Although historians often assess these years as the most conservative and least productive period of Gompers's life, this final volume of the Samuel Gompers Papers demonstrates that even in this tumultuous time he continued his forward-looking leadership of the labor movement and retained his keen sense of judgment

Cigarmakers' International Union career

Gompers was elected president of Cigarmakers' International Union Local 144 in 1875.

As was the case with other unions of the day, the Cigarmaker's Union nearly collapsed in the financial crisis of 1877, in which unemployment skyrocketed and ready availability of desperate workers willing to labor for subsistence wages put pressure upon the gains in wages and shortening of hours achieved in union shops. Gompers and his friend Adolph Strasser used Local 144 as a base to rebuild the Cigarmakers' Union, introducing a high dues structure and implementing programs to pay out-of-work benefits, sick benefits, and death benefits for union members in good standing.

Gompers 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." [20]

He was elected second vice-president of the Cigarmakers' International Union in 1886, and first vice-president in 1896. Despite the commitment of time and energy entailed by his place as head of the American Federation of Labor, Gompers remained first vice-president of the Cigarmakers until his death in December 1924.

Reds, Labor, and the Great War: Antiwar Activism in the Pacific Northwest

In September 1917, in a crowded Seattle courtroom, charges of sedition were read to Hulet Wells, Sam Sadler and Joe and Morris Pass. They were accused of conspiring against the government of the United States and interfering with military conscription during a time of war. These men were just a few of the thousands who were charged with sedition or treason in the months after America&rsquos entry into World War I. The war pitted citizen against citizen, patriot against radical.

The divisions present in the courtroom on that September day mirrored the growing fractions on the streets of nearly every major city in the country. The First World War was America&rsquos first debut as a global military power, and although many Americans were swept up in a patriotic call to arms, a small but vocal minority of socialists, anarchists, pacifists and civil libertarians opposed American militarism. The men and women who spoke out against the war faced some of the greatest state repression in the history of the United States. Their stories are testament to how fragile civil liberties and freedom can be when threatened by militarism and the security state.

Although later anti-war movements like those of the Vietnam Era have attracted more scholarly and popular attention, the story of the 20th century&rsquos first American anti-war movement is notable for its dramatic organizational and ideological transformation over the course of World War I. The opposition to World War I began as just another part of the pacifist movement of the early 19th century. Far from a populist mass movement, the anti-war movement of 1914 was initially dominated by upper class intellectuals, prominent businessmen and Progressive establishment politicians.[1]

At the outbreak of the war, American peace societies counted among its ranks the likes of business tycoon Andrew Carnegie, social reformers Jane Addams and Lillian Wald, several university presidents and future Secretary of War Newton Baker.[2] As scholar Roland Marchand explains, the pre-war peace movement was &ldquoan affluent, prestigious and &lsquopractical&rsquo reform [movement]&rdquo however, this changed in the four short years between 1914 and 1918. [3] The small, elite and establishment peace movement of the early war years was overcome by the mass working-class and increasing radical anti-militarist and anti-capitalist movements of the later years. Driven by increasingly dire economic conditions and angered by wartime conscription, the American anti-war movement of 1917 – 1918 rose to near-revolution-like levels before being suppressed by aggressive government repression. This study explores the fundamental and dramatic transformation of this seminal social movement. Nowhere in the country were these economic and ideological shifts clearer or more evident than in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

In the years preceding the war, the Pacific Northwest was largely isolated from the establishment politics of the East Coast peace societies and lacked any real affiliation with any national peace organizations. However, what the Pacific Northwest lacked in establishment credentials it made up for as a stronghold of radical working-class politics. The Socialist Party, Industrial Workers of the World, and militant labor unions enjoyed significant support throughout the region.[4] This radical political base proved critically important over the course of the war. In time, the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle in particular, experienced some of the most incredible radical anti-war activity in the country.[5] For these reasons, this paper will focus on the story of how Seattle and Pacific Northwest activists came to embody the mass working-class anti-war politics during the First World War.

The Pre-War Years - Seattle on the Eve of the War

To understand Seattle&rsquos anti-war activism during the First War World, it is important to first examine the pre-war years that shaped the city&rsquos political and economic environment. In the first two decades of the 20th century, Seattle underwent dramatic changes. Throughout the period, the economy of the region was centered on both extractive industries and the maritime trade, namely lumber and commercial shipping. The Alaska Gold Rush in the late 1800s to early 1900s brought a wave of immigrants and settlers, exponentially increasing Seattle&rsquos population and economic opportunities.[6] However, the bustling new economy and rapid industrialization fundamentally transformed the social conditions in the city. Unemployment, difficult working conditions, low wages, tensions between employers and employees all threatened to destabilize the delicate political balance of the city.[7]

Seattle was a hotspot for labor militancy and organizing. In the years before the war, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) established a series of increasingly strong locals among skilled white male laborers in Seattle.[8] Construction workers, service and retail workers, printers and ironworkers, and dockworkers were all organized into trade unions. By 1915, the main AFL representative body, the Seattle Central Labor Council, boasted 9,000 union members in affiliated locals.[9] Together, these AFL locals fought for higher wages, better contracts and established themselves as a powerful political force in Seattle municipal politics. Nonetheless, the AFL-affiliated unions were not perhaps a truly radical force. The AFL-affiliated unions practiced racist and exclusionary membership policies, supported legislation that excluded Chinese, Japanese and black workers from a number of industries.[10] Despite drawing from across the political spectrum, including socialists, the craft unions of the AFL remained committed to mostly organizing skilled labor and pursuing &lsquobread and butter&rsquo gains.

Competing with the AFL-affiliated unions, were the more radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The Wobblies, as they were known, organized both unskilled and skilled workers into large industrial unions. The IWW gained a large following among timber and agricultural workers.[11] Often opposed to the more conservative AFL-affiliated unions, the IWW advocated aggressive direct action strategies such as strikes, slow-downs and industrial sabotage. Additionally, unlike the AFL, the IWW made an effort to create inclusive unions that cut across the deeply entrenched racial and ethnic boundaries that separated Seattle&rsquos working-class.[12] The radicalism of the IWW often brought it into conflict not only with business officials and the government, but also with the other elements of the labor movement. This made for tension among Pacific Northwest labor organizations – a tension that later proved to be an impediment to solidarity during the campaign of government repression in 1917-1918.

Further complicating the pre-war political situation in Seattle was the strong presence of the Socialist Party. The interplay between the AFL trade unions, the IWW and the Socialist Party encompassed the bulk of the radical labor and political activity in the Pacific Northwest. The Socialist Party had made significant gains in the 1910 and 1912 elections, both at the national and regional level. Nationally, the Socialist Party gained two Congressional seats and locally, the Seattle Socialists gained a number of municipal positions.[13] In 1913, Washington State claimed 202 Socialist Party locals and 3,330 dues paying members – a significant number given the state&rsquos overall population.[14] But many within the party, especially those in the Pacific Northwest, were weary of the Socialists Party&rsquos ability to cooperate with the IWW and the AFL. On one hand, in Seattle, a number of socialists in the pre-war era held high-level positions in AFL-affiliated trade unions. For example, Hulet Wells was an avowed socialist who served as president of the AFL&rsquos Seattle Central Labor Council.[15]As historian Dana Frank states, &ldquo…the leadership of the labor movement and the Socialist Party were in many cases interchangeable.&rdquo[16] And yet, as pro-socialist as the Seattle AFL-locals may have been in the pre-war era, the Socialist Party was unsure of the Gompers-dominated national AFL organization. As for the IWW and the Socialist Party, an uneasy peace between the two organizations existed.[17] For a while, the socialists seemed comfortable playing the role of ideological middleman between the more conservative trade unions and the more revolutionary IWW. United by their common enemy in the form of the capitalist employers and anti-labor politicians, the Pacific Northwest Left was able to remain precariously aligned during the pre-war years.

The political and economic climate of pre-war Seattle was strongly influenced by radical politics and organized labor. As long as the IWW stuck to organizing unskilled workers while the AFL focused on skilled labor, a truce among the labor organizations was maintained. As for the Socialist Party, although far from being a powerful national force, key electoral victories and support from ranking members in Seattle&rsquos trade unions, meant that left-wing politics had a strong foothold in the Pacific Northwest.[18] Apart from the radical socialist and syndicalist elements, there also existed a large presence of progressives, liberals and pacifist church groups. If sustained radical activism was going to manifest itself anywhere in the U.S., it would be in the Pacific Northwest with Seattle as the epicenter.

A Foreign War – Europe in Flames, 1914

On June 28th, 1914, gunshots rang out through the streets of Sarajevo, Serbia. A Serbian assassin had killed the Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and ignited a chain reaction that swept through Europe. In less than two months, all of Europe was at war.[19] Almost immediately, the European Left was forced into a difficult position – stick to their ideological framework and oppose the war effort as an imperialist and capitalistic fight, or support the war effort in order to appear patriotic. Within days of the war, nearly every established Socialist Party in Europe voted in favor of the war.[20] On the other side of the Atlantic however, the reaction to the war was very different.

In the U.S., opposition to the European war cut across political and class lines. In 1914, nearly every sector of American society advocated for a policy of neutrality. Early on, President Woodrow Wilson declared, &ldquoThere is such a thing as a nation too proud to fight.&rdquo[21] Prominent pacifist and liberal organizations soon rushed to echo the call for U.S. neutrality. The establishment peace societies centered in the Midwest and East Coast rushed to form new organizations to spread a message of amity. The most important and largest organization for this cause was the American Union against Militarism (AUAM). The AUAM grew out of the Henry Street Peace Committee - prominent pacifist group made up of elite social reformers.[22] The new secretary of the AUAM, Roger Nash Baldwin, the prominent social worker and noted Progressive, remarked that AUAM&rsquos membership at the beginning of the war was &ldquoso much more prominent nationally than [those] in any other peace organizations.&rdquo[23] From the beginning, the was meant to be a big tent organization that brought together Progressive liberals, trade unions, and church groups in opposition to U.S. involvement in the war.

Although the early efforts of anti-war organizations such as the AUAM introduced the possibility of a united coalition of peace activists, the rhetoric and diversity of the anti-war activists was clear at both the national and local level. Even though the various political factions in the country were largely united in favor of U.S. neutrality, the arguments against the war differed widely between establishment groups and left-wing radicals. For national peace organizations like the AUAM, opposition to the war centered on &ldquopacifist and civil libertarian principles.&rdquo[24] But for more radical, left wing organizations which included the Socialist Party and IWW, opposition to the war was grounded in Marxist and class-conscious principles of anti-militarism.[25] Beginning in 1914, the Socialist Party was the political force most consistently expressing opposition to the war. Eugene Debs and the socialist Congressmen Meyer London and Victor Berger, all spoke out against the war and in favor of U.S. neutrality.

The split between national anti-war moderates in the AUAM, on one hand, and radicals on the other, was reproduced in the rhetoric of early anti-war activity in the Pacific Northwest. In Seattle, the socialist locals, IWW unions and militant farmer organizations all expressed their opposition to the war in class-based terms. Unlike national organizations, radical opposition to the war was viewed as a fight against capitalist exploitation and oppression of the working-class. Local socialists included Hulet Wells, James Duncan and several other members of the Seattle Central Labor Council (SCLC), repeatedly spoke out against the war in union meetings. Numerous union hall resolutions and party declarations were drafted and passed in the Pacific Northwest. In a statement drafted by Hulet Wells in 1914, the SCLC stated, &ldquo…we pledge our efforts against any attempt to draw our own country into a foreign war.&rdquo[26] In Everett, a socialist local declared that &ldquo…we, the Socialists of the United States do hereby agree: That we shall allow the said capitalists to patriotically do all the fighting and dying for THEIR country.&rdquo[27] The argument made by socialists in the Pacific Northwest was defiantly anti-capitalist, anti-militarist and anti-imperialist. In Everett, a Socialist local declared that &ldquo…we, the Socialists of the United States do hereby agree: That we shall allow the said capitalists to patriotically do all the fighting and dying for THEIR country&rdquo[28] Labor and radical newspapers ran socialist critiques of the war as a capitalist struggle. For example, the Seattle Herald published an article in September 1915, entitled &ldquoYou workers must end war, or war will end you.&rdquo It challenged the American working-class to oppose the war and described the war as the &ldquogreatest calamity to ever befall the human race.&rdquo[29] At the beginning of the war, even the more moderate and conservative papers like the Seattle Star and Seattle Times maintained a neutral stance.[30]Overall, in 1914, the climate in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest was more concerned with the struggles between organized labor and employers, than it was with a war that was perceived as a European affair.

War Clouds Gather – The Militarization of the Nation, 1915-1916

As the war entered its second year, calls for a &ldquoPreparedness Campaign&rdquo were telegraphed across the country. Although since 1914 the calls for national rearmament and &ldquomilitary preparedness&rdquo had been advocated by war hawks, such as former President Theodore Roosevelt the rearmament was not seriously considered until 1915.[31] The expansion of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans had angered Americans and pushed national sentiments toward a more bellicose mood. In November 1915, President Wilson called for massive increases to the size of U.S armed forces, reversing his previously pacifist positions.[32]What followed was a war drive unprecedented both in size and speed in the nation&rsquos history. Hundreds of pro-preparedness campaigns were stages in cities throughout the country. This marked a decisive shift in the mainstream, public discourse. Nationally, the push toward war was beginning to seem inevitable.

This renewed populist militarism disturbed the socialist and IWW&rsquos national leadership. The calls for preparedness were met with a flurry of anti-war and anti-capitalist denouncements from the American left. The Socialist Party released a statement declaring &ldquoWe proclaim NOT ONE DOLLAR FOR MILITARISM AND MURDER!&rdquo[33] The opposition from the left was clear and united. The Socialist Party inserted strong anti-war language into nearly every aspect of their party platform and constitution. For example, during the Socialist Party&rsquos elections of 1916, historian Philip Foner explains, &ldquothe platform pledge[d] the party&rsquos opposition to both appropriations for war and militarism, and called for the repeal of laws that provided for increased funds for the armed forces.&rdquo[34] The Party&rsquos stance differed from the AUAM which increasingly adopted what Baldwin referred to as a national platform focused on &ldquoa defensive role.&rdquo[35] Furthermore, the Socialist Party was the single most active national organization opposed to not only U.S. entry into the First World War, but also to militarism and imperialism writ large.

Starting in 1915 and continuing into 1916, the established peace societies were beginning to focus less on preventing war and more on containing the impact of militarism. These years marked the start of a radical transformation within the anti-war movement. Nationally, the liberal, upper-class and reform-minded peace societies had begun to side with Wilson&rsquos Administration and big business rather than pursue militant anti-war activities. The established pacifists and social reformers seemed unwilling to sacrifice years of respectability and prestige in opposing U.S. militarism. This left a significant vacuum in the national anti-war movement – a space that became increasingly filled by the socialists, IWW and other radical organizations.

Parallel to these political transformations, 1915 and 1916 witnessed a shift in the anti-war activities of organized labor. Initially, Samuel Gompers and the national AFL leadership had advocated U.S. neutrality in the war, along with the Wilson Administration. But as the call for military preparedness was sounded, Gompers&rsquo seized the opportunity to insure that he and the AFL leadership had a role in planning the war effort. With the creation of the National Council of Defense in 1916, Gompers secured his place as a member of the Committee on Labor.[36] For Gompers and much of the AFL leadership, their most important objective was to secure union jobs for white, skilled labor and protect the gains of the AFL over the previous decades. This meant that far from being committed to a strong anti-war policy, Gompers was motivated to maintain friendly relations with Wilson&rsquos Administration in hopes of carving out economic gains for organized labor. War with Germany would mean unprecedented industrial mobilization and Gompers wanted a piece of that economic transformation.

However, even as Gompers and the national AFL leadership backed militarism and preparedness, their radical rivals, the Industrial Workers of the World remained strangely ambiguous on their anti-war activities. For the IWW, war was a product of the capitalist system and class struggle. As an anti-militarist organization, the IWW saw no need to go out of their way to try to prevent war. As long as the fundamental capitalist economic relationships remained in place, war was inevitable. Although the IWW denounced patriotism and militarism as products of bourgeois society, the IWW never created a national strategy to combat militarism or protested the U.S. entrance into the war. In a sense, a strange form of fatalism overtook much of the IWW leadership. As early as 1916, the IWW told their membership to focus on solely on class struggle and give up anti-war activities.[37] However, despite the lack of a national IWW plan to address American militarism, many individual IWW members were at the forefront of local anti-war activities. Evidence of local IWW activities, especially in the Pacific Northwest, reveal that far from remaining silent, syndicalist and other IWW radicals were highly active in the anti-war movement.

As 1916 drew to a close and war with Germany grew increasingly more likely, the peace movement in America was at a crossroads. Nationally, organizations like the AUAM were losing support among their once loyal, establishment followers. Government officials, big business, liberal social reformers and organized labor were all capitulating to the war drive – thinking it was better to keep their positions in the seats of power than challenge the U.S. government and major corporations. Over the next three years, the anti-war movement began to increasingly rely on the support of radicals, especially in militant strongholds like Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, to form the bulwark of anti-war opposition.

Seattle&rsquos Opposition to Military Preparedness, 1915 – 1916

As the national discourse shifted toward favoring the war and military preparedness, the Pacific Northwest region took on a unique and growing radical dimension. Unlike the earlier, national anti-war organizations, local activism was generally working-class and propelled more by fears of conscription then by an inherent adherence to pacifist principles. This brand of working-class anti-militarism was especially pronounced in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Far removed from the pre-war peace organizations based out of New York, Boston and Chicago, the anti-war movement in Seattle only started to gain traction after the beginning of the preparedness campaigns. The evidence of an emerging anti-war movement came primarily from the activities by the Seattle Central Labor Council, socialist locals, radical labor press and individual anti-militarism activists throughout the city. Starting in the spring of 1916, a large, class conscious and radical anti-war movement was building in the streets and union halls of Seattle.

In December 1915, President Wilson, still ostensibly opposed to U.S. entry into the war, nevertheless called on Congress to immediately expand military forces in order to strengthen national defense.[38] This set a wave of Americanization and Preparedness parades throughout the U.S. In Seattle, business interests and the jingoistic establishment press were eager to jump onto the war bandwagon. Beginning in early 1916, the two largest papers in the city, the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, both aggressively pushed for the militarization of the city.[39] The pro-war factions in the city pursued preparedness through two primary venues in Seattle – the schools and patriotic leagues. Compulsory military training was established at high schools and the University of Washington. This resulted in a major backlash from the city&rsquos pacifists, radicals and organized labor. A leading representative of the anti-militarist opposition in the schools was a young radical, Anna Louise Strong. As the daughter of prominent pacifist minister Sydney Strong, Anna Louise Strong was popular with city&rsquos liberal middle class and the more radical working-class. Building off of this base of support, Strong gained a seat on the Seattle School Board. Together with fellow socialist board member Richard Winsor, Strong fought repeated attempts to introduce military training into the school system.[40] Winsor and Strong drew upon the support of women&rsquos clubs, organized labor and the Washington State Parents-Teacher Association (PTA) in their struggle against militarism. During a meeting of the Seattle Central Labor Council on May 10th, 1916, Strong spoke to the union members and presented her case against militarism and the push towards war. Supported by the President of the SCLC Hulet Wells and Secretary James Duncan, Strong&rsquos argument against the war was carried unanimously by all the union members present.[41] This vote, coupled with previous votes in the SCLC opposing the war, indicate a strong anti-war commitment among organized labor in the Seattle.

Nonetheless, labor&rsquos anti-war stance was not only motivated by pacifism or opposition to war solely on principle Seattle largest employer&rsquos associations were all backing preparedness and using the rhetoric of patriotism to denounce radical and union activities. Even before war was declared, Washington business interests leveled charges of treason against workers and organizations that attempted to organize labor. Economic interests and class warfare became reframed in the language of patriotism and preparedness.[42] To be pro-business and anti-union was associated with Americanism and patriotic duty and alternatively, to be anti-capitalist and pro-union was tantamount to pro-Germanism and treason.

The mapping of class conflicts over the issue of the war and American militarism, led to increasingly militant stances on both sides of the war question. Perhaps the first dramatic illustrations of this wartime class divide were the events during the Preparedness Parade on June 10th, 1916.[43] Seattle&rsquos veterans, newly formed patriotic business groups and pro-war newspapers all called for &ldquoAmericans to show their Stars and Strips&rdquo during the planned June parade. But this call to arms did not go without opposition. On May 28th, over 3,000 anti-war activists gathered at Dreamland Rink to protest the planned Preparedness Parade and form an anti-war platform. The mass protest was heavily advertised by several pacifist church groups as along with the SCLC.

During a May 24th gathering, the SCLC issued a call for the mass anti-militarism meeting to protest preparedness. At this meeting, union locals including the electrical workers, molders and carpenters all pledged to support the Council&rsquos anti-war stance.[44] In addition to working with other local organizations to protest preparedness, the SCLC drafted a statement to be wired to President Wilson and Congress, denouncing the Army Reorganization Bill. The following Sunday, May 28th, members of the SCLC and several other anti-militarist groups meet.[45] Although the Seattle Times reported the meeting in its typical anti-radical derisive tone, it is clear that the May 28th meeting included many of the labor, pacifist and radical leaders in the city. The protestors drafted a resolution rejecting the militaristic program of preparedness and endorsing a series of policy recommendations for Congress to adopt. Among the policies included in the resolution were women&rsquos suffrage, federal child labor legislation, unemployment insurance, higher wages, legislation to prevent the use of militia during strikes, and government ownership of the munitions industries.[46] This was a notably broad and ambitious platform. The seemingly disparate nature of the resolution reflected the diversity of the anti-militarist protestors. For many in the Seattle anti-war movement, the criticism and rejection of militarism was deeply tied to questions of worker&rsquos rights, class, civil liberties and gender equality. However, though the comprehensiveness of the early anti-war movement reflected its strength, a lack of cohesion and disagreement among the various elements later proved disastrous when facing government repression.

Ultimately, the actions of the anti-preparedness protestors were largely in vain. On June 10th, 1917 nearly 50,000 people participated in the Preparedness Day Parade.[47] The anti-militarism resolutions passed through the SCLC and activism on the School Board by Winsor and Strong had done little to push back the tide of war. If anything, protests from the socialists, pacifists and labor organizers had only served to further unite the government and business interests in favor of the war. Thus, the local resistance to the war mirrored the national discourse – with much of the middle classes and establishment liberals progressively seeing the futility of the anti-war cause, the radicals and anti-militarist labor organizations saw themselves increasingly isolated and vulnerable. The next two years saw some of the most devastating acts of government repression in the history of the U.S.

America Goes to War - Nationalism and Conscription, 1917 – 1918

The U.S. officially declared war on April 6th, 1917. Despite having campaigned on the slogan, &ldquoHe kept us out of the war&rdquo the recently reelected President Wilson broke his promise and plunged America into war just four months after his second inauguration. Wilson&rsquos betrayal of neutrality was met with little popular outrage. For a number of Americans the combination of the preparedness campaigns, patriotic fervor and a jingoistic press had convinced them that the war was necessary and just. As the hyper-patriotic Seattle Star wrote, &ldquoWar between the United States and Germany would spell peace for the world.&rdquo[48] The war soon helped to justify the imprisonment, silencing and deportation of thousands of dissenters was sold as a fight to preserve freedom and democracy.

The general public was not alone in moving away from a once-solid stance for neutrality. Nationally, Samuel Gompers and the AFL leadership enthusiastically endorsed the war and encouraged locals from all over the country to send letters of support to President Wilson.[49] Much of organized labor now saw the war as an opportunity to leverage their industrial weight in return for better wages, more jobs and a more secure seat at the negotiating table. Organized labor saw a chance for advancement and they seized it. However, every AFL local did not follow the dramatic reversal by Gompers and the AFL leadership in support of the war. The labor movement was now increasingly torn by the war. Conservative, skilled labor unions were siding with Wilson and Gompers in favor of the war, while the more radical immigrant unions remained staunchly anti-war.[50] This undermined labor&rsquos national solidarity during the war and weakened whatever bargaining power Gompers&rsquo had hoped to gain by siding with Wilson and the government.

In addition to the AFL abandonment of the anti-war movement, many of the national pacifist organizations collapsed with the U.S. declaration of war. Historian Robert Marchand explains that &ldquoas the nation became absorbed in the process of mobilizing for war, they [peace activists and social workers] often found that the circumstances of national emergency offered opportunities for unprecedented advances in many of their social programs.&rdquo[51] The establishment peace activists who had pushed for neutrality just a few years earlier, now found themselves unwilling to lose their prestige and position. Many of the most outspoken and successful anti-war advocates were quickly co-opted into the war drive. Lillian Wald, Florence Kelley, Grace Abbott and several other national anti-war figures were placed on committees of the Council of National Defense.[52] The loss of such prominent pacifist figures devastated the established peace organizations like the American Union Against Militarism. Having lost many of their most influential members, the AUAM turned from trying to prevent the war to simply minimizing its effects. Yet, under the leadership of Roger Baldwin, the AUAM also seemed more willing to reach out to radicals and pursue a much more militant anti-war program. The rise of the newly radicalized AUAM in April - May 1917, also coincided with the formation of revolutionary and radical anti-militarist organizations of the war.[53]

The Socialist Party and radical labor&rsquos response to the declaration of war was far different than most of the anti-war establishment. Instead of backing down or changing their position, the Socialists doubled down on their radicalism. The Socialists had never been satisfied by the mainstream peace societies&rsquo moralistic objections to war. For Socialists, the most powerful anti-war argument was that war was a product of the capitalist system. They charged that the working class fights and dies so that industry can profit. On April 7th, 1917, just one day after the U.S. officially declared war, the Socialist Party held an emergency convention in St. Louis. Far from shying away from their previous anti-war resolutions, the delegates including Kate Sadler of Washington State decided to continue active resistance of the war effort and conscription. Members were called on to agitate openly and en masse. Socialists were told to organize coalitions of radicals to oppose the war effort and disrupt military conscription. Over the next few months, Socialist locals printed anti-conscription pamphlets and staged mass meetings denouncing the evils of war. But while individual Socialists may have had an impact locally, world events were further reshaping the American radical anti-war movement.

Rounding out the newly formed coalition, radical anti-war movement groups included the People&rsquos Council of America for Peace and Democracy. The People&rsquos Council was formed in May 1917, partially as an American response to the Russian Revolution. The Council incorporated existing peace organizations, as well as bringing in more radical immigrant influences. Baldwin&rsquos AUAM sent delegates to the initial meeting of the People&rsquos Council in New York and began to transform itself into the civil liberties defense arm of the emerging radical movement. However, despite the participation of several notable liberals and the AUAM, the People&rsquos Council was mostly a mixed of various revolutionary Socialists.[54] Over the next few months the AUAM and the People&rsquos Council would play the dual roles of defending the civil liberties of those who spoke out against the war while at the same time protesting conscription. Together these organizations would carry the anti-war movement through its final stages of the war.

&ldquoResist! Refuse!&rdquo – Repression and Resistance in Seattle, 1917-1918

In a letter dated April 26th, 1917, Roger Baldwin wrote to Anna Louise Strong congratulating her for establishing the Seattle headquarters of the AUAM. In his letter, he asks Strong for a list of labor unions and farmers&rsquo organizations supporting the anti-militarist movement. Baldwin also inquires as to the state of the Socialist locals and expresses hope that the AUAM headquarters in Washington D.C. could continue to provide information from Congress.[55] This letter indicates that Anna Louise Strong as well as her father, Sydney Strong, remained the leading representatives of the AUAM after the declaration of war. But this letter was only the tip of Seattle&rsquos organized anti-militarist resistance.

For their part, Seattle&rsquos organized labor continued to play a major role in opposition to the war. Meeting notes for April show that despite Gompers&rsquo support for the war, the AFL-affiliated Seattle Central Labor Council urgently wired Congress and President Wilson to stop the push toward war. In the first month after the declaration, the SCLC also sent several letters expressing opposition to anti-war Senators and Congressmen.[56] Supporting resolutions protesting the war and conscription poured in for throughout the state – Tacoma, Spokane and associated labor unions all called the war effort into question. But the war question was now decided and in a reply letter from Senator Wesley Jones to the SCLC, the senator urged &ldquoloyalty&rdquo to the war cause. The war climate had already begun to demand open displays of patriotism. Even in their agitation, the SCLC was becoming increasingly aware of the risks of appearing un-American. At the April 11th meeting, the union council made time for a flag demonstration and the singing of &lsquopatriotic&rsquo hymns.[57]

The climate of fear and anti-radicalism was now even more pronounced than during the Preparedness campaigns. Once again, the pro-war Seattle Times and Seattle Star pushed for the marginalization and persecution of any anti-war radicals. In a story run only days after the declaration of war, the Seattle Star wrote, &ldquoToday, in this land of ours, there are only two classes of people. One class consists of Americans. These will stand solidly behind President Wilson. All others are TRAITORS.&rdquo[58] And by June 1917, the language of traitors was not just rhetorical. Congress passed the Espionage Act that essentially criminalized anti-war protests. The Sedition Act later strengthened the wartime repression in 1918.[59] Together these pieces of legislation legalized the violent crushing of any organization or individuals that opposed the U.S. war effort. In Seattle, government repression and wartime patriotic mob violence decimated the local radical resistance to the war.

Despite the threat of detention and violence from pro-war and government forces, the anti-militarist community of Socialists, pacifists, teachers, preachers and IWW members issued pamphlets, held town hall meetings and organized legal funds to support the defense of anti-war dissidents.[60] The Seattle anti-war activists included the former President of the SCLC Hulet Wells, socialist Kate Sadler, AUAM organizer Anna Louise Strong and self-proclaimed anarchist Louise Olivereau. One of the first, and perhaps the most famous case of anti-war activism during this period, was Hulet Wells&rsquo anti-war pamphlet. Written by a fellow socialist and Spanish American War veteran, Bruce Rogers, the flyer titled &ldquoNo Conscription! No Involuntary Service!&rdquo was an open protest against the then pending draft bill.[61] It read:

Resist! Refuse! Don&rsquot yield the first step toward conscription. Better to be imprisoned then to renounce your freedom of conscience… seek out those who are subject to the first draft. Tell them that we are refusing to register or be conscripted and to stand with us like men, and say to the masters: &ldquothou shall not Prussianize America!&rdquo

We are less concerned with autocracy that is abroad and remote than that which is immediate, imminent and at home. If we are to fight an autocracy the place to begin is where we first encounter it. If we are to break anybody's chains we must first break our own in the forging. If we must fight and die it is better that we do it upon soil that is dear to us against our masters, then for them where foreign shores will drink our blood. Better mutiny, defiance and the death of brave men with the light of morning upon our brows, than the ignominy of slaves and death with the mark of Cain and our hand spattered with the blood of those we have no reason to hate.[62]

For their role in helping to publish and distribute the flyer, Hulet Wells, Sam Sadler, and Joe and Morris Pass were charged with sedition. On September 13th, 1917, the trial of Wells and his co-conspirators began. The famous labor attorney George Vanderveer represented the defendants against the prosecutor Allen Clay.[63] During the trial evidence was presented that revealed local police had been used throughout the anti-war period to spy on labor and left-wing organizations, and gathered evidence of &ldquoanti-patriotic&rdquo activities. This confirmed the atmosphere of fear by the left – the agents of business and government had infiltrated many of the union locals and left-wing organizations. Despite several unsuccessful efforts by Vanderveer to have the case thrown out and an impassioned speech by Wells, the first trial ended with a split jury.[64] However, this setback did not stop the state prosecutor from holding a second trial on February 1918. This time, the same judge extolled the jury to perform their patriotic duties and stated, &ldquoThere are only two sides to the war. One side is in favor of this country the other is against it.&rdquo[65] After a short trial, Wells and his co-conspirators were convicted of sedition and sentenced to two years.

The trial of Wells and his co-conspirators became a rallying point for Seattle&rsquos anti-war leftists and was closely covered by the SCLC owned Seattle Union Record and the newly published Seattle Daily Call. The Daily Call itself was a product of the anti-war movement.[66] In a time of radical retreat the Daily Call was unabashedly socialist and perhaps, featured some of the strongest anti-war critiques in the country. When the first issue ran on July 28th, 1917, the paper was the most openly &ldquoRed&rdquo publication in the city. The editorial line was strongly anti-capitalist and anti-militarist. Thorwald G. Mauritzen, the new editor, hired Anna Louise Strong to cover the Wells trial and other anti-war activity for the paper. The front-page story of the first edition ran a story of &ldquoPawnbroker&rsquos Patriotism&rdquo which denounced the Washington Employers Association for using the war as cover to attack organized labor and the SCLC.[67] Despite being chronically underfunded and forced to pay commercial postage rates after being denied government second-class status, the Daily Call gained a following of 15,000 readers at its peak circulation. Mostly concentrated among the socialist locals and IWW workers in the shipyards and logging camps, the readership itself was a testament to the size of the anti-war movement in Seattle.[68] Furthermore, it seemed the readership could be mobilized to protest the war. In addition to anti-war editorials, the Daily Call prompted mass meetings against conscription. An early and notable incident reported by the Daily Call occurred on July 30th, 1917, when the Seattle branch of the People&rsquos Council invited socialist, James H. Maurer, to give a lecture on the state of the national anti-war movement and resistance to conscription. His lecture titled, &ldquoIs Conscription Constitutional,&rdquo was promoted by the Daily Call in every issue leading up to mass meeting.[69] The events on that night of the lecture came to typify the growing government violence and pro-war repression.

The night of the lecture, about fifteen minutes after Maurer began his talk soldiers and pro-war students from the University of Washington reportedly rushed the podium and broke up the talk. The chaos alarmed the nearly 5,000 people in attendance. The following day, July 31st, the Daily Call ran a furious headline: &ldquoSOLDIERS BREAK UP PEACE MEETING IN SEATTLE – 5,000 CITIZENS INSULTED&rdquo.[70] The article that followed was a devastating critique of the war, militarism and the capitalist system.

The meeting was called by the Seattle branch of the People&rsquos Council of America, and was not to hinder the government in efforts to raise an army, but to urge upon the people to make strenuous efforts to preserve their liberty from the threatened militarism, a sample of which was shown last night by the very tactics to be feared.[71]

This set the tone for the rest of the Daily Call&rsquos issues. The paper was the only consistent anti-war publication in the city until the end of the war. Later issues continued to denounce the war hysteria by publishing cartoons and articles critical of the war effort. Still, the Daily Call&rsquos outspoken and radical stance eventually attracted the wrath of the Minute Men. On the night of January 5th, 1918, the Daily Call&rsquos print shop was attacked by a mob of pro-war militants who smashed the printing equipment and destroyed the cases of moveable type, ultimately causing $15,000 in damage.[72] Although the SCLC condemned the action and a number of anti-war activist sympathized with the Daily Call, little was done to address this type of violence against the left in Seattle.

As the political persecution increased, anti-war activities were contained as leading activists were arrested, deported or fired from their jobs. Kate Sadler, the city&rsquos leading socialist was repeatedly arrested, as was her husband Sam Sadler.[73] Anna Louise Strong faced a recall election in March 1918 after the Minute Men collected signatures opposing her radical policies as part of the Seattle School Board. The recall election served as a referendum to demonstrate the division of the city – Strong was only narrowly defeated with 21,447 against 27,167 votes.[74] Strong was supported by organized labor and socialists while the opposition brought together business interest and Seattle&rsquos establishment to defeat Strong.

In addition to Wells, Sadler and Strong, other activists were persecuted during this period including IWW member and anarchist – Louise Olivereau. She had been active in drafting and distributing anti-draft pamphlets which encouraged young men to refuse to serve in the war. A typist and possibly a schoolteacher, Olivereau led a rather unremarkable life before the war. However, in September 1917, during a local raid of an IWW meeting hall which was also part of a nationwide effort, police discovered anti-war pamphlets belonging to Olivereau.[75] Instead of denying that the pamphlets were hers, Olivereau declared them to be her private property. What followed was a courtroom drama rarely seen since. Olivereau refused to denounce her radical beliefs and openly declared that she was anti-war and an anarchist. &ldquoThe rights of free speech, free assemblage, and free press, are guaranteed to the people of this nation in its Constitution&rdquo Olivereau declared, &ldquobut we have never had really free speech, nor a really free press, nor a really freedom of assemblage it has always been limited to &lsquofreedom within the law,&rsquo which is not freedom at all.&rdquo[76] This rousing defense of radicalism and freedom did little to help sway the jury. Sentenced to serve 10 years in federal prison, Olivereau quickly became recognized as one of the &ldquoclass-war&rdquo prisoners of anti-war movement.[77]

Olivereau was just one of the hundreds of Wobblies eventually jailed or deported. Although the IWW leadership had advised their members not to agitate against the war and to turn all of their energies toward class struggle, many formed an important part of the anti-war left in Seattle. However, regardless of the IWW&rsquos involvement in anti-war activities, they were not able to avoid controversy. The government and business interests had planned to use the war to destroy the IWW, the primary subversive target under the Sedition and Espionage Acts.[78]

This led to an unprecedented level of wartime repression of the IWW. In Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, meeting halls were destroyed, leaders imprisoned and foreign-born IWW members deported. This wartime repression of the IWW is chronicled in Albert Gunn&rsquos book, Civil Liberties in Crisis: The Pacific Northwest, 1917-1940. In his study of IWW repression during the war, Gunn finds that during a six-month period from May 1st to November 1st 1918, the IWW was prosecuted more often than any other organization.[79] The Seattle division of the American Protective League, a pro-war patriotic organization, brought 1,198 cases to trial on charges of &ldquoIWW agitation.&rdquo[80] In Seattle, the effort to use the anti-radical wartime powers to eliminate the IWW involved nearly every part of city and state government, as well as vigilante organizations like the Minute Men. In the spring of 1918, the Minute Men assisted in arresting over 200 Wobblies who were then marked for deportation. Unlike the socialists or other radical groups targeted during the war, the Wobblies were systematical rooted out and targeted with exceptional charges. The result of these charges was often deportation and the dismantling of IWW meeting halls.[81] As a result of such concentrated repression, the IWW emerged from the World War I irreparably damaged both as an organization and ideologically.

World War I in Perspective – America&rsquos First Working Class Anti-War Movement

The American anti-war movement during the First World War must be remembered as much for its successes as its failures. History recalls the opposition to the American entry into the war as a stemming from the work of a few radicals and social activists. The civil libertarian principles of Roger Baldwin and his National Civil Liberties Bureau live on the in the work of the ACLU. Jane Addams&rsquo pacifist stance and push for social reform helped pave the way for contemporary social workers. Eugene V. Debs&rsquo now famous Canton, Ohio speech is held as a masterpiece of American civil disobedience. But this narrative of history, this cataloging of great leaders of the anti-war movement, ignores the everyday heroics of ordinary people in resisting American militarism. The working-class movement that opposed the war during the most repressive and dangerous times articulated a vision to not just stop the war, but to fundamentally restructure American society. The radical anti-militarist movement of 1917 to 1919, especially in Seattle, is arguably the closest the U.S. has come to mass, left wing revolution in the 20th century. In a time when the nation finds itself struggling find an end to the Global War on Terror and a growing military-industrial complex, it may be time to once again recall that old headline from a socialist daily – &ldquoYou workers must end war, or war will end you.&rdquo

Copyright (c) 2014 Rutger Ceballos
HSTAA 498 Fall 2013 HSTAA 499 Spring 2014

Gompers Pledges Labor's Support for World War I - HISTORY

Samuel Gompers never favored war, but when it came he knew which side he was on. As an American, he was on his country's side--there was no other choice, he believed, once war was imminent. And as a trade unionist, he was on the American Federation of Labor's side--wartime demands put a premium on all-out production, opening new opportunities for the labor movement. "This war is a people's war," Gompers proclaimed. "The final outcome will be determined in the factories, the mills, the shops, the mines, the farms, the industries, and the transportation agencies of the various countries." Victory abroad would require industrial peace at home, he knew, but it would also require some fundamental changes in industrial relations. As the AFL Executive Council put it in the spring of 1917, economic justice was the cornerstone of national defense. "War has never put a stop to the necessity for struggle to establish and maintain industrial rights," the Council noted. "Wage-earners in war times must . . . keep one eye on the exploiters at home and the other upon the enemy threatening the national government."1

This volume of the Samuel Gompers Papers focuses on the AFL's struggle to serve the nation and the labor movement during a critical period in American history, when this country's official policy of neutrality gave way to the forces of war. Beginning with Gompers' last minute effort to persuade German workers to help prevent war with the United States, it follows the labor movement's internal debate over the meaning of American participation and the Executive Council's pragmatic--and in some cases reluctant--pledge of support, offered just weeks before war was declared. Consensus did not come easily, since opposition to entering the war was widespread at the time. Leaders of the needle trades unions, the Chicago Federation of Labor, and the Pennsylvania State Federation of Labor, for instance, all opposed American involvement. Once the United States joined the Allied forces in April, however, debate grew less fierce, particularly after the Socialist Party of America denounced participation in the war. As the Socialist party lost credibility with most of the labor movement, Gompers was able to solidify AFL support for the war effort, a crucial step in his campaign to "render constructive service that will not only have its influence in war situations," as he told the Executive Council, "but will also affect the standing of wage-earners in time of peace."2

This volume also charts the evolution of a new relation between organized labor and the federal government that began with Gompers' controversial promise to forgo labor's fight for the "closed" union shop and gave rise to a series of labor-adjustment boards that supported the eight-hour day, equal pay for equal work, and labor's right to organize and bargain collectively with employers. Thus for the first time in American history, organized labor was recognized as a vital partner in the war effort, a radical change in national policy that President Woodrow Wilson acknowledged when he addressed the AFL's convention in the fall of 1917. Praising Gompers for "his patriotic courage, his large vision, and his statesmanlike sense of what has to be done," Wilson frankly admitted that, "While we are fighting for freedom, we must see . . . that labor is free . . . that the conditions of labor are not rendered more onerous by the war . . . [and] that the instrumentalities by which the conditions of labor are improved are not blocked or checked." 3

This potent combination of wartime demand and government support revitalized the labor movement nationwide. Jobs were plentiful, expectations high, and labor turnover was widespread, conditions that nurtured the rising popular demand for industrial democracy. As war-related production increased between 1916 and 1917, workers called a record number of strikes--in fact more than 2,000 strikes erupted during the first six months of the war, usually over issues of work rules and union recognition. By 1918 more than 2.7 million workers claimed membership in the AFL--an increase of 31.5 percent since 1916, and 86 percent since the rise of the open shop movement in 1903. 4 With new affiliates as varied as the National Federation of Federal Employes and the International Union of Timber Workers, the AFL also launched wartime organizing campaigns among steel, packing house, electrical manufacturing, and railroad shop workers, and met with representatives of the black community to spur organization among shipyard workers and others. At the same time, the Federation kept up its ongoing campaign to organize women workers who were rapidly entering iron and steel, glass, leather, and chemical factories. During the war women were producing bombs, operating drills, reading blueprints, and driving cranes, as well as sewing tents and uniforms, changing the face of industry--although not necessarily the minds of male coworkers--almost overnight. 5

For Gompers, these years were the high point of his career. Long recognized as a talented administrator, negotiator, organizer, and public speaker within the labor movement, he now joined the ranks of national policy makers, serving as a member of the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense (CND) and chairman of its Committee on Labor. As the official liaison between the federal government and organized workers, Gompers was directly involved in matters of economic mobilization, particularly manpower mobilization, and he played a central role in the development of wartime labor policies, with an eye to increasing production, reducing industrial conflict, and advancing labor's wage and hour standards. Trading ideas, and in some cases vehement criticisms, with CND colleagues, including financier Bernard Baruch, railroad president Daniel Willard, and head of the American College of Surgeons Franklin Martin (who initially considered Gompers to be an "`agitator,' anarchist . . . and all-round bad man"), Gompers zealously argued labor's case for the eight-hour day, safe working conditions, union wage standards, and collective agreements. He also championed federal legislation to protect the families of servicemen and improve living conditions in wartime "boomtowns," and lobbied for labor representation on district draft boards, the Railroad Wage Commission, the War Industries Board, and the Committee on Taxation of War Profits, among many others. "We are not going to give up our liberty. We are not going to give up our rights," he told the CND. "What matters it to the men of labor, if, in the struggle for the freedom and democracy of the United States . . . chains in the guise of slavery are fastened upon them?" 6

Gompers relished the public attention and access to governmental power that came with his committee chairmanship. But he was fully aware that his appointment to the Advisory Commission was a means, not an end, for organized labor. From the very beginning the AFL leader was on the defensive, fighting state efforts to conscript skilled labor, waive hard-won protective legislation, and resurrect child labor, all under the guise of wartime necessity. At the same time, Gompers used his position with the CND to educate his new colleagues, for as Dr. Martin acknowledged, "he had to convince those of us associated with him that the conditions among the working people of the country were as desperate as they afterwards proved to be." 7 By most accounts, he acquitted himself well. "From every side the word comes to me of a new appreciation, not only of Mr. Gompers, himself," Secretary of Commerce William Redfield noted in the summer of 1917, "but of the great cause of which he is the able leader." His fellow commissioners agreed. "He always talked to the point, he always interested, he always finally convinced," Dr. Martin noted. "His influence grew from the first day of our meeting until the war was over." Even his erstwhile nemesis, Daniel Willard, had to concede that Gompers was doing a good job. "If anyone had told me that my personal antagonism toward Samuel Gompers would change within 1 week to ardent admiration and real affection," he confessed, "I would have pronounced that individual a fit candidate for an insane asylum." 8

In the process of proving his competence and reliability, though, Gompers never abandoned his trade union goals. On the contrary, he stood his ground, whether he stood alone or not, on a number of controversial issues, from protecting prevailing union standards to opposing wartime prohibition for soldiers. 9 And according to Ralph Easley, his longtime associate on the National Civic Federation--and an early proponent and organizer of the CND--Gompers sought no outside advice when it came to matters like "mediation, restrictions, output, [and] standards." In fact, he was making "better headway from the standpoint of labor than if we had all been in it," Easley reported, "because we certainly would not have agreed with all the propositions that the A.F. of L. people have put up to the Government." 10 During this period Gompers also worked behind the scenes to win a new trial for Tom Mooney, a labor radical and alleged bomb-thrower, and publicly endorsed the idea of taxing corporate war profits out of existence. In fact, his blunt assessment of capital's failure to match labor's wartime contributions drew increasing support--and requests for help--from a broad range of wage earners. Enraged citizens called on him to fight sky-high food and housing costs. German-American workers, unjustly maligned as enemy agents, looked to Gompers to help them regain their jobs. Unorganized workers of all kinds--black, female, and immigrant--called on him for advice and assistance.

Consequently, Gompers was working harder than ever before--no mean feat for a man who was already known to schedule meetings on the train, so as not to waste travel time. Although he could rely on an extremely competent staff, led by Frank Morrison and R. Lee Guard in the AFL office, and James Sullivan and Gertrude Beeks Easley at the Committee on Labor of the CND, the AFL president was always in demand. Mothers begged him to save their sons from the battlefield, and friends and acquaintances pestered him for jobs, draft deferments, or help getting placed in the military. The United Garment Workers kept him busy with their fight against the Amalgamated Clothing Workers over the right to sew military uniforms. The Carpenters regularly challenged his authority to make agreements with the government or interfere with their right to strike. And the rise of the People's Council of America for Democracy and Peace--which called for immediate peace negotiations and drew support from foreign-born workers and socialist union leaders--led Gompers to participate in founding the American Alliance for Labor and Democracy (AALD), a government-funded organization of trade unionists and prowar socialists determined to "Americanize" the immigrant workforce and insure their wartime support. 11

At the same time, Gompers was trying to resolve serious fights that threatened fragile ties between government and labor. In Bisbee, Arizona, striking copper miners were loaded on cattle cars and "deported" to New Mexico in Northwest timber camps recurring IWW strikes induced an army officer to launch his own union--the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen and in shipyards along the Pacific Coast, government mediation boards repeatedly failed to satisfy striking workers. The AFL leader was also expected to take a leading role in wartime organizing campaigns. As Edward Nockels put it--when he wanted Gompers' help to "clinch" the packinghouse workers' campaign in Chicago--"All we need is Sam." 12

By any measure, these were momentous years. In Russia the Bolsheviks were rising to power, and all over Europe new socialist labor alliances were beginning to take shape. In the United States, black Americans were starting the great migration from farms to cities that would eventually remake American society, and young women--especially young working women--were claiming a measure of personal freedom that would make them "new women" in public. At the same time, though, a reaction against too much change on the labor front was also beginning to take hold. The arrest and conviction of militant IWW and antiwar leaders, including Bill Haywood and Eugene Debs, heralded the first--and at the time, almost unnoticed--steps of a Red Scare that would take an enormous toll on the labor movement in the years to come. These and other critical issues were on Gompers' mind during the war, and he was kept up to date by a wide range of correspondents, including William Appleton and Arthur Henderson in England, organizers John Fitzpatrick and Emmett Flood in Chicago, C. O. Young in Seattle, and Ernest Bohm in New York, former members of the Socialist party John Spargo and Chester Wright, who worked with him on the AALD, and a host of government officials and reformers of every stripe.

For Gompers, these years were profoundly significant on a personal level too. In 1917, the AFL president celebrated fifty years of service to the labor movement and fifty years of marriage to Sophia Julian Gompers--the former sixteen-year-old cigar stripper from Brooklyn who had eloped with him the day after his seventeenth birthday. The following year, Gompers proudly traveled to Europe, at the urging of the Wilson administration, attending the British Trade Union Congress in Derby and the Inter-Allied Labour and Socialist Conference in London. He then traveled to Belgium, France, and Italy, where he saw the destructive power of war at first hand. Doing his best to promote President Wilson's Fourteen Points wherever he was asked to speak, Gompers publicly debated pacifists and European "Bolsheviki," as he put it, and tried "like the mischief . . . [to put] some stiffening into the backbone of the people . . . [to make them] stand behind their countries at least until after the war was won." 13

In the midst of carrying out this duty for his country, however, Gompers received shattering news from home. Sadie, his youngest child and cherished "pet," had died unexpectedly, a victim of the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918. This was not the first time he had lost a close family member while he was away from home, and it was not the first time he had buried a child--both his mother and his daughter Rose had died while he was traveling on behalf of the AFL, and his son Abraham had died in 1903 from tuberculosis. But Sadie still lived at home, where she had made family life "happy, mirthful, and musical" for her parents, and her death was a blow from which they never truly recovered. Without her, "there was no music," Gompers wrote a few years later, adding that his wife, Sophia, "never came back to herself after our Sadie's death." 14

A "welcome home" meeting had been scheduled for Chicago to honor Gompers' service, but acting AFL president John Alpine took it for granted that it would be canceled or at least postponed so that Gompers might have time to grieve. It would be "inhuman," he thought, to expect from Gompers "what everyone else seems to expect, that it will be a relief to his feelings" to go on with things as planned. But perhaps because it was the only way he knew how to survive, Gompers did exactly that. Following the same advice he had given to so many others during the war, he "stiffened his backbone" and made his way to Chicago and then Laredo, Texas, giving speeches, conducting meetings, and demonstrating the strength of character and self-discipline that, for better or worse, had shaped his longtime leadership of the AFL. 15

Firm in his belief that the war had been a crusade for "justice, freedom and democracy," Gompers reminded the cheering crowd in Chicago that labor's fight was not over yet. "The principles of democracy do not flash in the air, they are not fanciful, they are not theoretical. . . . Democracy must be practiced and acted every day of our lives to be true," he explained. "As a result of this war there must come new relations not only between nation and nation but between man and man. . . . We want . . . the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not to be mere generalities but the rules of every-day life." This was the vision that had propelled him during these years, the idea that the destruction of war would give way to "new ideals and conditions based upon broader and truer concepts of human rights." And now that the war had triumphantly ended, as he wrote to President Wilson on the day the armistice was signed, Gompers was confident that a "new era in the life of the peoples and nations of the world" was about to begin, one in which he and the AFL were determined to play a role. 16

Primary Documents - Samuel Gompers on U.S. Policy of Conscription, May 1917

Samuel Gompers was a prominent U.S. trade union leader in the years prior to and during World War One. As president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) from its inception in 1888 Gompers was a moderate trade unionist, believing that employee relations could best be encouraged through an effective dialogue between management and workers.

Such views inevitably led the AFL to be associated in the minds of many with the Democratic Party - and indeed the AFL publicly supported the 1908 Democratic presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, on account of his pro-union policies.

Although a committed pacifist he recognised the advantageous possibilities open to U.S. labour as a consequence of the declaration of war in Europe in August 1914. His personal views notwithstanding, he was nevertheless keen that his union's membership - comprised of some 2.4 million predominantly white skilled workers - should benefit from the boom in orders placed by the belligerent powers in Europe.

The U.S. did not enter the war until April 1917 however Gompers was one of many campaigners encouraging a state of war readiness in 1916. Accordingly he was appointed as an advisor to the Council of National Defense in October 1916.

Gompers worked closely with U.S. propagandist George Creel to encourage domestic support for the war effort once President Wilson formally declared hostilities in April 1917.

Reproduced below is the text of a speech by Gompers supporting a policy of conscription in the U.S.

Samuel Gompers on U.S. Conscription Policy, 1917

I have counted myself happy in the companionship of the men and women who called themselves pacifists. There was not a State or national or international peace society of which I was not a member, and in many instances an officer. As a trade unionist, with its practices and its philosophies, I have been in happy accord with our movement for international peace.

At a great gathering in Faneuil Hall, Boston, some years ago, I gave utterance to my soul's conviction that the time had come when great international wars had been put to an end, and I expressed the opinion that in the last analysis, if those who are the profit-mongers by "war" undertook to create a war, the working people of the countries of the world would stop work simultaneously, if necessary, in order to prevent international war.

I was sent as a delegate from the American Federation of Labor to the International Congress of Labor in 1909, held at Paris, France, and there at that conference, incidental to it, there was arranged one of the greatest mass meetings I have ever attended, at which the representatives of the labour movement of each country declared that there would not be another international war.

And I went home, happy in the further proof that the time of universal peace had come. And I attended more peace conferences. I was still firmly persuaded that the time had come, and until 1914 I was in that Fool's Paradise.

I doubt if there were many who were so thoroughly shocked to the innermost depths of their being as I was with the breaking out of the European War. But it had come!

And as it went on, ruthlessly, we saw a terrific conflict in which the dominating spirit was that the people attacked must be subjugated to the will of the great autocrat of his time regardless of how our sympathies ran, and that men who had given the best years of their lives in the effort to find some means, some secret of science or of nature, so that the slightest ill or pain of the most insignificant of the race might be assuaged, turned to purposes of destruction.

At the call of this autocrat, His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Germany, men were set at attack, and we found that these very men were clutching at each other's throats and seeking each other's destruction.

The United States has declared that she can no longer live in safety when there is stalking throughout the earth this thunderous machine of murder. The United States authoritatively has declared that peace is desirable and should be brought about, but that peace is impossible so long as life and liberty are challenged and menaced.

The Republic of the United States has cast her lot with the Allied countries fighting against the greatest military machine ever erected in the history of the world.

I am made ill when I see or hear any one suffering the slightest pain or anguish, and yet I hold that it is essential that the sacrifice must be made that humanity shall never again be cursed by a war such as the one which has been thrust upon us.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

Saturday, 22 August, 2009 Michael Duffy

The Russian war ace Alexander Kozakov claimed 20 victories during the war his nearest compatriot, Vasili Yanchenko, claimed 16.

- Did you know?


Lewis was born in or near Cleveland, Lucas County, Iowa (distinct from the present township of Cleveland in Davis County), to Thomas H. Lewis and Ann (Watkins) Lewis, immigrants from Llangurig, Wales. Cleveland was a company town, built around a coal mine developed one mile east of the town of Lucas. [3] His mother and grandparents were members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), and the boy was raised in the church's views regarding alcohol and sexual propriety, as well as a just social order that favored the poor. While his maternal grandfather was an RLDS pastor and Lewis periodically donated to his local RLDS church for the rest of his life, there is no definite evidence that he formally joined the Midwestern Mormon denomination. [4]

Lewis attended three years of high school in Des Moines and at the age of 17 went to work in the Big Hill Mine at Lucas. In 1906, Lewis was elected a delegate to the United Mine Workers (UMW) national convention. In 1907, he ran for mayor of Lucas and launched a feed-and-grain distributorship. Both were failures and Lewis returned to coal mining.

He moved to Panama, Illinois, where in 1909 he was elected president of the UMW local. In 1911 Samuel Gompers, the head of the AFL, hired Lewis as a full-time union organizer. Lewis traveled throughout Pennsylvania and the Midwest as an organizer and trouble-shooter, especially in coal and steel districts. [5]

After serving as statistician and then as vice-president for the UMWA, Lewis became that union's acting president in 1919. On November 1, 1919, he called the first major coal union strike, and 400,000 miners walked off their jobs. President Woodrow Wilson obtained an injunction, which Lewis obeyed, telling the rank and file, "We cannot fight the Government." In 1920, Lewis was elected president of the UMWA. He quickly asserted himself as a dominant figure in what was then the largest and most influential trade union in the country. [ citation needed ]

Coal miners worldwide were sympathetic to socialism, and in the 1920s, Communists systematically tried to seize control of UMWA locals. William Z. Foster, the Communist leader, opposed dual unions in favor of organizing within the UMWA. The radicals were most successful in the bituminous (soft) coal regions of the Midwest, where they used local organizing drives to gain control of locals, sought a national labor political party, and demanded federal nationalization of the industry. Lewis, committed to cooperation among labor, management, and government, took tight control of the union. [6]

He placed the once-autonomous districts under centralized receivership, packed the union bureaucracy with men directly beholden to him, and used UMWA conventions and publications to discredit his critics. The fight was bitter but Lewis used armed force, red-baiting, and ballot-box stuffing and, in 1928, expelled the leftists. As Hudson (1952) shows, they started a separate union, the National Miners' Union. In Southern Illinois, amidst widespread violence, the Progressive Mine Workers of America challenged Lewis but were beaten back. [7] After 1935, Lewis invited the radical organizers to work for his CIO organizing drives, and they soon gained powerful positions in CIO unions, including auto workers and electrical workers.

Lewis was often denounced as a despotic leader. He repeatedly expelled his political rivals from the UMWA, including John Walker, John Brophy, Alexander Howat and Adolph Germer. Communists in District 26 (Nova Scotia), including Canadian labor legend J. B. McLachlan, were banned from running for the union executive after a strike in 1923. McLachlan described him as "a traitor" to the working class. [8] Lewis nonetheless commanded great loyalty from many of his followers, even those he had exiled in the past.

A powerful speaker and strategist, Lewis used the nation's dependence on coal to increase the wages and improve the safety of miners, even during several severe recessions. He masterminded a five-month strike, ensuring that the increase in wages gained during World War I would not be lost. In 1921 Lewis challenged Samuel Gompers, who had led the AFL for nearly forty years, for the presidency of the AFL. William Green, one of his subordinates within the Mine Workers at the time, nominated him William Hutcheson, the President of the Carpenters, supported him. Gompers won. Three years later, on Gompers' death, Green succeeded him as AFL President. [9]

In 1924, Lewis a Republican, [10] framed a plan for a three-year contract between the UMWA and the coal operators, providing for a pay rate of $7.50 per day (about $111 in 2019 dollars when adjusted for inflation). President Coolidge and then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover were impressed with the plan, and Lewis was offered the post of Secretary of Labor in Coolidge's cabinet. Lewis declined, a decision he later regretted. Without government support, the contract talks failed and coal operators hired non-union miners. The UMWA treasury was drained, but Lewis was able to maintain the union and his position within it. He was successful in winning the 1925 anthracite (hard coal) miners' strike by his oratorical skills.

Great Depression Edit

Lewis supported Republican Herbert Hoover for US President in 1928 in 1932, as the Great Depression bore brutally on the mining camps, he officially backed Hoover but quietly supported Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1936, his union made the largest single contribution, over $500,000, to Roosevelt's successful campaign for reelection.

Lewis was appointed a member of the Labor Advisory Board and the National Labor Board of the National Recovery Administration in 1933 he used these positions to raise wages of miners and reduce competition. He gambled on a massive membership drive and won, as he piggybacked on FDR's popularity: "The President wants you to join the UMW!" Coal miners represented many ethnic groups, and Lewis shrewdly realized that they shared a faith in Roosevelt he was careful not to antagonize any of the immigrant ethnic groups, and he appealed to African-American members as well.

He secured the passage of the Guffey Coal Act in 1935, which was superseded by Guffey-Vinson Act in 1937 after the 1935 act was declared by the US Supreme Court to be unconstitutional. Both of acts were favorable to miners. Lewis had long had the idea that the highly competitive bituminous coal industry, with its sharp ups and downs and cut-throat competition, could be stabilized by a powerful union that set a standard wage scale and could keep recalcitrant owners in line with selective strikes. The acts made that possible, and coal miners entered a golden era. At all times, Lewis rejected socialism and promoted competitive capitalism. [11]

With the open support of the AFL and the tacit support of the UMWA, Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated and elected President in 1932, and Lewis benefited from the New Deal programs that followed. Many of his members received relief. Lewis helped secure passage of the Guffey Coal Act of 1935, which raised prices and wages, but it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. [12] Thanks to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, union membership grew rapidly, especially in the UMWA. Lewis and the UMW were major financial backers of Roosevelt's reelection in 1936 and were firmly committed to the New Deal.

At the AFL's annual convention in 1934, Lewis gained an endorsement from them of the principle of industrial unionism, as opposed to limitations to skilled workers. His goal was to unionize 400,000 steel workers, using his UMWA resources (augmented by leftists he had expelled in 1928). With the leaders of nine other large industrial unions and the UMWA in November 1935, Lewis formed the "Committee for Industrial Organization" to promote the organization of workers on an industry-wide basis. Key allies were Philip Murray (the UMWA man Lewis picked to head the steel union) Sidney Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) and David Dubinsky of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU). [13]

The entire CIO group was expelled from the AFL in November 1938 and became the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), with Lewis as the first president. The growth of the CIO was phenomenal in steel, rubber, meat, autos, glass and electrical equipment. In early 1937, his CIO affiliates won collective-bargaining contracts with two of the most powerful anti-union corporations, General Motors and United States Steel. General Motors surrendered as a result of the great Flint Sit-Down Strike, during which Lewis negotiated with company executives, Governor Frank Murphy of Michigan, and President Roosevelt. U.S. Steel conceded without a strike, as Lewis secretly negotiated an agreement with Myron Taylor, chairman of U.S. Steel. [14]

The CIO gained enormous strength and prestige from the victories in automobiles and steel and escalated its organizing drives, targeting industries that the AFL had long claimed, especially meatpacking, textiles, and electrical products. The AFL fought back and gained more members, but the two rivals spent much of their energy fighting each other for members and for power inside local Democratic organizations. [14]

Lewis rhetoric Edit

Journalist C. L. Sulzberger described Lewis's rhetorical skill in the "Crust of Bread" speech. Operators who opposed a contract were often shamed into agreement by Lewis's accusations. A typical Lewis speech to operators would go, "Gentlemen, I speak to you for the miners' families. The little children are gathered around a bare table without anything to eat. They are not asking for a $100,000 yacht like yours, Mr. " (here, he would gesture with his cigar toward an operator), ". or for a Rolls-Royce limousine like yours, Mr. . " (staring at another operator). They are asking only for a slim crust of bread." [15]

World War II Edit

In the presidential election of 1940, Lewis rejected Roosevelt and supported Republican Wendell Willkie. The reasons for Lewis' souring on FDR and his New Deal are still contested. Some cite his frustration over FDR's response to the General Motors and "Little Steel" strikes of 1937, or the President's purported rejection of Lewis' proposal to join him on the 1940 Democratic ticket. Others point to power struggles within the CIO as the motivation for Lewis' actions. [16] Lewis drew fierce criticism from most union leaders. Reuben Soderstrom, President of the Illinois State Federation of Labor, ripped his former ally apart in the press, saying he had become "the most imaginative, the most efficient, the most experienced truth-twisting windbag that this nation has yet produced." [17] Lewis failed to persuade his fellow members. On election day, 85% of CIO members supported Roosevelt, thus rejecting Lewis's leadership. He resigned as president of the CIO but kept control of the UMWA.

Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lewis was staunchly opposed to American entry into World War II. Initially, he tapped into the anti-militarism that animated the left wing of the CIO. [18] He publicly opposed the prospect of a peacetime draft as "associated with fascism, totalitarianism and the breakdown of civil liberties," claiming in his 1940 Labor Day speech that there was "something sinister about the attempt to force conscription upon our nation, with no revelation of the purposes for which conscription is sought." [19] [20] Lewis' opposition to American intervention continued after the leftist coalition against it had splintered. In August of 1941 he joined Herbert Hoover, Alfred Landon, Charles Dawes, and other prominent conservatives in their appeal to Congress to halt President Roosevelt's "step-by-step projection of the United States into undeclared war." [21] [22] This action earned him the enmity of those on the left, including Lee Pressman and Len De Caux. [22]

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Lewis threw his full support behind FDR's government, stating "When the nation is attacked every American must rally to its support. All other consideration becomes insignificant. With all other citizens I join in the support of our government to the day of its ultimate triumph over Japan and all other enemies." [23]

In October of 1942, Lewis withdrew the UMWA from the CIO. Six months later, he substantively violated organized labor's no-strike pledge, spurring President Roosevelt to seize the mines. [17] The strike damaged the public's perception of organized labor generally and Lewis specifically the Gallup poll of June 1943 showed 87% disapproval of Lewis. [24] Some have asserted that Lewis' actions produced shortages which crippled wartime production in the defense industry. [25]

Postwar Edit

In the postwar years, Lewis continued his militancy his miners went on strikes or "work stoppages" annually. In 1945 to 1950, [26] he led strikes that President Harry S. Truman denounced as threats to national security. In response, industry, railroads and homeowners rapidly switched from coal to oil. [27]

After briefly affiliating with the AFL, Lewis broke with them again over signing non-Communist oaths required by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, making the UMW independent. Lewis, never a Communist, still refused on principle to allow any of his officials to take the non-Communist oath required by the Taft-Hartley Act the UMW was therefore denied legal rights protected by the National Labor Relations Board. He denounced Taft-Hartley as authorizing "government by injunction" and refused to follow its provisions, saying he would not be dictated to. [28]

Lewis secured a welfare fund financed entirely by the coal companies but administered by the union. In May 1950, he signed a new contract with the coal operators, ending nine months of regional strikes and opening an era of peaceful negotiations that brought wage increases and new medical benefits, including regional hospitals in the hills. [29]

In the 1950s, Lewis won periodic wage and benefit increases for miners and led the campaign for the first Federal Mine Safety Act in 1952. Lewis tried to impose some order on a declining industry through collective bargaining, and maintaining standards for his members by insisting that small operators agree to contract terms that effectively put many of them out of business. Mechanization nonetheless eliminated many of the jobs in his industry, while scattered non-union operations persisted. [ citation needed ]

Lewis continued to be as autocratic within the UMWA, padding the union payrolls with his friends and family, ignoring or suppressing demands for a rank-and-file voice in union affairs. Finally in 1959 the passage of the Landrum-Griffin Act forced reform. It ended the practice where the UMWA had kept a number of its districts in trusteeship for decades, meaning that Lewis appointed union officers who otherwise would have been elected by the membership. [ citation needed ]

Lewis retired in early 1960. The highly paid membership slipped below 190,000 because of mechanization, strip mining, and competition from oil. He was succeeded as president by Thomas Kennedy, who served briefly until his death in 1963. He was succeeded by Lewis's anointed successor, W. A. Boyle, known as Tony, a miner from Montana. He was considered just as dictatorial as Lewis, but without any of the longtime leader's skills or vision. [ citation needed ]

  • On September 14, 1964, four years after his retirement from the UMWA, Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson, his citation reading:

"[An] eloquent spokesman of labor, [Lewis] has given voice to the aspirations of the industrial workers of the country and led the cause of free trade unions within a healthy system of free enterprise."

Lewis retired to his family home, the Lee-Fendall House in Alexandria, Virginia, where he had lived since 1937. He lived there until his death on June 11, 1969. His passing elicited many kind words and fond remembrances, even from former rivals. "He was my personal friend," wrote Reuben Soderstrom, the President of the Illinois AFL-CIO, who had once lambasted Lewis as an "imaginative windbag," upon news of his death. Lewis, he said, would forever be remembered for "making almost a half million poorly paid and poorly protected coal miners the best paid and best protected miners in all the world." [32] He is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois.

Audio Recording Labor's service to freedom

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Samuel Gompers

Samuel Gompers ( né Gumpertz January 27, 1850 – December 13, 1924) [1] was a British-born American cigar maker, labor union leader and a key figure in American labor history. Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and served as the organization's president from 1886 to 1894, and from 1895 until his death in 1924. He promoted harmony among the different craft unions that comprised the AFL, trying to minimize jurisdictional battles. He promoted through organization and collective bargaining, to secure shorter hours and higher wages, the first essential steps, he believed, to emancipating labor. He also encouraged the AFL to take political action to "elect their friends" and "defeat their enemies". He mostly supported Democrats, but sometimes Republicans. He strongly opposed Socialists, and he was particularly opposed to immigrants from China, spreading racist arguments about their supposed inferiority. During World War I, Gompers and the AFL openly supported the war effort, attempting to avert strikes and boost morale while raising wage rates and expanding membership.

Watch the video: SMWIA History (June 2022).


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