Union Made: Labor Leader Samuel Gompers and His Fight for Workers' Rights

Union Made: Labor Leader Samuel Gompers and His Fight for Workers' Rights

by Norman H. Finkelstein


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Unsung hero Samuel Gompers worked tirelessly to ensure that no American worker would go unheard or overlooked, dedicating his life to fighting for their rights. This comprehensive middle-grade biography provides an in-depth look at Gompers, the founding father of the American Federation of Labor.

Born in England, Samuel Gompers grew up watching his father roll cigars, and at 10 years old, started rolling them himself. After immigrating to the United States, Gompers soon discovered his vocation to fight for the American laborer in his personal work experience. His charismatic, outspoken personality soon landed him the role of speaking on behalf of his fellow workers. His participation in various unsuccessful unions and other failed ventures to enact labor changes led to his creation of the American Federation of Labor. Faced with strikes that turned violent, opposition from the government, and lies perpetrated by anti-unionizers, Gompers persevered, and lived to see various measures enacted to ensure safe work environments, workers' compensation, and other basic laborer rights.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629796383
Publisher: Astra Publishing House
Publication date: 06/11/2019
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 627,177
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 10.10(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 10 - 17 Years

About the Author

Norman H. Finkelstein is a retired public school librarian who also teaches courses on children's literature and history at Hebrew College. He is the author of eighteen highly acclaimed nonfiction books and the recipient of two National Jewish Book Awards and the Golden Kite Honor Book Award for Nonfiction. He is a member of the Authors Guild and the Association of Jewish Libraries and Biographers International Organization.

Read an Excerpt

Before the American Federation of Labor was founded, the typical American worker toiled six days a week, often more than fourteen hours a day. Workers could lose their jobs for no reason. Working conditions were unhealthy and unsafe. Unions were small, local, and mostly powerless. Samuel Gompers created a national organization that became a powerful force in the country’s political and industrial life. The AFL helped bring about improvements in workers’ lives that we take for granted today…

Thanks to Sam, American workers in the twenty-first century have these basic rights:

An eight-hour workday and five-day workweek
Workers’ compensation for injuries
A safe and healthy work environment
Due process for removal from a job
Minimum wage requirements
Strict child labor laws

At a time when some workers embraced radical or socialist agendas, Sam insisted on working within the American capitalist system. Throughout his union life, Sam expressed pride in the United States and strongly supported American values and traditions. He deeply believed that “America is not merely a name, a land, a country, a continent; America is a symbol. It is an ideal, the hope of the world.”

A union’s responsibility, he said, was not to pursue revolution, but to focus strictly on “pure and simple” unionism: shorter hours, higher wages, and better working conditions. “It is our duty,” he told union members, “to live our lives as workers in the society in which we live, and not to work for the downfall or the destruction, or the overthrow of that society.” Sam’s faith in America and its traditions protected the AFL from the radical groups that believed in revolution and that workers and bosses had nothing in common. Although he initially opposed the AFL’s involvement in politics, he eventually encouraged union members to participate actively in the political system…

The AFL was founded with 200,000 members. At the time of his death, Sam counted nearly 4 million members—men and women of every race, religion, and political persuasion. Twenty-five years later, in 1949[BJ5] , AFL membership exceeded 10 million. In 1983, there were 17 million members, slightly more than 20 percent of all American workers. After that, union membership began to decline rapidly as large numbers of American factories closed and jobs moved overseas. With the upheaval in American manufacturing, it is no surprise that by 2017 the percentage of union members dropped to under 11 percent of American workers. Over 35 percent of Americans in public-sector positions (teachers, police-officers, firefighters etc.) were union members. Only 6.4 percent of private-sector workers were union members. 

Whether someone today is a union member or not, all American workers continue to benefit from Sam’s tireless efforts. Although he has been dead for more than ninety years, he is memorialized by school buildings, statues, and postage stamps. He is still honored as the great champion of workers not only in the United States but also around the world. Though short of stature, he projected the image of a giant. “I never got tired and gave any thought to my body,” he once said, “for it never demanded my attention. The Gomperses are built of oak.”

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