A biography of Samuel Gompers, leader of the American Federation of Labor.
A Jewish immigrant, Gompers had learned cigar-making in his London home and continued to work at this trade as an adult in the U.S. His interest in unions sprang from his experiences with fraternal organizations and his growing convictions that “the only way to improve working conditions was peacefully within the capitalist system.” In 1881, Gompers helped found the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada (later reorganized into the AFL), which promoted the eight-hour day, limitations on child and convict labor, cash payments for salaries, and strict immigration laws, a policy that Gompers strongly believed in and the irony of which receives scant comment from Finkelstein. In this fact-filled but interpretation-light account, Sam Gompers was a workaholic and a person who loved public speaking. Readers get little sense of Gompers as a person, and they may struggle with his dismissive attitude toward unskilled workers, his realpolitik approach to race, and his hypocrisy toward immigrants. There is excellent research here, but the lackluster writing, the double-column format, and the hazy quality of some of the black-and-white archival photos produce an unexciting volume; some gaps in the index further limit its use.
This comprehensive but pedestrian biography will be fairly useful for school reports but is unlikely to inspire 21st-century labor activists. (author’s note, timeline, source notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 11-14)