SAMUEL GOMPERS: Leader of American Labor by Will Chasan

SAMUEL GOMPERS: Leader of American Labor

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Borne in on a drum roll of what he would become, was to be, would seem, is a flaccid, diffuse biography of Gompers as, in effect and in fact, an American folk hero; it is no match for David Selvin's concentrated and concrete treatment of the same material. Certain themes that are per se valid -- Gompers' allegiance to pragmatic rather than political unionism, to established procedure over spontaneous revolt, and the opprobrium he incurred Right and Left -- are iterated and reiterated, as are broad contrasts between privilege and deprivation. Meanwhile there is almost no systematic exposition of, e.g., the relationship between the nascent AFL and the Knights of Labor: the latter threaten, then, without explanation, decline and disintegrate; Selvin, by contrast, devotes several pages to this episode in what is word for word a shorter book. The handling of the IWW is similarly cursory and altogether the critical issue of industrial vs. trade unionism fails to coalesce. Compared to Selvin again, this does not convince even as a personal portrayal insofar as it substitutes references to adversity and fortitude for his graphic detailing; as labor history it is skeletal.

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 1971
Publisher: Praeger