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George Clarke

‘The Evil Genius of the American Labor Movement’

A Monument to Gompers

(October 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 47, 14 October 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“It is fitting that in the capital of the nation a statue should stand through the ages to remind future generations of the services to that nation of a patriot who served his country well.”

These are President Roosevelt’s words of tribute in dedicating a monument not to a general, an admiral or an imperialist free-booter but to a labor leader – Samuel Gompers, the deceased president of the American Federation of Labor. The president of the United States is so lavish with his praise for Gompers because he feels a deep admiration for the man whom he rightly considers not a tribune of the oppressed or a warrior for a new society but a stanch pillar of the powers-that-be, a “patriot”.

We have no argument with Roosevelt when he says that Gompers “served his country well”. Indeed Wilson’s eulogy of Gompers, quoted by Roosevelt, reveals how deeply the masters are indebted to Samuel Gompers.

“If I may be permitted to do so”, said Wilson in 1917, “I want to express my admiration of his patriotic courage, his large vision and his statesmanlike sense of what has to be done. I like to lay my mind alongside of a mind that knows how to pull in harness. The horses that kick over the traces will have to be put in a corral.”

“In Harness” – For the Bosses

From the outset of his career as a labor leader, Gompers caused the capitalist class little worry. He knew how to pull in harness – not for the workers. The bosses reaped a lucrative harvest from the plasticity of Samuel Gompers who traded the fighting batallions of the proletariat for the Judas gold of respectability.

Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor; he was its president until his death in 1924. For this activity he has not suffered the storm of abuse, calumny and vilification with which the ruling class so profusely showers the protagonists of the labor movement. On the contrary he is glorified in a monument erected to his memory in the citadel of American imperialism. A curse at the death of “Big Bill” Haywood, a sigh of relief at the passing of Debs and a monument for Gompers! The oligarchy of capital knows how to estimate the work of labor’s leaders.

It never could be said of Mr. Gompers that he “kicked over the traces”. His kick was at the working class. His long years of service, earning him such profuse praise from Roosevelt, began with renegacy from the socialist movement whose ideas he assimilated as a young cigar maker. He deserted socialism for the respectability of a “pure and simple” craft union movement whose motto was “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”. He wanted no connection with the socialists because they preached a doctrine of “class hatred and violence as an importation of foreigners”. No connection with the socialists or the mass of unskilled who might be contaminated with radical ideas – this was his credo in founding the A.F. of L. in 1881. The great mass of exploited workers standing outside of the sequestered cloister of the aristocracy of labor were also outside the concern of Gompers.

A Bulwark Against Radicalism

The whole career of Samuel Gompers was predicated on currying the favor of the master class, of showing them by deeds that the labor movement that he led was good 100% American – a bulwark against radicalism. In 1894 the memorable strike led by the American Labor Union and its great inspirational force, Eugene Victor Debs, dared the power of the railway magnates. The government sent the militia against the strikers. On the other side the railroad men were supported by the Knights of Labor and the Farmers’ Alliance which promised to feed the strikers. The country was in an uproar, the class lines were drawn taut and the unions were clamoring for action – for support of the Pullman workers.

Gompers called a meeting of the A.F. of L. Executive Council and refused to call either general or local strikes in support of the beleaguered railroad workers. Debs was charged with contempt of court for violating the injunction. Gomper’s seized this opportunity to prove to the master class that the labor organization associated with his name would have no part in radical action. The strike was lost, in no small degree because of the treachery of Gompers. Debs went to jail; Gompers won the good graces of Wall Street. Gompers was learning the lesson of solidarity – with the ruling class.

National Civic Federation

It was as president of the National Civic Federation that Gompers earned his spurs as a trusted lieutenant of the capitalists within the ranks of labor. An organization composed of notorious labor haters like Ralph Easly and labor misleaders like Gompers and Mitchell, this Civic Federation was an open class-collaboration agency consecrated to the idea of “the partnership of labor and capital”, to the settling of strikes at the expense of the workers and to blocking the road to organization of the unorganized.

Through this organization and together with the kings and barons of finance and industry Gompers waged a bitter struggle against socialism within and without the American Federation of Labor. As president of this organization he was instrumental in betraying the steel strike of 1901 and numerous strikes thereafter. The membership of Gompers in this capitalist organization and his concurrent presidency of the American Federation of Labor is keenly symbolic of his role of the guardian, the watchdog of the interests of the capitalist class in the labor movement.

Against the I.W.W. this evil genius of labor unleashed the virus of his hatred. That the I.W.W. was championing the cause of the oppressed and challenging the strongholds of trustified capital meant nothing for Gompers. They were reds, “against the government” and he was out to destroy the I.W.W. When the U.T.W. officials acted as strikebreakers at Lawrence in 1912 to stamp out the militant battle led by the I.W.W., Gompers condoned the act. The same at Paterson in 1913 by a backdoor agreement with the bosses. With remarkable indifference Gompers ignored the bloody massacre of the striking coal miners in Ludlow Colorado by the Rockfeller interests. Similarly with the St. Bartholomew’s night in the copper strike in Calumet, Michigan.

Against Industrial Unionism ...

Gompers detested the I.W.W. as much for their industrial form of organization, which cut across the lines of craft and encompassed the mass of unskilled, as for their burning creed of class struggle. The consistent policy of Gompers was to divide the organized workers into innumerable segments, to rip the labor movement asunder with wasteful jurisdiction disputes. To this every day the American Federation of Labor is torn by fruitless jurisdictional bickerings – the seed sown by Gompers is still sprouting its rotten fruits.

“Non-Partisan” Politics

In politics as in the trade unions, Gompers earned the statue erected to him in Washington. Here he chained labor to the political chariot of the capitalist class – the Republican and Democratic Gold-Dust twins of Big business. By the slogan of “Reward your friends” Gompers made labor the grovelling lick-spittle of the political representatives of the bosses. He shied away from a party for the workers like leprosy, only to maintain a corps of toadying lobbyists who crawled on all fours for favors from the standpat parties of the master class.

A Recruiting Sergeant for Capitalist War

It was quite appropriate that Gompers should be the recruiting sergeant for the American Imperialist plunderbund holding the American workers in line for the slaughter for profits they were prosecuting in Europe. The capitalists made certain there would be no trouble from the workers when they entered the war by immediately enlisting the only-too-willing services of Gompers. He secured a declaration from the A.F. of L. pledging its support of the government in the war in the event of United States’ participation. Gompers was a member of the Council of National Defense created in 1916, and was influential in priming American public opinion to war consciousness.

Prior to and even after the outbreak of the war to make the world safe for bigger and better profits there was a large pacifist sentiment in this country and in the labor organizations. This would never do for Gompers who put his whole heart into the patriotic campaign into driving the workers into the Morgans’ carnage. He was the father of the American Alliance for Labor and Democracy which enlisted the social-patriots like Spargo and Russell and spread war propaganda from one end of the country to the other.

If the war was to be a success there must be a docile, unrebellious, hard working proletariat in the home country and Gompers was the man for that. A member of the War Labor Board he watched hawklike that there be no strikes during the war; and if such broke loose in spite of him, Gompers had a machine to hamstring the workers struggle for whom exploitation grew more intense in times of war. And for this service Roosevelt is not stingy in his plaudits when he says that “it was his (Gompers’) patriotic leadership for the unanimous mobilization of the workers in every part of the union which supplemented the mobilization of the men who went to the front”. A monument to Gompers in Washington – little crosses on the battlefields of France for the workers who fought for Wall Street’s gold.

In His Dotage – Fighting the “Reds”

For Gompers the war did not end with the declaration of the armistice in November 1918 – not the class war, to be sure; he had long ceased to recognize that. Under the cry that the war was still on Gompers and Lewis, frightened white by the invocation of the Lever Act declaring the coal strike outlaw, drove 425,000 coal miners back to the pits. Gompers did everything in his power to sabotage the great steel strike of 1919 and he finally succeeded in putting the rebellious steel workers “in the corral”.

Samuel Gompers spent his dotage in a fitting manner – fighting reds. Here he was the fury of old age incarnated. Part and parcel of the post-war red hysteria, Gompers did his “bit” to preserve “American institutions” from the Bolsheviks. He hounded the Communists and expelled the Left wingers from the A.F. of L.

The American workers will remember this labor lieutenant of the capitalist class with an oath of hate on their lips After the proletariat of this country crosses the pinnacle of power it will write this inscription under the monument in Washington :

“Samuel Gomper’s – the Evil Genius of the American Labor Movement.”

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