In nineteen hundred, the largest national organisation of labor unions was the American Federation of Labor. Its head was Samuel Gompers. Gompers had moved to New York with his parents when he was thirteen years old. He was twenty-four when he began working for the local union of cigar makers. He worked for the labor movement for sixty years.
Samuel Gompers had helped create the A.F.L. in the late eighteen eighties. He led the organisation for all but one year until his death in nineteen twenty-four. Gompers defined the purpose of the labor movement in America. He also established the method used to solve labor disputes.
Gompers thought unions should work only to increase wages, improve work conditions and stop unfair treatment of workers. He called his method pure and simple unionism.
Samuel Gompers sought immediate change for workers. He used group actions such as strikes as a way to try to force company owners to negotiate.
Gompers was criticized for going to social events with industry leaders, and for compromising too easily with employers. But Gompers believed such actions helped his main goal. He believed if workers were respected, their employers would want to make working conditions better.
Under the leadership of Samuel Gompers, the labor movement won its first small gains. For example, the federal government recognised the right of workers to organise. That happened when union representatives were part of the National War Labor Board during World War One.